Com­mon al­lergy trig­gers and how to man­age them

Fairlady - - CONTENTS - By Dr Natasha Dole

Al­ler­gies are on the in­crease all over the world. Re­cent stud­ies have shown that up to a third of South Africans suf­fer from some sort of al­ler­gic pro­file dur­ing their life­span. These sen­si­tiv­i­ties can have a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on your daily life. At best, they can af­fect your sleep, re­la­tion­ships, pro­duc­tiv­ity and state of mind; at worst, they can be se­ri­ously de­bil­i­tat­ing, even fa­tal.

Here are five of the most com­mon cul­prits in South Africa that can set you off.


A sea­sonal al­lergy, pollen is dif­fi­cult to avoid: it’s very fine and in the air you breathe. The most com­mon al­ler­gic re­ac­tion to pollen is hay fever, oth­er­wise known as al­ler­gic rhini­tis, but it can also bring on a sea­sonal asthma at­tack.

Avoid­ing pollen as much as you can is key. It’s tricky, but it can be done: • Stay in­side un­til af­ter mid­day, es­pe­cially on windy days or when the grass is be­ing cut • Avoid go­ing out­side, es­pe­cially af­ter

a thun­der­storm • Pro­tect your eyes with sun­glasses • Wear glasses in­stead of con­tact lenses • Wear a mask when you’re out­side • Keep the win­dows at home and in your

car closed • Avoid air con­di­tion­ing as much as

pos­si­ble • Have your gar­den weeded as of­ten as

pos­si­ble (you shouldn’t do it your­self!) • Rinse and lubri­cate your eyes of­ten • Other so­lu­tions to try – but only af­ter con­sult­ing your doc­tor – in­clude an­ti­his­tamines, nasal sprays, med­i­cated eye drops, nasal douches and asthma pumps


You may love them, but cats have an al­ler­gen found in their saliva, urine and dan­der (the dried flakes of their skin) that trig­gers an al­ler­gic re­ac­tion. Ev­ery time Tib­bles licks her­self, she spreads the al­ler­gen all over her fur – while at the same time shed­ding it into the air and onto the sur­round­ing walls. (Eeeeu­u­uuw.) So you can imag­ine how eas­ily your bed­ding and clothes are con­tam­i­nated… The par­ti­cles are so tiny that they con­tinue to float around in the air for ages, which is why they can prompt an asthma at­tack or al­ler­gic symp­toms even if there isn’t a cat in sight.

Un­for­tu­nately, the only way to deal with a cat al­lergy is to re­move the cat. Even af­ter that, it can take sev­eral months for your symp­toms to dis­ap­pear be­cause those par­ti­cles will stick around for some time. You’ll also need to wash your hands fre­quently as the par­ti­cles can spread onto any sur­face. An­ti­his­tamines, nasal sprays and douches, med­i­cated eye drops and asthma pumps will also help, but speak to your doc­tor first to es­tab­lish which will work best for you.

The good news for pet-lovers is that be­ing al­ler­gic to cats doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean you’re al­ler­gic to fur, or that you’re al­ler­gic to dogs, so you may be able to keep a pet – just not a cat!

Mould is a year-round prob­lem, but there’s a def­i­nite up­swing in al­ler­gic re­ac­tions in spring.


Mould – ba­si­cally an­other name for a mi­cro­scopic fun­gus – is among the most wide­spread liv­ing or­gan­isms, and has many dif­fer­ent vari­a­tions that re­lease small par­ti­cles (spores) into the air, which repli­cate and cause the al­lergy. Mould spores are found both in­doors and out­side: you know those lit­tle black spots on the walls or ceil­ing of damp rooms, or the thick white spots on de­cay­ing or old bread, cheeses, ce­re­als and fruit? Those.

Mould is a year-round prob­lem, but there’s a def­i­nite up­swing in al­ler­gic re­ac­tions in spring. In­side, spores are most of­ten found in kitchens (es­pe­cially manky fridges), bath­rooms (usu­ally on win­dows or win­dow frames), hu­mid­i­fiers and tum­ble dri­ers. Out­side, you’ll find them in sea­weed, rot­ting com­post, grass cut­tings, bird drop­pings or dead plants.

