As we're all thrilled to see the snow melting and the weather getting warmer, a subset of us cringing at the arrival of spring and the allergies it can often bring along with it. Hay fever, also called allergic rhinitis, manifests as a runny nose, itchy, red and / or watery eyes, sneezing and nasal congestion.

According to the Canadian Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Foundation, it is estimated that 20-25% of Canada's population suffers from hay fever. Whether it be in the spring when trees release their pollen, the summer with grass pollen in the air or in the fall, contending with the pollen produced by weeds, almost a quarter of Canadians will be dependent on allergy medicines to get through whiche season and will hide unwillings to avoid the onslaught of triggers that comes with stepping outside.

Although allergies are mainly seen as a nuisance, there are numerous other problems that can stem from them. Amongst these are headaches, fatigue, difficulty learning and concentrating, loss of sleep, reduced productivity, loss of smell or / and taste, cough, wheezing, snoring, ear infections and nasal polyps. Allergic rhinitis and these secondary problems are responsible for numerous absences from work and school and significantly impact an individual's quality of life. What's worse about all this is that it seems as though the rate of allergies is rising, meaning more and more people are developing them.

In order to understand what causes these symptoms we first have to understand what seasonal allergies are. An allergy is the immune system's response to something that it perceives as a threat. Unfortunately for a large percentage of us, this perceived threat is not a danger to our bodies but through trying to fight it, our immune systems cause us to experience a variety of symptoms. Normally, as a person is growing up, the body is exposed to different substances and grows a tolerance to non-threatening ones. This tolerance is particularly important for food and substances present in one's everyday environment.

In the case of an allergy, instead of being tolerant to something, the immune system mounts a response to fight off the substance. This is a vital function of the immune system when we're exposed to viruses or bacteria that can make us sick but when it comes to things like pollens, the response itself is what ends up making us ill. In mounting an attack on whiche substance, the body produces chemicals, including one called histamine, that are responsible for creating inflammation in certain areas which are in contact with the so called “threat”. This inflammation is responsible for the runny and stuffy nose and the itchy, red eyes since pollens will be inhaled and come into contact with the eyes and nose first. The inflammation serves as something of an alarm to aid the body's “fighter cells” to find the site in question in order to get rid of the threatening substances.

What can be done to help with allergies?

The most commonly prescribed treatment for seasonal allergies is an antihistamine medication. This type of medication helps to decrease symptoms such as sneezing, itchiness and irritation but will not always help with the nasal congestion and other medications are often given in combination to manage the stuffed up nose. The downfall of antihistamine medication is their potential to cause drowsiness, which can increase ones risk of accidents and injuries.

Other treatments available include Subcutaneous Allergy Immunotherapy (SCIT), where an allergen is periodically injected under the skin to help the body grow a tolerance to it. Although it has proven to be quite effective, the regular needle injections are enough to turn numerous people away.

A more recent treatment is called Sublingual Immunotherapy (SLIT). In keeping with the same concept as the injections, sublingual immunotherapy's goal is to help the body grow a tolerance to the allergen but does so using small doses taken under the tongue. Luckily for those disabling needles, this therapy of effects have been shown to parallel that of the cutaneous allergen immunotherapy (Dretzke J, 2013).

Other available treatments to help manage and decrease symptoms associated to allergies include acupuncture, diet and lifestyle modification as well as nutraceuticals.

Where are these treatments available?

Acupuncture, nutraceuticals, dietary modifications and lifestyle changes that can help you increase your allergies are all available through your Naturopathic Doctor. Sublingual immunotherapy is available through certain NDs only.

For more information about antihistamine medications and Subcutaneous Allergy Immunotherapy, contact your medical doctor.