How to recognize them, control them and take care of them

If you suffer from allergies, you know it’s no fun at all. In fact, pollen counts are significantly higher in Canada this spring, making it even less fun for allergy sufferers. Spring moulds and tree pollens pass the allergy baton to summer pollens and ragweed, and then hay fever season in the fall. Indoors there’s a host of non-seasonal allergens, including food allergies, contact allergies and drug allergies.

But wait, it gets better! Over the course of our lives, we can grow out of old allergies, but into new ones. Many types of allergies are very much on the rise, a fact attributed to environmental factors (including climate change) and Western lifestyles, including pollution, dietary changes and less exposure to microbes that affect our immune system’s response.

When every breeze carries a sneeze.

As many as 25% of Canadians suffer from seasonal allergies. Symptoms can worsen depending on weather conditions, including wind, rain, temperature and humidity levels, plus geographic location. Dust mites are more common in moist climates. Dry, windy climates release tree and other pollens more freely and in greater abundance. Though rain can wash high volumes of airborne pollens into the ground, it also releases a torrent of moulds and mildew.

The invisible world of allergens

At any given time, there’s a whole unseen universe of allergens swirling around us. Most of the time, our bodies deal with them in ways that don’t cause a histamine response, or allergic reaction. But if our bodies can’t deal with them, it causes a reaction.

Allergens affect us by being ingested or inhaled or by touching our skin. If our body identifies them as foreign, it deploys an immune response to fend off the perceived “invaders.” This releases histamines, and causes the sneezy, watery eyes, itching and runny nose that are the hallmarks of allergy sufferers.

The most common allergy triggers are:

  • Foods
  • Animal dander
  • Dust mites
  • Pollen
  • Mould
  • Insect bites and stings
  • Medications
  • Latex

Food allergies on the rise

Amazingly, one in every two Canadian households are now impacted by food allergies, including almost half a million children under age 18. One theory for the increase in food allergies in recent years is that Western countries live in more sanitized environments, so our immune systems are no longer able to fight certain germs or infections that they’re not exposed to as often as they used to be.7

Little nut. Big controversy.

Peanuts have very much been in the spotlight when it comes to food allergies – though no one knows exactly why peanut allergies have risen over the past 10 years. Popular theories include: a lack of vitamin D, underdeveloped immune systems, family history, and having multiple allergies.

Anaphylaxis on the rise

Anaphylaxis is an extreme allergy response, which acts quickly and can be fatal. Symptoms include hives, swelling of the face, lips and tongue, itching, rash, wheezing and respiratory distress, chest pain, nasal congestion, watery eyes, and sneezing, and can also include nausea, cramps, vomiting, fainting and shock.

If you’re at risk of anaphylaxis, you can carry an epinephrine auto-injector, commonly known as an EpiPen®. Allergens that may trigger anaphylactic response include peanuts, shellfish, eggs, milk, mustard, insect bites and stings, medications and latex.

Tips for allergy control at home

  • Stay indoors when it’s windy and dry
  • Avoid yard work
  • If high pollen counts are forecasted, take allergy medication before you feel symptoms, and keep your windows closed
  • Use air conditioning
  • Use a dehumidifier
  • Ensure your vacuum has a HEPA filter and clean your floors often
  • Try over-the-counter medications like oral antihistamines, decongestants and nasal sprays
  • Rinse your nasal passages with a saline solution
  • Try alternative remedies like butterbur and spirulina (but check with your doctor first), or acupuncture

When over-the-counter won’t cut it

If over-the-counter solutions don’t ease your symptoms, you may require prescription medications. These fall into several categories, including antihistamines, decongestants, corticosteroids, the EpiPen and immunotherapy (also known as allergy shots). In Canada, it costs $100 to $150 for a single, potentially life-saving EpiPen. Given that most prescription allergy drugs, including EpiPens, are not covered by government health plans, having a family member with severe allergies or anaphylaxis can be financially draining. Flexible insurance plans, like CoverMe Health & Dental Insurance, are designed to help protect you against routine and unexpected expenses, including prescription allergy medications and treatments, eyeglasses, dental care, acupuncture and more.*

*Conditions, limitations and exclusions apply. See policy for details.


Sources:, “Why are pollen allergies worse in Canada this year?” May 31, 2021., “Allergy season starts earlier, lasts longer, gets worse with climate change,” February 9, 2021., “Why the world is becoming more allergic to food,” September 13, 2019.

Asthma Canada, “ALLERGIES: Understand and Manage Your Allergies,” 2020., “Why Are My Allergies Worse Indoors?” January 4, 2021., “Know Your Allergy Triggers,” June 25, 2019., “Food Allergy FAQs,” 2019., “Why Are So Many Kids Allergic to Peanuts,” January 8, 2021., “Seasonal allergies: Nip them in the bud,” April 16, 2020., “How much does an EpiPen cost in Canada?” April 15, 2021.