When Spring brings on the Sniffles
Spring is here and while we all dream of spending time outdoors, enjoying fresh air and beautiful flowers, this time of the year also marks the beginning of ‘Allergy Season’.
Indeed along with various flowers and plants – furry friends, dust and even a delicious dairy treat can all be triggers for allergic reactions.
An allergy is when your body reacts badly to some kind of substance – be this some kind of food, pollen, fur or dust.
The reason your body does this is because your immune system, which is the way your body protects itself from any kind of danger, thinks that the substance is harmful.
Normally our bodies adapt and change according to our environment – but when you have an allergy, it means your body has become over-sensitive in its reactions. Doctors are not completely sure what causes some people to be allergic and others not to be. While sometimes you might find that people within the same family are allergic to similar things, this is not always the case.
Although, allergies are a very common health problem it is important to identify and know how to treat any allergies you might have. This is because while the symptoms of many allergies are very mild and more irritating than harmful, others can be deadly.
TYPES OF ALLERGENS
Allergens is what we call the different substances that can cause an allergic reaction in your body. Here are some of the main types:
FOOD: Wheat, nuts, milk and dairy products, shellfish and eggs are common food items to which people are sometimes allergic.
PLANTS: Pollen, and some other substances, from various grasses, weeds, trees and flowers can also cause an allergic reaction in some people; we often call these kinds of allergies, seasonal or hay fever because they tend to get worse at times of the year when there is a lot of pollen in the year.
INSECT STINGS OR ANIMAL PRODUCTS: Pet fur, dust mites, cockroaches and the stings or insects like bees, wasps and mosquitos can cause a wide range of allergic symptoms – including some of the most severe ones.
MOULD: Mould is a kind of fungus or rot that can grow in various places and on various things. For some people, coming into contact with it can be very harmful.
MEDICATION: Certain kinds of medicines might also cause allergic reactions in some people. The most common is Penicillin and sulfa-drugs (these are medicines made from a substance called sulphonamide).
MATERIALS: Some people find that they are allergic to latex which is a material often used to make cleaning gloves and condoms. Other people are allergic to certain metals such as nickel.
The symptoms of an allergy are the different ways in which your body reacts when it comes into contact with a particular substance.
The symptoms will be different depending on what kind of allergy you have and how seriously you suffer from the allergy.
Some allergies might cause parts of your body to swell up.
If it is a food allergy, your mouth and tongue might also start tingling.
You also need to watch out for how your skin might react. You might get an itching or burning sensation. Your skin might get red patches, rashes or even hives. Hives are big round rashes that appear on your skin. They are also usually very itchy.
Often, especially with milder allergies like hay fever, you will experience symptoms that seem like you have a cold. So you might find that your nose is runny or blocked and that your eyes are itchy or swollen.
However, very severe allergies can cause something called anaphylaxis. This is when your body begins to shut down once it has come into contact with a substance to which you are allergic. You might begin to struggle to breathe, feel light-headed or even faint. If you do not receive medical treatment for these kind of experiences, your life in in danger.
Firstly, you must try and avoid any contact with the substance that brings on your allergy.
However, sometimes if this is not possible, you will have to take action to treat your symptoms and make sure your body recovers from its allergic reaction.
If you get the sniffles from pollen and you know you will be in the outdoors, you can try and cover your nose and mouth from pollen in the air, either using a bandana or some kind of material. Putting petroleum jelly over your nose can also help in mild cases.
If you suffer from dust allergies – you can get special kinds of materials and covers for household items like pillows and other linens.
MEDICATION: Many medicines that can help make the symptoms of allergies better are available over the counter at a pharmacy. However, in more serious cases, you must go to the clinic or see a doctor who can prescribe what will best help you.
IMMUNOTHERAPY: This is a kind of medical help where over a period of years, you are given injections that slowly get your body to adjust and no longer react to a substance that was causing you allergies.
This can be a long-term and permanent solution for certain cases.
EMERGENCY INJECTIONS: A special kind of injection, called an emergency epinephrine shot (syringe), is needed when a person suffers from a life-threatening allergy.
If you have this kind of deadly allergy, you must carry around two of these special syringes at all times. Make sure that they are within their expiry date. It is often called an Epipen and should reverse the symptoms within minutes by pumping adrenaline into your body.
If you think you might have allergies you can be tested in two ways. Either through a blood test or a skin test. Skin tests can be faster and cheaper than blood tests - but you must make sure that a trained specialist conducts these tests. They usually involve your skin being pricked with a tiny amount of different substances to see how your body reacts to them. Even if they inject a little of the substance, you will not feel a lot of pain.
ALLERGIES AND THE SOUTH AFRICAN CLIMATE
It is estimated that between 20 and 30 percent of South Africans suffer from some kind of allergy.
Those with grass allergies should avoid the Highveld area across Gauteng. In general, urban (city) areas are worse for allergies; often because pollution makes allergic reactions worse. Coastal (sea) areas can be a problem for those with mould allergies – due to the fact that there is more moisture (wetness) in the air.