Guy blowing his nose

—Kennedy L.*, Queen’s University, Ontario

Environmental allergies are a drag! First off, they’re annoying and interfere with daily life—for example, because you tend not to sleep very well with them, you tend to drag yourself around school or work.

I personally have a ragweed allergy, which consists of a stuffy nose, itchy eyes, and not being able to taste foods the same way as when I’m not suffering. I feel your pain, so here are some tips to fight off allergies.

Modify your environment

If your allergy is something that’s somewhat easy to get rid of or minimize, then do that. For example, if you’re allergic to a friend’s cat, ask them over to your place or to meet outside instead of going over to theirs. If it’s dust that stuffs you up, vacuum regularly and consider getting rid of carpets and stuffed toys. If it’s pollen, then staying indoors during high-pollen days and using an air filtration system can help.

Try an antihistamine

There are two types of antihistamines (which is just a fancy word for allergy meds): those that make you drowsy and those that don’t.

Drowsy: Chlorpheniramine and diphenhydramine are the two products that can make you feel a little woozy. While they work well, they make it difficult to work or study, and you might even doze off. That’s why it’s best to use them at night. They can also dry your mucous membrane, which can be a little uncomfortable.

Non-drowsy: Cetirizine is one of the best non-drowsy antihistamines. You can find these in your local pharmacy. To save some money, buy the generic brand. These can provide relief for up to 24 hours.

Other medications

If you only have a few symptoms, you may want to use something that’s topical, such as intranasal glucocorticoids. These are good for stuffy noses, sinus congestion headaches, and, in some people, an itchy palate. However, they do tend to make your nasal membranes very dry, which can lead to nosebleeds.

There are also several types of eye drops that can contain antihistamines, mast-cell stabilizer (mast cells release histamine when they burst), vasoconstrictors, and even mild glucocorticoids. They’re good options, but if you get fidgety putting something in your eye, this may not be for you. You’ll need a prescription from a physician to get them.

Allergy shots or desensitization

This process is involved but may be effective. First, you’ll need to see an allergist who can find out what it is you’re allergic to. Once that’s been done, a serum is made that contains all or some of these things you’re allergic to. It’s then injected in your arm weekly at first, then biweekly, then monthly. This is best only if you plan on staying in one area for a number of years. If you plan to move, the allergens in the area you move to may be different.

Getting an allergy test on arm

You’ll need to make an appointment to get your shot, and once it’s been done, you’re usually required to wait a half hour or so to make sure you don’t have a severe reaction, and to check your arm for the reaction that you may have had. The size of this reaction will dictate how much of the serum you’ll getnext time. If it’s a severe reaction, the dose may be decreased or stay the same. If it’s minimal, then you can increase by a prescribed amount determined by the allergist. This may be short (e.g., a few weeks for ragweed, a few months for others). Trust me, it sounds involved, but this is a sizable investment in your time.

Remember: Allergies can occur at any time. Just because you didn’t have them this year doesn’t mean that you won’t have them next year or the following. If you’re having symptoms, see your health care provider and ask for suggestions as to what to do.

In the meantime, I give you the permission to complain if you have them—everyone does. It’s important for our sanity.

*Name changed