Managing Treatments

Treating Seasonal Allergies and Cancer at the Same Time

Seasonal allergies are no fun, but they're unlikely to interfere with your cancer treatment. Follow these simple strategies to get relief.

Seasonal allergies are frustrating at the best of times. But allergies and cancer are an especially uncomfortable mix. When those runny eyes, sniffles, sore throats, sinus pressure and headaches develop while you’re undergoing cancer treatment, it can feel like a bad joke. Luckily, seasonal allergies aren’t likely to directly interfere with cancer treatments or their effectiveness. That doesn’t mean you have to suffer in silence, though.

According to the American Cancer Society, any signs of a severe allergic reaction should prompt an immediate call to your oncologist. That includes hives, shortness of breath or a swelling of your throat or face. If your symptoms are less severe, try these tips to tame seasonal allergies.

First Step: Talk to Your Doctor

If you typically experience seasonal allergies, let your oncology care team know before the sniffles strike. They may have specific suggestions for symptom management during cancer treatment. They will also let you know when allergy symptoms warrant a phone call.

You should talk to your doctor or pharmacist about which over-the-counter (OTC) allergy remedies to use. You’ll probably want to use an antihistamine to relieve sneezing, itchiness and a runny nose. Other choices are a decongestant to lessen nasal congestion or a combination product that contains both an antihistamine and a decongestant. OTC corticosteroid nasal sprays are another effective option.

Keep Everything Clean

Wash off the allergens, completely. During allergy season, allergens accumulate on your skin and hair as you move throughout your day. Shower or wash your hair at night before bed to remove pollen. (Use cool or warm water — not hot — to avoid drying out your skin.) The American Society of Clinical Oncology recommends you use a moisturizing cream at least twice a day and within 15 minutes of showering.

Allergens also accumulate on your clothing, so wash everything after each wearing. Use hot water when possible, and look for smooth fibers (like cotton) so pollen is less likely to stick to your garments. When buying laundry detergent and skin care products, such as soaps, moisturizers and cosmetics, you want to use unscented or hypoallergenic products.

Avoid Certain Accessories

First off, choose eyeglasses over contacts. During allergy season, it’s all too easy for pollen to get rubbed into your eyes, where the irritants can then get trapped under contact lenses, further aggravating your eye’s delicate tissues. You may want to stick to wearing your glasses for the duration. If you’re devoted to your contacts, look into disposable lenses so you can discard them after wearing each day. That will help prevent pollen buildup. As well, avoid wearing perfume or cologne.

Consider Your Diet

It goes without saying that you should avoid any food to which you have a true allergy. But you may have certain foods that you can eat comfortably during the dead of winter. Then, during allergy season, these same foods can contribute to allergy overload. Common culprits are fruits like strawberries or melons, tree nuts and peanuts, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI). Additionally, research from the AAAAI suggests alcohol, especially red wine, can aggravate your allergies.

Coping with seasonal allergies and cancer may require extra doses of patience and creativity to come up with solutions that increase your comfort during a challenging time. But keep your eyes on the prize: completing your cancer treatment as scheduled. Thankfully, seasonal allergies are unlikely to affect that goal, no matter how miserable they make you in the meantime.

Allergies of all kinds come up during cancer treatment. If you experience a reaction, talk to your team about getting evaluated.

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Darcy Lewis
Darcy Lewis