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Your Hair Could Be Exacerbating Your Allergies

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May is a wonderful time to be in Canada. Everyone is happy about the warmer weather -- we can watch playoff hockey, admire the blooms of the season and finally shed our winter hats. But for the close to 10 million Canadians who suffer from seasonal allergies, spring weather and budding trees can mean itchy eyes, runny noses and congestion. And when you shed your hat, beware!

Did you know that hair gel attracts pollen? Hair enthusiasts who suffer from seasonal allergies should stay away from sticky hair products and wash your hair as soon as you get home.

The best way to avoid allergy aggravation is to inform yourself about the different strategies (and interesting tips) available to you. Here are some of the most common allergy-related questions I receive in my pharmacy:

How do I know if I have seasonal allergies and not cold symptoms?

This is a great question because many people don't know the difference. Allergies usually mean itchy eyes, nasal congestion, runny nose, sneezing and itchy throat with some hoarseness in the voice. Cold symptoms include extra mucus, cough, sore throat and aches and pains in the joints. Colds can also cause a low grade fever and are usually gone within a week or two. Both can cause fatigue.

How do I choose the right medication for me?

Antihistamines provide the most relief for seasonal allergy symptoms. There are two major types of antihistamine medications -- non-drowsy and drowsy. Non-drowsy medications will relieve your symptoms for 24 hours and typically don't cause fatigue. Drowsy antihistamines will provide relief for only four to five hours and some people use them to help sleep. However, it is important to know while they make you sleepy, drowsy antihistamines may negatively impact the quality of the rest you get because they disrupt your REM sleep.

Pharmacists are a great resource to find the best solutions to manage allergy symptoms. Based on symptoms and severity, pharmacists can help find the right over-the-counter medication. In some provinces pharmacists can even prescribe medications for seasonal allergies if needed.

How can I relieve congestion that comes with seasonal allergies?

Some antihistamine medications include a decongestant. If congestion is one of your symptoms, be sure to pick a product with this combination. You can also use a decongestant nasal spray, but if you do, I always caution my patients on restricting use (no more than five days). If you use it for a prolonged period, you may experience something called rebound congestion where the body responds by causing even more congestion.

When should I use eye drops?

There are three types of eye drops -- antihistamine eye drops which can be used like oral antihistamines, dry eye drops, which can be used as often as you want, and mast cell stabilizers, which can prevent symptoms from occurring in the first place. Eye drops for dry eyes help to wash away the pollen and also help to soothe eyes. Antihistamine eye drops can be used when symptoms appear to reduce itchiness, redness, and discomfort. Mast cell stabilizers should be used before your symptoms begin -- usually two to three days ahead of time.

Bonus: here are some quick tips to limit your exposure to seasonal allergies without medication:

1. Check pollen forecast -- if you are planning on exercising go to the gym or run inside on warm, windy days.
2. Protect yourself during outside activities -- wear large sunglasses -- not only do they block the sun they also help prevent pollen from getting in your eyes. Same idea with wearing a hat -- it helps to keep the pollen off of your body
3. If you are doing something active like cutting the lawn or gardening consider using a mask or a scarf to cover your nose and mouth.
4. We carry a lot of pollen into the home with us. Shower when you get home from being outside. Wash your hair. Wash your bedding more frequently during spring, summer and fall. Keep your windows closed and remember your pets can track pollen into the house too.

So if you're one of the many who suffers from seasonal allergies and are looking for help ask your local Shoppers Drug Mart pharmacist.

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