Suffering with itchy eyes, a runny nose or constant sneezing? You’re not alone — pollen season is well underway, making the walks and outdoor gatherings that were formerly the highlights of lockdown living a nuisance. As the country continues to open up, it’s increasingly important to get allergies under control, though experts note it is crucial to first understand what kind of allergy you have.
andra Walsh is nurse director of the Allergy Clinic, which operates clinics in Dublin, Cork, Galway and Waterford, and says an allergy test may be needed to establish whether your symptoms are driven by dust mites, grass pollen or tree pollen, and find treatment to properly tackle them.
“Airborne allergens such as tree pollen or grass pollen are the drivers of allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, and then perennial rhinitis is determined by dust mites. Taking antihistamines on an ad-hoc basis may have no advantage to the patient. How we measure people is by the quality of life,” she explains.
Depending on the kind of allergy, there are products that can help you to relieve symptoms, soothe irritation and sleep better. Here, we break down the top picks.
Dr Iseult Sheehan from Allergy Ireland at Dublin’s Slievemore Clinic advises that the first place to start is with the NeilMed sinus rinse (€19.99, pharmacies), which can be used one or twice a day. “Basically it’s a saline or salty water rinse into the nose and sinuses,” she says. “It will remove the allergens like pollen from the nose or from the nasal cavity, but it also cleans out any extra mucus or phlegm that might be inside the nose, so it drains out the sinuses. That is the most effective product that you could buy, and it’s not expensive.”
Next, she suggests equipping yourself with a pair of wraparound sunglasses, though she says any brand will do. “Wraparound sunglasses are amazing at keeping pollen out.”
Dry, sore eyes can be especially uncomfortable during the summer months, but Dr Sheehan suggests wearing a cold eye mask before bed. “Cool compresses that you can pop into the freezer can be really good if your eyes are particularly inflamed or irritated,” she says, noting that the pollen count will have gone down by nighttime so you shouldn’t need to wear one as a barrier to keep pollen out, although it can alleviate irritation from the day.
The Eye Doctor Essential Dry Eye Compress (€12.50, pharmacies) is a reusable mask filled with self-cooling beads that can be stored in the freezer before fastening around your head, with an adjustable strap for a more comfortable fit. You can massage the mask to apply gentle pressure, and it can be used 200 times, with the option to heat in the microwave, for additional use if you suffer with dry eyes during colder months.
For both pollen and dust mite allergies, experts recommend a good quality air purifier. Joyce Clegg, managing director of the Allergy Clinic, names the Dimplex Four-Stage Air Purifier with HEPA filtration (€139.95, currently reduced from €179.95, Arnotts.ie) as the top choice in their clinics.
“We’ve looked across the board, at all of the filters on the Irish market, and Dimplex are the ones that we would recommend to our patients,” she explains. “What the Dimplex HEPA filter will do to our dust mite allergic patients, to our grass pollen allergic patients, and to our animal dander allergic patients, is it will remove the allergens from the bedroom. You plug in a Dimplex HEPA filter, and it removes 99.9pc of the allergens in the room, so it makes for a very healthy sleeping environment.”
Its compact build means the air purifier can be easily carried from room to room, and will sit neatly on a bedside table or work desk. It comes in handy when working from home, as you can bring the air purifier into your home office during the day, though Joyce observes it will be most beneficial in the bedroom.
“You can plug it into any room but the space a person needs to be cleanest is their sleeping environment, because this is when their lungs will relax completely, when we sleep,” she explains.
DUST MITE ALLERGIES
As well as the air purifier, you can allergy-proof your bedroom with anti-allergy bedding. Dust mites live in the mattress, and will rise up at night and travel into your airways when you are most relaxed. To prevent this, avoid bedding that will hold a lot of dust mites, particularly any bedding that uses feathers.
Joyce advises a hypoallergenic option like the Emma mattress (from €449.99, Emma-Mattress.ie), which is made from memory foam and tightly sealed to prevent dust mites from accumulating in the material. “The mattress has anti-dust mite properties in it, and it comes with a zipped, anti-dust mite medical grade mattress protector. The dust mite cannot get out of the mattress to get into your airways,” she says.
If you don’t want to invest in a new mattress, the brand also sells standalone mattress protectors (€99.99, Emma-Mattress.ie), although Dr Sheehan observes that cheaper versions can be very effective too.
“I’d recommend hypoallergenic pillows, duvet and mattress protector. And you don’t need to be spending a load of money on it, it works,” she says, noting the range from Dunnes Stores is “absolutely brilliant”, including anti-allergy pillow protectors (€6 for two), duvet (from €30) and mattress protector (from €10, Dunnes Stores).
“Wash the bedding once a week at 60C, and just be wary, particularly with children — they have teddies a lot of times in the bed as well, so do the same with teddies, washing them weekly,” she advises.
“You can actually pop teddies into the freezer for an hour and that will kill any dust mites. That can be done during the week, because you’re not going to get hypoallergenic teddies, unfortunately!”