My day begins as a perfectly sunny, breezy, spring morning. But then we meet. The encounter leaves me debilitated, my eyes red and swollen, and my beautiful day in ruins.

No, I'm not talking about my confrontations with Sally, my moody, volcanic boss. Nor am I referring to huffy Aunt Beatrice, who dispenses scathing criticism on my children's behavior and my parenting skills at every family get-together. I'm not even speaking about my grumpy neighbor Harry and his huge brown dog who grunt threateningly at anyone who approaches the vicinity of their immaculately manicured lawn.

I'm not talking about how encounters with difficult people can spoil a hitherto wonderful day, but about my seasonal meeting with plant pollen, which leaves me sneezing, coughing, itching, with a runny nose and swollen, watery eyes.

Like an estimated 45 million Americans and Canadians, I suffer from hay fever, otherwise known as seasonal rhinitis or pollen allergy. Pollen allergy, like any other allergy, is a sensitivity to a normally harmless substance. Scientists think that people inherit a tendency to be allergic, or that it develops when the body's defenses are weakened.

When allergic people come into contact with an allergen, their immune system responds to a false alarm, treating the allergen as a hostile invader and mobilizing to attack. The result is a powerful reaction releasing inflammatory chemicals and basically leaving you feeling miserable.

In fact, if you think about it, allergic reactions are a lot like our reactions to Aunt Beatrice, Boss Sally and Neighbor Harry. Their anger, criticism or condescension is really harmless, but it affects those of us who have a tendency to allow it to bother us, especially at times when our defenses are down. It's not the "allergen" that causes the inflammation, but our reaction to it that leaves us feeling so miserable.

So, if you're like me, what can you do to get some allergy relief at this time of year? And, is there any method of relief for those encounters with the "difficult" people in our lives?

Basically, there are three approaches to the treatment of hay fever:

1) Avoidance. Avoidance of the allergy means staying indoors, wearing face masks to filter out the pollen when outdoors, or relocating to a place where the offending plants don't grow. But this extreme approach means missing out on some of life's most beautiful experiences. Moreover, it is usually not sustainable, and thus offers only short-lived relief.

While we can try your best to avoid, reduce and/or filter our exposure to disparaging people, this method is quite costly to ourselves and, at best, only works in the short term.

2) Medication. Hay fever symptoms can often be controlled with antihistamines or decongestants.

The drawback to this method—in addition to the undesirable side effects of these medications—is that the problem hasn't really been solved. The allergy hasn't been cured—only its symptoms have been mitigated.

We can stop ourselves from reacting negatively, answering back, or inflaming the experience of a confrontation with a negative person. We can control the outward eruption of irritation, anger, or hurt, and continue to function normally. Still, we haven't dealt with the root causes of our predicament. Inside, we are still seething...

3) Immunotherapy. Otherwise known as allergy shots, the aim of this treatment is to increase the patient's tolerance of the allergic substance. Diluted extracts are injected under the patient's skin, followed by carefully monitored, larger doses. The body eventually learns that its irritable reaction is derived from its own misconception and stops treating the pollen as an enemy. The drawback of this method is that it takes time to build up tolerance and prolonged treatment may be needed.

We can change our reaction to "irritating" people by training ourselves to look beyond their surface crabbiness and see the person behind the unattractive façade. We can learn to accept that the "enemy" is, in essence, a good person; it is only that external circumstances have twisted his behavior into negative patterns. When we identify our misconception and start looking at people in that way, their behavior becomes more bearable, and eventually it no longer inflames us.

Like allergies to pollen, there's no easy cure for difficult people, and exposure to them can be just as, if not more, debilitating than the dreaded hay fever. Indeed, pollen only affects us at limited seasons of the year, while difficult people tend to intrude into our lives at all times.

Which makes adopting an effective method of treatment all the more worthwhile...