Not To Be Sneezed At!
The good news is, spring is in the air. But, if you suffer from seasonal allergies, that’s also the bad news. By Rebekah Kendal
Although you can’t see them, the air is full of pollen particles. They may seem quite harmless, but these microscopic specks are to some people what kryptonite is to Superman. If you suffer from seasonal allergies, your immune system treats allergens – such as pollen – as a threat. Your body responds by releasing a chemical called histamine. According to Dr Adrian Morris of the Allergy Clinic, histamine causes blood vessels to dilate, irritates nerves, contracts airway muscles and stimulates mucus production, resulting in breathing difficulties, a blocked nose, sneezing or itchy eyes. If these symptoms sound familiar, read on.
Seasonal allergies, usually caused by pollens and moulds, as well as some types of fungi, differ from perennial allergies, which are commonly triggered by dust mites and pets, because they occur only at certain times of the year. ‘Seasonal allergies are the worst during your teens and twenties, and are usually outgrown in your forties,’ says Dr Morris. The fact that seasonal allergies can be outgrown is comforting, but given the level of discomfort they cause, simply waiting until you turn 40 may not be the best way to deal with the problem.
Clear Your Head
While desensitisation immunotherapy can be used to permanently cure some allergies, it is not cheap and requires serious commitment. It works by gradually increasing your ability to tolerate a particular allergen. You start on a very low dose, which is either injected or taken orally, then slowly increase the dosage over a period of three years, until the allergen no longer produces an allergic response. When curing the allergy is not an option, you can always treat the symptoms. Medication used includes oral antihistamines, decongestants, nasal corticoster-oids and antihistamine nasal sprays. ‘Older antihistamines can cause sedation, a dry mouth and mood changes,’ explains Dr Morris. ‘The newer, “cleaner” antihistamines don’t have these effects and are safe to use for long periods, during pregnancy and for babies.’ The decongestants that come in the form of nasal sprays should be used for short-term relief only, as long-term use can actually make the symptoms worse. In the case of allergic rhinitis (inflammation of the nose), you can try nasal douching. This effective way of clearing your nasal passages involves sniffing up a diluted salt water solution – a touch of bicarbonate of soda is optional – and then expelling it.
Nip It In The Bud
Of course, if possible, prevention is better than cure. While avoiding allergens can be difficult, Dr Morris suggests reducing your exposure to them by following these tips:
- Remain indoors on dry, windy days or when pollen counts are at their highest (around 11 am and 6 pm).
- Keep your bedroom windows closed and try to avoid opening your car windows when driving.
- Start taking antihistamines two weeks before pollen season starts.
- Apply a little Vaseline to the inside of your nostrils to trap the pollen and stop it from reaching your upper nose.
- Wear wrap-around sunglasses that help prevent the pollen from getting into your eyes.
- Tumble-dry your washing instead of hanging it up outside, where the pollen will get trapped in the fabric.
- When you get home, shower and wash your hair to get rid of accu-mulated pollen. Change into fresh clothes.
Allergies vs Cold
‘Long-standing allergies are often confused with a cold, particularly symptoms such as sinus and nasal blockage, a runny nose and sneezing,’ explains Dr Morris. ‘But a cold would present with a fever, headache, muscle pains and a sore throat. So there are subtle differences.’ Other distinctions include:
- Occurrence of symptoms: With allergies, symptoms tend to appear all at once, while they appear one at a time with colds.
- Duration: Colds usually last between seven and 10 days. Allergies, on the other hand, will last as long as you are exposed to the allergen, which can be weeks at a time.
- Mucus: In the case of allergies, mucus is usually clear and runny; in the case of a cold, it often has a yellowish colour.
Seasonal allergies are the worst during your teens and twenties, and are usually outgrown in your forties
Allergy Clinic – www.allergyclinic.co.za
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- Dilated blood vessels Rashes, redness, swelling and sinus or nasal congestion
- Irritated nerves Explosive sneezing, as well as itchy nose, eyes, palate and ears
- Constricted airways Wheezing, asthma and throat closure
- Mucus production Plenty of phlegm
- Other symptoms Watery, red or puffy eyes; post-nasal drip; fatigue; irritability and disturb-ance in mood, sleep or cognitive functioning