Your eyes are watery, your nose is itchy and you can’t stop sneezing – welcome to springtime allergy season.
While spring ushers in the green leaves and warmer weather, for some people it means a months-long stretch of annoying symptoms. About 20 to 30 per cent of Canadians suffer from some kind of seasonal allergy.
“Springtime is easily the worst season when it comes to allergies. Which pollens are prevalent differs from province to province but the first seasonal allergy to pop up is tree pollen which could start as early as March,” allergist Dr. David Fischer told Global News.
He’s a Western University professor and president of the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
Sometimes, Canadians don’t even know they’re grappling with allergies. Instead, they think they’re dealing with a cold or feeling under the weather, according to Dr. Susan Waserman, an allergist and McMaster University professor.
“It’s like having a bad cold that’s persistent. You don’t have a fever and aches but you feel congested and sneezy. It interferes with your sleep, concentration and performance, so in many ways it affects your quality of life,” she told Global News.
We asked the experts what you need to know about the upcoming allergy season and how to combat those pesky symptoms.
What are the most common allergies in the spring?
Because temperatures vary across the country, allergy season will start at different times depending on how each province is faring.
Across the board, tree pollen allergies start first, according to Fischer. It could start in late March and move into June for Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada, while B.C. has the “worst” tree pollen season kicking off as early as February and into June, he said.
After that, grass and ragweed pollens start up in August.
“This will vary depending on where you live, moisture levels and temperature – these all determine how much pollen you’re getting,” Waserman said.
Moulds grow quickly in heat and high humidity. Believe it or not, it’s not just what you think of in attics or basements – mould spores crop up on your lawn outside after snow melts and the leftover grass from when you mowed last autumn resurfaces.
“When people think of mould, they think of the black stuff on walls, but mould spore counts are incredibly high outside too,” Fischer said.
What are the symptoms?
If you’re fighting a battle with springtime allergies, you’ll know. Your symptoms could include:
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Puffy or watery red eyes
- Itchy eyes or nose
- Dark circles under the eyes
- Perpetual sneezing
- Itching in your ears
Why do I have allergies?
Pollen, from trees, grass or weeds, is released into the air to fertilize other plants. But sometimes they get into your nose and nasal passage.
If you’re allergic, your immune system kicks in thinking the pollen is a hazard to your body. This is why your body sends out histamines into your blood – that’s when your nose starts running and your eyes get watery as your body tries to expel what it thinks is a danger.
“It’s a misfiring of your immune system by turning something innocuous into something it wants to fight off drastically,” Waserman said.
It’s genetic, too. If one or both of your parents has an allergy, you’ll probably end up with similar symptoms too.
Symptoms can start as early as childhood, in teenage years or even as an adult.
If you’re not sure, simply get referred to an allergist for testing. You will be screened for common allergens, such as various types of pollens, cat and dog fur, dust mites, mould spores and more.
How can we tell if we’re in for a bad season?
An early and hot spring is a bad sign for allergy sufferers, the experts warned.
“Last year’s grass season was probably the worst I can remember. The pollen conditions were bad – it was a very hot and humid summer combined with wind. That’s the worst scenario for pollen sufferers,” Fischer said.
It also didn’t rain for some time. Rain washes pollen away, but pollen counts can soar after rainfall. On days without wind, airborne allergies are grounded. Once the wind picks up again, pollen counts in the air surge.
Geography makes a difference as well: Ontario has the most ragweed, while B.C. sees the most tree pollen.
How can I ease the symptoms?
There are a handful of ways you can safeguard yourself to avoid a nasty few months of allergies.
Over-the-counter-meds: Antihistamines help to tame symptoms, but make sure you’re seeking out options like Reactine, Aerius, or Allegra, Fischer said.
Prescription medications: If needed, your doctor or allergist can prescribe eye drops, nasal sprays or other medicines to help alleviate symptoms.
Allergy shots: Those with severe allergies receive multiple injections – sometimes weekly – to tame their allergies.
Environmental factors: You can lessen your risk of encountering severe allergies by being mindful of your surroundings. For starters, don’t dry your clothes outside – that could bring in pollen that’ll trigger your symptoms.
