For some people, the arrival of summer means sneezing, sniffling and watery eyes. Find out what causes seasonal allergies and how to prevent them.

Seasonal Allergies: What are they?

Seasonal allergies, also known as hay fever, are a type of allergy that comes back every year at the same time and is caused by outdoor allergens. It differs from annual allergies, which are present year-round and usually caused by indoor allergens such as dust mites, mould or pets.

If you suffer from seasonal allergies, you are not alone: it is estimated that about 20-25% of Canadians have them!

What causes seasonal allergies?

Seasonal allergies occur from spring to fall and are mainly caused by pollens from certain plants.

- From March to June, pollen from trees and shrubs wreaks havoc on allergy sufferers—the main culprits: maple, birch, willow, ash, pine and oak.

- From May to October, pollen from grasses, such as grass and hay.

- From July to October, ragweed releases its pollen. It is one of the most common allergens for people with seasonal allergies. It can even cause allergic reactions in urban areas.

What are the symptoms of seasonal allergies?

The effects of seasonal allergies vary depending on the individual and the cause of their allergies. The most common symptoms are:

- Worsening asthma;

- Nasal congestion;

- Itchy nose;

- Clear and abundant nasal discharge;

- Sneezing;

- Headache;

- Tingling or itching of the nose, eyes, throat or ears;

- Signs of conjunctivitis (watery eyes, swollen eyelids, etc.).

These symptoms can be like other respiratory conditions, such as the common cold, flu, or COVID-19. These allergies can also cause side effects such as fatigue, irritability, concentration problems and sleep disturbances. In more severe cases, they can lead to complications such as asthma or recurrent sinusitis. That's why it's recommended that you see a healthcare professional quickly if your symptoms are severe.

How to relieve the symptoms of seasonal allergies

Here are a few tips to help you prevent your allergic reactions so you can better enjoy the return of the warm weather. 

- Wear sunglasses. In addition to protecting your eyes from the sun, they can also serve as a screen against pollen. Visit your IRIS professional for advice and a wide selection of sunglasses.

- Avoid the clothesline. Don't dry laundry outside during critical times, as it may accumulate pollen in the air.

- Close windows. Close the windows and turn on the air conditioner at home or in the car. If possible, recirculate the air.

- Maintain the yard. Keep the grass short. If your symptoms are severe, have someone mow the lawn for you. Also, be sure to carefully remove poison ivy from your yard before it releases its pollen. 

- Check the pollen forecast. This index calculates the level of pollen in the air, which can help target days when it's best to stay indoors. Pollen counts are generally higher in the morning and on hot, dry, windy days.

- Wash your fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables should be rinsed thoroughly before eating. Pollen could be on the surface of these products, which could cause itchy tongues, mouths or lips in people with allergies. 

- Washing and changing clothes when you go home, as pollen can settle on your skin, clothes and hair.

What are the treatments for seasonal allergies?

Medical treatment may be needed to help you get back to a normal life. Various over-the-counter and prescription medications are available to relieve congestion, eye symptoms, itching and respiratory symptoms.

Talk to your doctor, pharmacist or optometrist if you need antihistamines or other treatments to ease your allergy symptoms.

Patience and courage for those who are struggling with seasonal allergies!