Here’s how to pre­vent them from set­tling in: • In­vest in a pro­tec­tive mat­tress

cover • Make sure your home and of­fice

are well ven­ti­lated • Open the bath­room win­dows

af­ter show­er­ing or bathing • Keep in­door house plants to

a min­i­mum • If you can, keep the hu­mid­ity

of your house at around 20°C • Avoid dry­ing wet clothes

in­doors • Reg­u­larly use a strong de­ter­gent

on mould-prone sur­faces • Use ex­trac­tor fans when cook­ing • Re­place car­pets with tiles or

wood where you can • Don’t store food in the bed­room – in fact, try not to eat in your bed­room at all • In­stall an ex­trac­tor fan in your

bath­room • Re­pair any plumb­ing leaks as

soon as pos­si­ble • Scour sinks and tubs at least

once a month • Clean or air your cur­tains

reg­u­larly • Avoid con­tact with freshly mown lawns, com­posts or fer­tilis­ers


These are a ma­jor cause of al­ler­gies, es­pe­cially in South Africa, where they are the sin­gle most com­mon al­ler­gen and cause about 30% of all al­ler­gies. Links be­tween asthma and ex­po­sure to the house dust mite are well doc­u­mented.

This tiny scav­enger has no sight or res­pi­ra­tory sys­tem and can’t reg­u­late or con­trol its body tem­per­a­ture – it sur­vives by ab­sorb­ing mois­ture and oxy­gen from the en­vi­ron­ment and feed­ing on the skin we shed (hu­man dan­der). Dust mites live in warm, hu­mid ar­eas and are of­ten found in bed­ding, fur­ni­ture or car­pets. The prob­lem is their drop­pings, which con­tain di­ges­tive en­zymes that can in­clude up to 14 dif­fer­ent al­ler­gens.

You’ll find dust mites in your pil­lows and du­vets – in fact there are about 1 000 of them in the av­er­age bed! They also love open shelves, dusty toys, dried flow­ers, blinds and soft fur­nish­ings.

Here’s what to do if you have an al­lergy to house dust mites: • A spe­cial dust mite mat­tress cover will make a huge dif­fer­ence

• Air your bed­ding in di­rect sun­light – the dust mites will die of de­hy­dra­tion. How­ever, it might not re­move the dust residue • Re­move any fit­ted car­pets, and make sure wooden floors are sealed off prop­erly • Vac­uum daily (if you have the time) with a pow­er­ful vac­uum cleaner or at least twice a week; en­sure the cleaner bag and fil­ters are re­placed or changed reg­u­larly • Re­duce hu­mid­ity in your home: house dust mites are made up of 75% wa­ter (even though they never drink) and in or­der to breed, they have to main­tain this level. By re­duc­ing the mois­ture in your home, you stop them breed­ing – that’s the golden rule to a house free of the lit­tle pests.


Re­cent stud­ies have shown that peanut al­ler­gies have in­creased over the years, although the ex­act cause of them – what ex­actly it is about peanuts par­tic­u­larly – re­mains un­clear. (Peanuts aren’t ac­tu­ally nuts; they’re part of the bean or legume fam­ily and grow un­der­ground). The bot­tom line is that this is a very se­ri­ous al­lergy that can cause sub­stan­tial prob­lems, even death.

About 90% of peo­ple with true peanut al­ler­gies re­act within the first 20 min­utes of be­ing ex­posed, but symp­toms can per­sist up to two hours later. Un­for­tu­nately, there is no cure. Avoid­ance is vi­tal, which means ev­ery­one around the al­lergy suf­ferer needs to know about their con­di­tion.

About 20% of chil­dren with a peanut al­lergy will out­grow it; 60% will stay the same and 20% will get worse. If the al­lergy per­sists into the teen years, it’s highly un­likely that it will dis­ap­pear. While most al­ler­gies can’t be cured, they can be well con­trolled. Your doc­tor will make a di­ag­no­sis af­ter tak­ing a de­tailed his­tory and do­ing a thor­ough phys­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tion, which can in­clude spe­cific blood tests or skin prick test­ing. It’s vi­tal to know what trig­gers your symp­toms and when and where they’re worst.

Once you know what your al­ler­gen is, it’s crit­i­cal that you try to re­duce ex­po­sure to it as much as pos­si­ble. It’s also re­ally im­por­tant to make sure that your fam­ily and close friends know about it.

Once you know what your al­ler­gen is, it’s crit­i­cal that you try to re­duce ex­po­sure to it as much as pos­si­ble.

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