If you’re going swimming over the summer in a river or pond, wear goggles and nose clips to keep any allergens out of the way. Once you’re out of the water, rinse off.
When you’re in the car, keep your windows rolled up and the air condition running, Waserman said. Try to keep your windows closed when you’re at home, too.
But don’t shutter yourself in during the warm months, Waserman said.
“Some people may choose not to go outdoors when [pollen] counts are high, but it’s hard to watch the weather channel and live life like that,” Waserman said.
“Pollen allergies are a fact of life in this part of the world. We have good things out there now to help you stay prepared,” she said.
Originally Posted: Global News Carmen Chai
Here’s what you need to know about springtime allergies in Canada
The change means that 46 per cent of U.S. adults, many of them under the age of 45, now will be considered hypertensive
The nation’s heart experts tightened the guidelines for high blood pressure Monday, a change that will sharply increase the number of U.S. adults considered hypertensive in the hope that they, and their doctors, will address the deadly condition sooner.
Acting for the first time in 14 years, the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology redefined high blood pressure as a reading of 130 over 80, down from 140 over 90. The change means that 46 per cent of U.S. adults, many of them under the age of 45, now will be considered hypertensive. Under the previous guideline, 32 per cent of U.S. adults had high blood pressure.
“We’re recognizing that blood pressures that we in the past thought were normal or so-called ‘pre-hypertensive’ actually placed the patient at significant risk for heart disease and death and disability,” said Robert M. Carey, co-chairman of the group that produced the new report. “The risk hasn’t changed. What’s changed is our recognition of the risk.”
But the report’s authors predicted that relatively few of those who fall into the new hypertensive category will need medication. Rather, they hope, that many found with the early stages of the condition will be able to address it through lifestyle changes such as improving their diet, getting more exercise, consuming less alcohol and sodium and lowering stress.
The new guidelines will be influential in clinical practice, with most health care providers expected to follow the research-based recommendations from leading voices in cardiovascular medicine. In addition to tightening the definition of high blood pressure, the new report does away with the old category of “pre-hypertension,” which was defined as a top (systolic) reading of 120 to 139 or a bottom (diastolic) number between 80 and 89.
“An important cornerstone of these new guidelines is a strong emphasis on lifestyle changes as the first line of therapy. There is an opportunity to reduce risk without necessarily imposing medications,” said Richard Chazal, the immediate past president of the American College of Cardiology.
Instead, the guidelines create new categories of blood pressure, including “elevated,” “Stage 1 and 2 hypertension,” and “hypertensive crisis,” each characterized by various blood pressure readings. Normal blood pressure still will be considered 120 over 80.
The systolic reading refers to the pressure when the heart contracts and sends blood through the arteries. Diastolic pressure is measured when the heart relaxes between beats.
In 2010, high blood pressure was the leading cause of death worldwide and the second-leading cause of preventable death in the United States, after cigarette smoking.
Hypertension leads to cardiovascular disease, strokes, severe kidney disease and other maladies that kill millions of Americans every year. Blood pressure is affected by a wide variety of factors including genetics, age, diet, exercise, stress and other diseases such as diabetes. Men are more likely to have high blood pressure than women and blacks are more likely than whites. Many people are unaware that they have the condition because there are no symptoms.
Much of the data to support the update came from Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial or SPRINT trial, a large-scale study of more than 9,000 people sponsored by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. When the results were first presented in 2015, they shook many assumptions about blood pressure management.
The study showed that bringing blood pressure below 120 versus the recommended 140 to 150 could reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. While that research only included people 50 and older and at high risk for heart problems, subsequent studies have shown this benefit appears to extend to younger people as well, said Chazal who is medical director at the Lee Memorial Health System in Fort Myers, Fla.
It is not easy to take drugs for the rest of your life for a condition you are not sick from. There is a reason it’s known as the silent killer
Thomas Frieden, the former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who now runs a global health initiative that focuses on heart disease and stroke, said that the “big news about this guideline is it should end forever any debate about whether people should be treated with medicines once they hit 140/90.” He said that until now there has been “a perspective that it’s not that big of a risk, but that’s just wrong.”
