Allergies to pollen: how to protect against them?
Apr 9, 2019
With the return of spring, pollen allergies are becoming part of many people's daily lives. But what is an allergy, anyway? How can we best protect ourselves from it? What are the most effective treatments?
What is an allergy?
Our bodies are constantly confronted with "external enemies" such as (bad) viruses and bacterias. To fight them, we have our own very powerful weapon: the immune system.
In the case of an allergy, the immune system overreacts. Instead of defending us against harmful substances (like the external enemies mentioned above), it reacts against substances that are normally harmless, such as pollen, dust, or certain foods.
How to recognize a pollen allergy?
In the case of a pollen allergy, the most common symptoms are:
- Conjunctivitis: an inflammation (swelling) of the conjunctiva of the eye that may cause itching, tearing, redness, and a sensation of sand in the eyes.
- Rhinitis: an inflammation of the nasal mucosa that may cause itching of the nose, sneezing, and a clear discharge, or on the contrary, a blocked nose.
- Oral manifestations: itching of the palate, which may be accompanied by throat irritation.
- Asthma in some more severe cases
These different symptoms can disrupt the daily activities and sleep of those affected. Individuals with a pollen allergy have to often adapt their lifestyle and may need to give up certain sports or social activities. They may also have difficulty concentrating at work.
How to limit the occurrence and effects of allergies?
A few simple practices can limit the occurence and effects of allergies:
- Consult the pollen calendar to find out in real time the pollen content of the air according to the zones. You can find all the necessary information by clicking here.
- Avoid mowing the lawn. If you have no other options, wear a mask and safety glasses. Avoid areas where the grass is freshly cut.
- Protect yourself from the outside: when driving, try to drive with the window closed to prevent pollen from entering the car. Keep doors and windows of the house closed as much as possible. Avoid going out in the late morning and early evening, which are the times of day with the highest pollen levels.
- Wash your hair before going to bed to avoid putting pollen on your pillows. Wash your pillowcases regularly. Avoid drying your clothes outside and change clothes every day.
- Rinse your nose and eyes several times a day with saline to remove pollens and wear glasses outside.
- Avoid smoking as much as possible, including secondhand smoke (passive smoking). The irritating properties of tobacco smoke can amplify allergy symptoms.
- Clean your home regularly to eliminate allergens. It is recommended to use a vacuum cleaner equipped with a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filter that retains the smallest allergens. These particles are the most difficult to remove and are also the ones that penetrate the respiratory tract most easily.
What treatments are available for allergies?
There are different approaches to treating allergies. Most of them are complementary.
Allopathic (classic) treatments: treat symptoms in a targeted way
The most effective drugs remain oral antihistamines. They relieve most symptoms such as runny nose, sneezing, and itchy eyes. They should be taken every day during periods of active allergic reactions/symptoms.
Sprays against nasal symptoms
To treat nasal symptoms, sprays can be used: intranasal antihistamines to reduce sneezing and runny nose or corticosteroids through the nose to calm the nose and eyes. These sprays work gradually and it may take a few days of treatment to see the effects. Finally, "barrier" sprays line the nasal mucosa to neutralize allergens and prevent other allergens from adhering to the mucosa.
Eye drops for eye symptoms
To relieve painful eyes, there are also antihistamine eye drops that can be used several times a day during times of flare ups (allergic reactions).
This is recommended for severe allergic rhinitis for which oral antihistamines and a prudent lifestyle have not been effective at controlling. Desensitization limits the development of bronchial asthma, one of the complications of allergic rhinitis.
Desensitization, also known as allergen immunotherapy (aka allergen-specific immunotherapy), consists of administering the allergen in increasing doses to induce immunological tolerance. In short, to teach the body to recognize harmless substances again and to not overreact in response to their presence.
This treatment always begins under medical supervision to prevent any disproportionate allergic reaction. The treatment is long: 3 years minimum and up to 5 years.
Alternative treatments: improving individual well-being
If you are more interested in alternative medicine, there are several options available to you.
Homeopathy can be used for prevention, in which case treatment should be started one month before the expected date of the risk period. Homeopathy can also be used when symptoms are already present, in addition to other conventional treatments. Some formulas can treat a particular symptom.
This type of treatment uses the power of plants to reduce the effect of allergens. It aims to facilitate the work of the liver because overload of the liver can be the cause of allergies. By eliminating toxins more easily, it is easier to fight against allergens. Phytotherapy can also reduce the sensitivity threshold to allergens.
Aromatherapy uses essential oils to relieve symptoms. These oils can have anti-allergic or anti-inflammatory effects. Essential oils with difference effects can be used together. Essential oils are often diluted in a vegetable oil and applied to the chest so that their benefits are diffused throughout the body. On the other hand, dry inhalations have a local effect. This consists of applying 2 or 3 drops on a handkerchief, or similar material, to be breathed several times a day without touching the skin. Their effect? A decrease in nasal obstruction and a reduced risk of superinfection!
Please note that the above-mentioned treatments are not suitable for all individuals. It is highly advised to speak with your doctor or pharmacist before following any of the above!
How about You...
Are you sensitive to pollen? Do you suffer from allergic reactions to pollen?
What is your allergy solution?