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How to effectively combat hay fever

August 7th, 2020

Seasonal rhinitis, also known as hay fever, is an allergic reaction caused by exposure to pollens. This rhinitis, which currently affects 17% of adults in Quebec, has been growing rapidly over the past 30 years, mainly due to the impact of climate change on plant species.[1] The combination of warmer temperatures and higher CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere lengthens the growing season for allergenic plants, increases pollen production by plants and increases the allergenic potential of pollen. [2]

As a result, more people are exposed to pollen, and those who are allergic to it experience episodes that are more frequent and more intense.

Read more: Allergy, cold, flu, asthma or COVID 19?

What to pay attention to and when

Although it is not the only allergen responsible for seasonal allergic rhinitis, ragweed pollen is the main cause of this reaction in northeastern North American. On its own, this pollen is believed to account for 50% to 90% of seasonal allergies [1] and is why it represents a particular concern for the Quebec public health network.

Period [3] Allergen
March to June Tree and shrub pollen
May to October Grass pollen (such as turf and hay)
July to October Ragweed pollen

Recognizing the symptoms

Allergic rhinitis can manifest itself through different symptoms. The most common are as follows [2]:

  • An itching sensation in the nose and eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Watery eyes
  • A runny and stuffy nose

Sometimes, cognitive functions can also be greatly affected (e.g., irritability, fatigue and sleep disturbances), which impacts the quality of life of allergic individuals. [3] Special attention should be paid to people with asthma, as uncontrolled seasonal rhinitis may exacerbate their condition.

Read more: Food allergies or intolerance?

Ten tips to reduce exposure to allergenic pollens

Quebec’s ministry of health and social services has taken note of the problem. In 2015, it implemented a province-wide strategy to reduce ragweed and other allergenic pollens (French only) in order to significantly reduce their impact on public health. Currently deployed in several regions, this strategy integrates control measures into municipal grounds maintenance practices.

Although promising, government action has its limits. This is why each person who is sensitive to pollen must take responsibility for his or her own protection. It can be as simple as putting the following tips into practice to reduce exposure to this type of allergen:

  1. Prevent ragweed from growing on your property. To do so, use mulch or ground cover in areas where there is no lawn or plant other vegetation.
  2. Remove ragweed as soon as you see it (by hand or with a garden tool) and dispose of it in the garbage (do not compost it, as it can contaminate your mixture).
  3. Check your local pollen report and avoid going outside when the pollen concentration is higher (often in the morning, or on hot, dry or windy days).
  4. Avoid areas with a high pollen concentration (fields or unmaintained land).
  5. Do not dry your clothes outdoors during problem periods.
  6. If possible, keep the windows of your house and vehicle closed.
  7. Use an air-conditioning system that recycles the air in your house or has a pollen filter (watch out for air exchangers that can let pollen into the house).
  8. Change clothes and wash yourself as soon as you get home to get rid of pollen particles on your hair and skin.
  9. Perform a nasal cleansing with a saline water solution.
  10. Avoid contact with other irritants, such as cigarette smoke, mould, and fumes from vehicles and factories, which can increase allergy symptoms.

Knowing the treatment options

Over-the-counter medications

For the most common symptoms, consult your pharmacist for an evaluation of the different treatments available for your condition:

  • Second-generation oral antihistamines, which are effective at reducing itching, sneezing and a runny nose
  • Topical nasal corticosteroids, which reduce inflammation of the nasal passages
  • Topical antihistamines (nasal or ocular), which can be used successfully in some people

Desensitization protocol

If over-the-counter medications do not relieve your symptoms, see a doctor. In such cases, testing for specific allergens using patch tests or a serum immunoglobulin E assay may help determine the appropriate treatment.[4]

Depending on the results, the doctor may suggest a desensitization protocol. The goal of this treatment is to reduce the body’s sensitivity to the substance causing the allergy in order to significantly reduce the allergic reactions. It involves giving the person a small dose of the substance to which he or she is allergic. This dose is gradually increased from one visit to the next over several months or years. This approach provides long-term benefits, even after treatment is stopped.

Read more: Understand allergies and available treatments.

Act now to enjoy the summer

With the acceleration of global warming, seasonal rhinitis is probably here to stay. Fortunately, several solutions are available to us, both collectively and individually, to minimize its effects. We should not hesitate to put them in place to make summer more enjoyable.

For professional support, we’re here.

We offer services that can help your doctor screen for more than 650 allergens.

If you have any questions or would like more information, contact our customer service number at 1-833-590-2712.

  1. Public Health Agency of Canada. « At-a-glance – Pollens, climate and allergies: Quebec initiatives. » [consulted June 30, 2020]
  2. « Les pollens allergènes au Québec : proposition pour une prise en charge efficace de la problématique », Institut national de santé publique du Québec. [consulted June 30, 2020].
  3. Government of Quebec. “Seasonal rhinitis (hay fever)” [consulted June 30, 2020]
  4. Association pulmonaire du Québec. « Les allergies saisonnières et la désensibilisation aux aéroallergènes ». [consulted June 30, 2020]