“The fact is lower is better,” Frieden said, “Even what we considered mild hypertension before is a deadly disease.”
Calling hypertension “the world’s most under-addressed preventable health problem,” Frieden said that, ironically, one of the reasons treatment has been slow to catch on in some parts of the world is because the medications are not as profitable as many others. The four main classes of drugs for blood pressure have generic versions and can be as cheap as a few dollars a month. Another barrier is what he called “therapeutic inertia,” the reluctance of some physicians and patients to try medication when a person with high blood pressure appears to be otherwise healthy.
“It is not easy to take drugs for the rest of your life for a condition you are not sick from,” he explained. “There is a reason it’s known as the silent killer.”
Symptoms include: fever, chills, sore throat, dizziness, confusion, severe pain, redness and swelling
Health officials have issued an alert, saying nine people have died in an ongoing invasive group A streptococcus outbreak in the London area.
The outbreak was declared more than 18 months ago and the Middlesex-London Health Unit says more than 132 cases of infection have been reported since April 1, 2016.
Of the cases, 22 per cent required treatment in intensive care, 15 per cent had Streptococcal Toxic Shock Syndrome and 15 per cent had necrotizing fasciitis – also called “flesh-eating” disease.
Associate Medical Officer of Health Dr. Gayane Hovhannisyan said about half of the cases have been among injection drug users and/or people without access to stable housing.
Symptoms depend on the site of the infection and may include fever, chills, sore throat, dizziness, confusion, severe pain, redness or swelling around a wound or injured area.
Hovhannisyan said the alert has been issued because the health unit is seeing an increase in infections among people who have no connection to the outbreak.
“We need a better understanding of what’s happening, which is why we’ve issued this alert,” she said Monday in a news release.
The bacteria are spread by direct contact with nose and throat secretions from an infected person, or by direct contact with infected wounds or sores on the skin.
While the infections can occur year-round, the health unit said Monday that the number of infections tends to increase during the winter.
It said the majority of streptococcus infections cause relatively mild illnesses like strep throat, but sometimes more serious and potentially life-threatening infections are able to get into muscles, blood and other organs.
The health unit advises regular hand washing, covering the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, avoid sharing drinking and eating utensils and to not share drug paraphernalia in an effort to avoid infection.
Originally Published: The Canadian Press
Dress warmly, work out inside, and get enough vitamin D. These are some of the ways you can get arthritis pain relief despite the bone-chilling cold of winter weather.
Many people with arthritis swear by the pain in their joints as a predictor of rainy or cold weather. “I used to hear people complain all the time that they knew rain was coming from the aching in their knees,” says Pam Snow, 54, of Denver, who has arthritis. “Now I’m one of those people!”
Snow has osteoarthritis in both knees. She typically manages her pain with exercise, diet, weight loss, and the occasional over-the-counter pain reliever, but when winter weather sets in, Snow faces an extra joint-pain challenge. “I think it’s related to barometric pressure,” she says. “It definitely has made me more cognizant of the weather.”
For Snow, arthritis isn’t just a personal problem. As vice president for community involvement for the Colorado Arthritis Foundation, she travels the state educating others about the condition. So she’s aware that there’s very little scientific evidence to support her own experience, and that of the legions of others with arthritis who feel worse when the weather is frightful.
“In terms of really trying to scientifically study it, [research] is rather sparse and contradictory,” says rheumatologist Bonita S. Libman, MD, professor of medicine and division chief of rheumatology and clinical immunology at the University of Vermont College of Medicine in Burlington. Yet a lot of people do feel that weather affects their symptoms, Dr. Libman adds.
In fact, she says there may be some truth to the old wives’ tale that aching joints indicate a change in weather. According to some old studies Libman is familiar with, and which the Arthritis Foundation cites, people in barometric pressure chambers found that the lower the pressure, the more aches and pains they felt.
How to Find Arthritis Relief
Whether the joint pain/weather connection is scientifically true or not, you can still use these arthritis pain-relief tips when your aching joints act up in winter.
1. Dress Warmly
If it’s cold outside, keep aching hands warm with gloves, and add extra layers over knees and legs. “I’m one of those people who loves to wear dresses and skirts,” Snow says, “so when it’s cold, I also wear tights or leggings to stay warm.”
