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Allergies and the good life: are allergies the new anti-aphrodisiacs? New data and clinical research suggest that seasonal allergies are taking a significant toll on our Canadian quality of life.

Is a runny nose ruining the mood? With the season of sniffles, sneezes and itchy, swollen eyes upon us, new data suggests that not only do our romantic lives slow down March through June, but allergies might be affecting more than our libido. Two thousand Canadians were surveyed in a study conducted in February by the allergy medication manufacturer Reactine. According to the Reactine Quality of Life * data, productivity, social interactions, relationships, and our sense of self are all significantly hampered by symptoms of allergies. With life so stretched and pollen counts peaking, it begs the question: How are allergies affecting our overall well-being?

"The World Health Organization defines quality of life as related to health as a state of complete physical, psychological, and social well-being-not merely the absence of disease," says Iris Greenwald, MD, leading Toronto-based family practitioner. "The concept of quality of life surrounding allergies is taking centre stage and will become a major topic of discussion in coming years--the term allergy 'sufferer' is well coined."

How are you?

Canadians coping with seasonal allergies are considered the "silent sufferers"--because they are rarely hospitalized, don't require surgery or other sophisticated interventions and their day-to-day survival is not threatened, allergies are not taken seriously as having a major impact on their lives. The effects, however, are well documented and suggest that the physical and corresponding psychological effects of allergic symptoms play a significant role in reducing overall quality of life.

"During allergy season, my life slows to a stop," says a seasonal allergy sufferer surveyed. "I go to work, I take care of my family, but I just get by on the bare minimum. I feel like I'm at 50 percent of myself four months of the year."

The data suggests that Canadian allergy sufferers relate to this feeling, with 74 percent stating that their suffering increases irritability and fatigue and 55 percent claiming reduced productivity (housework, on-the-job, academia). This corresponds with previous Reactine data, which suggests that 83 percent of human resource professionals feel that employee productivity is diminished due to allergic symptoms.

From a social perspective, a further 43 percent state that allergies hinder or reduce social interactions and 26 percent claim reduced libido--ranging from 23 percent among women to 31 percent among men.

It's no wonder we're not feeling sexy. Sufferers claim that their allergies cause them to feel: irritable (57 percent), lethargic (29% percent), unattractive (14 percent), and unbearable (13 percent). Interestingly, only 16 percent of sufferers claim that if they could rid themselves of their allergy suffering, the area of their life that would improve the most would be intimate relations. Sufferers are focused more on sleep (58 percent), being in a better overall mood (52 percent), and increasing productivity (44 percent).

How do we achieve the good life?

"You can live in a bubble," says Greenwald, who states that while this would reduce symptoms, overall quality of life would continue to be compromised by not being able to enjoy day-to-day activities and social interaction. "But because you can't run or hide from pollen and other allergens, the most effective solution to increasing quality of life is to block allergens."

Numerous studies looking at the impact of allergies on quality of life have been published that suggest that regular treatment can lead to not only significant reduction in symptoms, but also an overall increase in quality of life. In the report "Improvement of Quality of Life by Treatment with Cetirizine in Patients with Perennial Allergic Rhinitis," J. Allergy Clin. Immunol. (August 1996), J. Bousquet et al. showed that comparing the second-generation antihistamine cetirizine to placebo after one and six weeks improved quality of life across nine domains, with an improvement of at least 30 percent in seven domains. The domains include physical functioning, physical role, bodily pain, general health, vitality, social functioning, emotional role, and mental health.

The group's follow-up study, "Further Improvement of Quality of Life by Cetirizine in Perennial Allergic Rhinitis as a Function of Treatment Duration," J. Invest Allergol. Clin. Immunol. (March-April 2000), suggested that while there was significant improvement after one week of treatment, a further five-week course of therapy not only maintains this improvement, but continues to enhance quality of life significantly above and beyond this.

Greenwald states that to achieve this level of satisfaction, choosing the best treatment option is key. Greenwald also states that in addition to reduced quality of life, untreated allergies are a serious health issue, which can include asthma and other complications, such as sinus infections and possibly ear infections. "Living in a reduced overall state is not necessary--treating your allergies is key to enjoying the good life March through June."

* Reactine Quality of Life data, Decima Research, March 2004. This national sample of 663 Canadian allergy sufferers, 18 years or older, is accurate within +/-X percentage points.

He said / She said

Canadian male allergy sufferers are more likely to claim ...

allergies reduce productivity, social interactions and libido

they would have more intimate relations if they could rid themselves of their allergies

they use allergies as an excuse for not having romantic/intimate interaction with their partner

Canadian female allergy sufferers are more likely to claim ...

allergies make them irritable, lethargic, unattractive, and unbearable

they would be in a better mood and more productive at home/work if they could rid themselves of allergies

they use allergies as an excuse for calling in sick to work and cancelling social engagements

Ross Chang, MD, is a leading Vancouver-based allergy specialist and president of the BC Society of Allergy and Immunology.
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Author:Chang, Ross
Publication:Canadian Chemical News
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:May 1, 2005
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