Tree branches may still be naked in most of Canada, but the eye-rubbing and nose-blowing has already begun. Toronto allergist Mark Greenwald explains how to get through allergy season.
Allergist Dr. Mark Greenwald takes your questions on battling allergies Tuesday from noon to 1p.m. ET. Submit your question now.
Treat underlying allergies
Individuals who suffer from year-round low-grade allergies - dust mites, for example - are often "knocked over the edge" in the spring, Dr. Greenwald says. Treating the underlying allergy could reduce your symptoms over all.
If your resources are tight, it's better to focus on where allergens collect on surfaces, rather than air quality, he says. He recommends dust mite-proof pillow encasings to keep the critters away (without proper encasings, about one-third of a pillow's weight is made up of dust mites and dust mite debris after six months).
"People will put $1,000 or $2,000 in air purification systems without putting in much money for their beds," he says. "Do the environmental stuff. It does not require air cleaners or special vacuum cleaners."
The Weather Network posts daily pollen and spore forecasts for all regions in Canada, but a high pollen-count day doesn't mean you have to be a shut-in, Dr. Greenwald says.
Try to do most outdoor activity in the morning or later in the evening.
"You could time your day a little bit different. The guy who's out there for his early morning jaunt when it's still cold is better off. As it gets warmer, air currents rise and carry with [them]pollen."
Keeping windows and doors closed in the spring can keep pollen from entering your home to some extent, but your body can be a carrier, too, Dr. Greenwald warns.
"When you've been out running or gardening, when you come indoors, you need a decontamination chamber."
Place a mat outside your door for shoes. After extended periods outside, change your clothes and shower as soon as you can to curb the spread of particles onto your furniture. During peak season, it's better to take night showers instead of early morning ones so you don't coat your sheets with pollen.
To vacuum up pollen and dust mites, the only devices that will do a thorough job are central vacuums or ones with true HEPA filters, he says. To see if yours is up to snuff, check out asthmaandallergyfriendly.ca, a website produced by the Asthma Society of Canada that lists certified vacuums, bedding and air cleaning devices based on the accuracy of manufacturers' claims.
Start treatment early
If your eyes are itchy and you feel congested a few weeks ahead of schedule, start treatment right away, Dr. Greenwald advises.
"Why wait till things get out of hand? It's always good to treat things early and mild before they get entrenched."
If this is the first time you've felt allergy symptoms, visit an allergist first for a test, he says. From there, your allergist may advise you to get a shot for the season, recommend over-the-counter medication or suggest you use a neti pot (a device filled with saline solution used to flush out the nasal passage).
"We get used to [an allergy] and getting used to it is not the way to properly deal with it," Dr. Greenwald says. "You can actually prevent the evolution to asthma if you treat your allergies well."