“Live With Your Allergies”
Over the past 20 years there’s a marked increase in allergies, from the most prevalent disorder(allergic rhinitis, or hay fever) to food allergies and allergy-related ailments such as asthma and sinusitis. “Allergies seem to increase with the Western lifestyle.” Among the possible correlates: smaller families, use of antibiotic early in life, diesel-exhaust particles and changes in diet toward more processed foods.
ABCs on Allergies. Basically, an allergy is an overreaction of the immune system. An allergic person’s immune system acts like a garrison of jittery sentries patrolling a volatile border. When an “enemy” is spotted, the body responds with overkill: a huge of army of immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies fights it off. They attach to mast cells (plentiful in the respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts) that release inflammatory chemicals, including histamine. These spark a classic allergic reaction: itchy eyes, runny nose, lung constriction, hives or even anaphylaxis, sometimes fatal reaction. Allergies are the disease of a thousand faces. An allergen may set off a sneeze in one person and hives in another. If you’re allergy prone, you probably react to more than one allergen. But allergies come and go; you may grow out of childhood eczema and into hay fever. Stress can also play a role in certain allergic reactions.
Cold or Hay Fever? Not surprisingly, even competent physicians over look allergies and treatment have been haphazard. If your symptoms pose more than mild annoyance, see your doctor. He can diagnose and treat many allergies and if necessary, refer you to an allergist for skin tests. If you’re wondering, “Do I have a cold, or hay fever?” the specialist may also examine a nasal smear for white blood cells called eosinophils, which abound in allergic rhinitis. For those with true food allergies, the scary thing is they can be perilous; food included anaphylaxis can land you in the emergency room. A few foods are responsible for 90 % of reactions. In children, it’s milk eggs, peanuts and tree nuts, soy and wheat, in adult, peanuts and tree nuts, fish and shellfish.
First Line Defenses. For most allergies, the first step is generally the same. If you know you’re severely allergic to a certain food, be vigilant in steering clear of it- asking waiters the ingredients of a dish on the menu, for instance. For babies, if there’s a family history of food allergies, it’s best to breastfeed and without solid foods until age six months. There’s no need to introduce peanuts or fish till age three at a minimum. Older children and adults with allergies should eat a varied diet because eating the same foods frequently can create allergies or sensitivities. Divide your allergic triggers into indoor and outdoor allergens. Indoor allergens- dust mites, animal dander and mold proliferate amid carpeting, drapes, feather pillows and down comforters. Other tips clean the house frequently; wash blankets or quilts every 2 weeks in hot water (130 degrees F) use an air conditioner in summer (change the filter yearly) try putting filters over forced air heating vents. Avoid bringing outdoor allergens indoors. Change your clothes and wash you’re your hair before bed during pollen season. After any insect sting, you feel dizzy, faint or headachy, have trouble breathing or develop hives, see your doctor immediately. It could be an anaphylactic reaction. If you do suffer such reactions, you’ll probably get an Epipen- a spring loaded needle that injects epinephrine to carry all times.
Second Line Defenses. Although avoiding triggers can eliminate 50 to 70 % of allergic reactions. Allergists are enthusiastic about prescription only antihistamines such as Claritin and Allegra because they’re effective and no sedating. Those whose symptoms persist even with medication or who are at risk for fetal insect stings can report to immunotherapy. For three to five years you receive injections of allergens, gradually desensitizing your immune system. The process brings relief in about 80% of cases.
Alternative Approaches. When stress is contributing factor in allergic asthma attacks, relaxation techniques may help some patients. It’s crucial to help people look at the psychological issues and to give them tools to handle stress. If you wish to explore unconventional therapies, however, you should first discuss them with your primary care doctor.