Most people consider allergy to be a not-so-serious problem, maybe because they are generally not life-threatening or debilitating. But ask someone who sniffles 365 days a year with a tissue in the hand through his day-to-day activities, and you'll know how uncomfortable it is to bear with it.
Statistics reveal that around 30 years ago, one in every 5 people suffered from some kind of an allergy. However, the numbers have now increased at an alarming rate of 3 in every 5 people getting affected by allergies. With the winter season in, it's important to take note of all possible measures you can take to keep yourself and your family from getting affected by allergens. Read on...
AdvertisementWhat's an allergy?
The human immune system is equipped with numerous mechanisms; each one very meticulously crafted so as to cater to respond to every different attack the body may suffer. An allergy is a simple response of the immune system to something that has entered the human body, which is usually not harmful. This response may trigger a series of physiological actions to take place, including asthma, eczema and rhinitis.
What exactly happens to the body?
When the body is exposed to a substance that is considered dangerous or foreign by the immune system, the white blood cells kick into action and produce antibodies which link themselves to the antigen. During this antibody-antigen linkage, chemical substances known as mediators are released, which target that specific part of the body that is most susceptible to infection and harm, thus causing symptoms such as hives and swelling.
How does an allergy develop?
An allergen is a substance that may cause an allergy. On exposure to an allergen, the body produces a very specific antibody for the antigen present in the allergen. This process helps the body remember the antigen it was exposed to (sensitization). The next time you're exposed to the same allergen, your body goes into overdrive, secreting that specific antibody, releasing more mediators, and causing severe symptoms, known as an allergic attack.
What factors may cause an allergy to develop?
There are a number of reasons a person may be susceptible to allergy. Listed below are a few of them.
Genetics: The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America estimates that for a child whose parents both suffer from allergies, the risk of being allergic may be as large as 75%. For a child who's either one of the parents suffer from an allergy, the risk may go down to 50%. Family history is thus, of prime importance when it comes to susceptibility of inheritable diseases.
Lifestyle: It is now a known fact that our lifestyle and diet play an enormous role in maintaining overall health. The Gaur Research at the University of Michigan revealed that color additives like cochineal and carmine dye, which are usually used to add color to our read-made jams and confectionaries, can trigger allergies. Processed foods and adulterated packaged products are loaded with chemicals and preservatives, to which your body may develop an allergy.
Our homes aren't safe either. The carpets and air-conditioners gather dust and are breeding areas for many moulds.
Poor immunity: Immunocompromised individuals, elderly, children and pregnant women are more under the risk of developing an allergy than any other individual. Crash diets and prolonged fasting can also strip your body of the nutrients it requires for protection against different agents.
Global warming: Abnormal temperature rise and drops and fluctuating rainfall spells contribute to an increase in the number of weeds that produce allergic pollen grains. Wind-blown dust carries these pollen grains to new places, affecting more people.
Early exposure to antibiotics: A new research from the Yale School of Public Health suggests that children who are given antibiotics, especially those under the age of under 6 months are 52% more susceptible to be allergic later in their lives.
What medications can I take to reduce the symptoms?
Through removing the exposure of the allergen is the best way to keep yourself from an allergic attack, sometimes, when the symptoms turn worse, you may require medications. In such a stage, anti-histamines are the best; since they mute the chemicals (histamines) released into the blood vessels and control the severity of the symptoms.
You can try both short acting and long acting anti-histamines. Your doctor may also suggest the use of bronchodilators to treat blocked airways and open up swollen air passages. For reactions such as eczema, topical steroidal or non-steroidal ointments can be applied.
What are the common tests to diagnose allergies?
A simple family history check is enough to let your doctor decide the cause of your allergy. Other tests that may help your doctor diagnose your case are listed below.
Blood test: Commonly known as ImmunoCAP, this blood test is carried out in two parts. Firstly, the total IgE in the body is calculated to determine if the individual is suffering from an allergy or not. The blood from the patient is mixed with different common allergens to check whether an allergic reaction occurs or not. If the test is negative, the second step is carried out.
Skin prick test: The skin is marked by small squares and a drop of different suspected allergens is placed on different squares and then pricked, to allow the different allergens to enter the skin. Physical changes such as redness, swelling or itching on a particular square indicate the exact allergen.
Skin patch test: Most hair removal creams and hair dyes suggest this test to be carried out before use of the product to rule out the possibility of contact dermatitis. A small patch of skin is usually exposed to the possible allergen to note if any reaction occurs.
Tips to cut down the risk: Protect your family from allergies this season. Here's a list of what-to-do.
• Keep the car windows rolled up-pollutants from smoke and dust can trigger allergies and also give rise to many lung diseases.
• Stay away from cigarette smoke-the smoke from the cigarette tends to worsen the symptoms of an allergy.
• Eat organic foods-they have lower shelf life but are free from pesticides and toxic chemicals.
• Avoid unnecessary use of antibiotics.
• Keep your bathrooms dry-it avoids mold from growing.
• Clean the room-make sure every area is dust-free, including the AC.
• Minimize your child's exposure to the deadly three-sandpits, perfumes, and smoke (insect repellents and incense sticks).
Reference: Prevention magazine-December 2012