How To “Friend” Your Allergies
A four-step guide to minimizing the impact of allergies and improving your quality of life
If you experience seasonal allergies, you might be dreading the fast-approaching months of spring. Don’t despair. You can “friend your allergy” and minimize your symptoms. Dr Ismail Kalla, a pulmonologist from Charlotte Maxeke Wits, explains that an allergic reaction takes place when a specific molecule comes into contact with the lining of your body. “This reaction can be inherent, in other words you could be born with it, or you can be primed to develop an intolerance to the molecule.”
Step 1: Do you have an allergy?
The first step to “friending” your allergy is to identify that you are, indeed, having an allergic reaction. It is common for people with allergies or hay fever to mistake their symptoms for those of a cold. Kalla says allergy symptoms include an itchy or runny nose; red, itchy or watery eyes; sneezing; itchy throat; an itchy palette; and swollen or pale mucous membranes. They differ importantly from those of a cold. When you have a cold, the symptom last for more than 10 days, and involve thick green and yellow mucus – as opposed to the clear, runny mucus that comes from allergies. It is also common not to understand the difference between an allergy, sensitivity and intolerance. While an allergy is the reaction that takes place in the body’s immune system when exposed to a substance that is traditionally harmless, this is not true for sensitivity or intolerance. He explains that sensitivity is the exaggeration of the normal effects of a substance, for example palpitations and trembling as a result of caffeine intake. With intolerance, a substance causes unpleasant symptoms – such as diarrhea – but the immune system is not involved. As a result, people with food intolerances can usually eat small amounts of those foods without experiencing symptoms.
Step 2: Discover the allergen responsible
Now that you know you’re experiencing an allergic reaction, let’s take a look at the allergens that may be responsible. Kalla elaborates: “Common allergens include foods, aero-inhalants, topical products, clothing fabric and things which permeate the clothing structures, such as detergents.” He says it is a mistake to view allergies as the body being “too sensitive”, as this could prevent you from identifying the strategies that could alleviate your symptoms. “When you realise that you are experiencing an allergic reaction, it is important to make an appointment with a professional physician in order to find out which substances you are allergic to.”
Step 3: Treating your allergies
Now that you have identified what you are allergic to, there are a number of treatment methods available.
Treatment for allergies centres around avoidance. “This is followed by sublingual immunotherapy in the cases where an allergy cannot be avoided,” Kalla notes. “This form of treatment attempts to get your body to build up a tolerance to the allergen. After this, we treat symptoms with antihistamines and/or use Omalizumab (an anti-IgE antibody).” There is also a homeopathic alternative, he adds. Another option is the consumption of a compound called Butterbur. It has been found to be effective against nasal allergies by acting as an LT receptor inhibitor. It functions in a similar way to the drug Singulair.
When combined with treatment, lifestyle interventions assist in improving your quality of life. Kalla makes the following suggestions: “Lifestyle interventions for allergies include avoiding seasonal fruits such as litchi, mango and watermelon, as well as incorporating any form of regular, moderate exercise, which helps to build the immune system.” Increasing your intake of omega-3 can also aid in the reduction of allergy-related symptoms, by reducing your levels of low-grade inflammation.
Step 4: Preventing your allergic reactions
There are practices that you can follow, leading up to a time of increased sensitivity or exposure, which may help you prevent allergic reactions. These include:
- Ensuring that you irrigate your nasal cavities and flush out your sinuses;
- Bathing thoroughly each day, to ensure that you are washing any potential allergens out of your hair and off your body;
- Washing your clothes in hot water to kill allergens;
- Purchasing an air filter that cleans circulating air while simultaneously dehumidifying it; and
- Ensuring that you discuss your allergies with your physician before starting any new medication. Allergies may have been something you dreaded before, but that was before you knew that you could minimize your symptoms, improve your quality of life and ultimately friend your allergy. Here’s to your first carefree spring!
The most common allergens include grass, pollen, cat and dog hair, and dust mites.
Want to know more about seasonal allergies? Read more here.
We’ve also done a story before on recipes for people with food allergies. Read that article here!