When we hear the word ‘allergy’, most of us think of that seasonal affliction, hay fever. But, to an allergic person, there are a whole host of other substances that are just as likely to bring on sudden attacks of sneezing.
Why do we sneeze? Well, when the body senses any potential allergen, it does whatever it can to try to repel the invader. The immune system swings into action. Histamine is produced. Blood vessels are dilated, nasal passages swell, breathing may be constricted, mucus flows more readily, eyes water and sneezing increases.
We live in a world that is overwhelmed with allergens. Apart from pollen, other triggers might include agrichemicals (crop sprays, garden weedkillers etc), animal dander, cardboard and paper dust, chemical fumes from photocopiers, cigarette smoke, some foods and food additives, house dust mite, household cleaning fluids, perfume, vehicle exhausts, petrol pump fumes and sudden changes of temperature.
But if everyone is exposed to these kinds of substances almost every day, why is it that some people react and others don’t? Family history is the first place to look. If one or more parents are allergic, then it seems more likely that children will be susceptible too. And those who suffer respiratory allergies may also be more at risk from common food allergens, especially if the diet lacks variety, or if the immune system or digestion is under par.
We shouldn’t really be surprised at the massive increase in allergy problems. Our bodies are struggling to cope with the huge rise in potentially allergic substances that, literally, fill our everyday lives. Things may be made worse because of the concentration of odourless and un-seen vapours from equipment and materials, carpets, cleaning fluids, fabrics, paint, plastics and packaging that are trapped inside double-glazed, air-conditioned or centrally-heated buildings. No wonder experts are beginning to talk about ‘total allergic load’. In other words, the more allergy-causing substances to which someone is exposed, the greater the risk of reactions. For example, if you’re exposed to traffic fumes or cigarette smoke, worry a lot, or aren’t eating as well as you could, your immunity could be finding it difficult to cope with additional problems such as pollen, house dust mite or certain chemicals.
Try these tips to see if they help to reduce your allergy overload:
* A common allergen that can add significantly to our allergic load is the house dust mite. More accurately, it’s a protein, known as Der pI, found in the droppings of this invisible pest that inhabits pillows, duvets, mattresses, sofas and carpets. Reduce infestation by vacuuming chairs, settees and mattresses, under the bed and round the edges of carpets regularly. Hang blankets and duvets outside whenever weather permits. Dust mites hate fresh air and sunlight.
* Invest in a vacuum cleaner that has good hepa (anti-allergy) filters. And don’t use ordinary dry dusters. They simply spread dust - and mite droppings. Instead, use old cotton face cloths or strips of towelling to ‘damp-dust’ glass, tiles, vinyl and melamine. The dust then stays on the cloth and doesn’t fly. Rinse or change the cloth frequently as you go. Alternatively, treat yourself to microfibre cloths which work by holding on to the dust rather than pushing it around.
* Keep rooms well ventilated to reduce condensation and mould. If your home suffers with mould, invest in a de-humidifier and be amazed at how much water it collects!
* Avoid carpet deodorants, strong smelling loo blocks and stick-on, plug-in or spray air fresheners. Choose the least toxic household cleaning fluids and use sparingly. Better still, change to organic shampoos, household cleaners, soaps, skincare and bodycare products such as those by Green People www.greenpeople.co.uk, Bio-D www.biodegradable.biz, Big Green Smile www.biggreensmile.co.uk or The Green Store www.thegreenstoreonline.co.uk.
* Try eco-friendly detergent-free washing products that work by ionising the water that then attracts dirt from the clothes. Known as laundry balls or eco-balls, they are reusable for several hundred washes. They won’t lift really ingrained dirt but are excellent for everyday washing of towels, sheets and delicates. They are available from hardware stores, Lakeland Limited and online.
* Same applies to tumble dryer balls which soften clothes without the need for fabric softener.
* Diet does make a difference. Here are a few simple changes worth the effort:
1. Cut out as many artificial food additives as you can, especially colours, preservatives and sweeteners.
2. Wash all produce thoroughly before use to remove dust and surface chemicals.
3. Avoid common food allergens. Feedback from my own patients suggests that bread, wheat and corn breakfast cereals, yeast, cow’s milk, cow’s milk cheese, battery eggs, packaged orange juice, and some food colourings and preservatives may add to the allergic load.
4. Watch your salt intake. Salt can make allergics more reactive to histamine. It’s easy to reach excess because so much salt is hidden in packaged and processed foods. The only way to cut back is to check the labels.
5. Eat a varied diet for maximum nourishment. Don’t restrict yourself to the same old menus and don’t be tempted to exclude long lists of foods. Restricted diets can lead to malnourishment and the risk of further allergies.
6. Herbal, vitamin and mineral, probiotic and homoeopathic remedies are all well worth a try, especially if you aren’t keen on taking anti-histamine medicines. Natural treatments, especially homoeopathy, are knocked constantly by those who don’t think natural non-drug alternatives stand up to scientific scrutiny. All I can say is that I have found a whole range of different homoeopathic remedies to be really helpful. They may not suit everyone but at least they’re non-toxic and can do no harm. A daily Vitamin C supplement is well worth adding to your allergy help list; choose buffered or low acid Vitamin C tablets or capsules – NOT the plain ascorbic acid ones that fizz in water.
7. Probiotics (as supplements and in food) could be of special value. Research strongly suggests that allergic reactions are more likely where friendly gut bacteria are in short supply. Click here to read the article Why We Need Good Gut Bugs.
8. Remember that natural remedies work best if taken regularly and started well before the allergy season begins.
9. Try to fit a few minutes of relaxation into your everyday activities. Unrelenting adrenal stress can suppress immunity and increase the chance of allergic reactions.
10. Regular exercise, deep breathing, going to yoga, taking singing lessons, or even blowing up balloons can help to ease allergy symptoms by improving lung function.
Here's wishing you the best of better health.
© Kathryn Marsden 2008/2009/2010
Some of the items that I've talked about in Kathryn's Favourite Products may be of interest.
Kathryn's views are completely independent. She is not employed by any pharmaceutical company, supplement supplier or food producer nor is she persuaded in any way, financially or otherwise, to recommend particular products or services.