Common allergy triggers and how to manage them
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
4. HOUSE DUST MITES
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.