2. Layer Up
Snow, who moved from Birmingham, Alabama, to Denver, says she loves being active in the Colorado weather, but knows it’s important to wear lots of layers so she can control her comfort level when temperatures shift dramatically during the day. For example, she layers a few pairs of gloves on her hands and can peel them off, one by one, as needed.
Snow found that when she moved to the drier climate of Colorado, she started drinking more water. “I really think [staying hydrated] has helped me stay active,” she says. Even mild dehydration might make you more sensitive to pain, according to study results published in the September 2015 issue of Experimental Physiology.
4. Lose Weight
When Snow moved to Colorado in 2013, she weighed 172 pounds, and her new doctor told her that at 5’6” she was obese.
“I heard that ‘O’ word and I thought, well, I don’t feel like I’m obese. I was always watching my weight by how my clothes fit,” she says. At that time, she comfortably wore a size 14. But she committed to losing weight and now clocks in at about 158 pounds and wears a size 10. She credits the more physically active culture of Colorado for some of her success. “There’s always someone to walk with,” she says.
And, as her activity levels went up and her weight went down, her arthritis improved, even in cold weather. Indeed, a 2013 article in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) highlighted the significant improvement people with knee arthritis can get from weight loss, from diet, and exercise.
5. Exercise Inside
While it’s understandable to want to avoid winter chill, people with joint pain should still stay active. The less sedentary you are, the better your physical function, according to a study of people with knee arthritis published in Arthritis Care & Research in March 2015. Come up with an indoor exercise plan. Snow has a treadmill and an elliptical trainer at home. Libman recommends walking the mall.
Swimming in a heated pool is both great exercise and soothing to joints. You can also get relief from warm baths, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Just don’t go right out into the cold after your soak. Let your body temperature normalize a bit first.
7. Supplement Vitamin D
Low levels of vitamin D might play a role in how sensitive you are to arthritis pain, according to research in the September 2015 issue of Pain Management. Being deficient in vitamin D also raises the risk for osteoporosis, Libman warns. You’re less likely to get enough vitamin D from its natural source, sunlight, in the winter, so talk to your doctor about your need for supplements or vitamin D-fortified foods.
8. Stay Safe
Particularly when the weather turns icy, people with arthritis need to protect their joints from further damage. If you’re going outside, pick solid, supportive shoes with good treads and try to walk on a surface that doesn’t look slick, Libman advises.
9. Try a Glucosamine-Chondroitin Supplement
Although no herbal supplements have been proven to provide arthritis pain relief in clinical studies, and the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) does not recommend glucosamine-chondroitin for arthritis, Libman says that some of her patients do report relief from taking these supplements. “What I tell my patients is, if they can afford to pay for it and they want to give it a try, it seems to be a low-risk therapy for pain,” she says.
10. Add Fish Oil
“Omega-3 fatty acids do have some benefit because they seem to reduce the level of inflammation,” Libman says. The Arthritis Foundation recommends up to 2.6 grams of fish oil capsules twice a day. Make sure to let your doctor know if you try omega-3s, as they can increase the risk for bruising or bleeding.
11. Consider Acetaminophen or NSAIDs
Even if, like Snow, you prefer to treat your joint pain with lifestyle changes rather than medication, you may want to take an over-the-counter pain reliever when your joint pain seems to worsen with the weather. The ACR guidelines include a recommendation to use these over-the-counter pain relievers for osteoarthritis. However, Libman says that, “to avoid side effects, take the lowest dose for the shortest amount of time, and always check with your doctor first to make sure it is safe for you to take.”
12. Get a Massage
Yes, you have permission to indulge yourself and get a massage. “A lot of what’s happening in terms of pain is [that] some is emanating from the joint and some from the muscles around the joint,” Libman explains. Getting an hour-long massage once a week for at least eight weeks was shown to reduce pain, according to research in the June 2015 issue of The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.
13. Go Under the Needle
Acupuncture is another option for those willing to consider non-traditional treatments. “It does seem patients derive some benefit with regard to pain,” Libman says. You also might find the process relaxing and feel generally healthier, according to research in the August 2015 issue of The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.