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Are you allergic to too much proximity?

Your favourite pet or perfume can trigger troublesome allergic reactions. Here we tell you how to reduce your exposure to these and other allergens and tackle the symptoms once they flare up

FOR SOME it's about the itching that persists for days or the endless sneezing that attracts attention when they are least seeking it. For others it's the loose tummy or swollen gums. Though the symptoms of an allergy may be diverse, they are persistent and debilitating nonetheless.

This is cause for worry, considering that the numbers of people suffering from allergic reactions in the country are on the rise: experts say that as much as 35 per cent of the population has this problem which occurs when a person's immune system dubs something as damaging and tries to stop it by producing certain chemicals like histamines and leukotrienes. This release of chemicals leads to symptoms which are known as allergic reaction.

Though allergies to specific substances are common enough, many people are allergic to more than one trigger. "Sensitivity to more than one allergen is due to the fact that some individuals have an inherent tendency to have allergies. These patients over a period of time develop increased sensitivity to more than one allergen," says Dr Sushrut Pownikar, head of haemotology and immunology, Dr Lal PathLabs. Though the earlier belief was that allergies manifested themselves in childhood or early adulthood, doctors say older people are coming in more frequently, with complaints about fits of sneezing caused by pet dander or room fresheners, skin rashes due to cellphones or breathlessness from eggs. These adultonset allergies, researchers believe, may be attributed to the factor of low exposure.

"The assumption is that if you are not exposed to a particular allergen during your growing years, your immune system becomes sensitive to this, causing the hyper reaction," explains Dr K K Aggarwal, general physician and cardiologist, Moolchand Medcity.

AIRBORNE TRIGGERS

AIR BORNE allergens include dust, pollen, pet dander as well as room fresheners, mosquito repellants and smoke. Any or all of these may cause a flood of chemicals to dilate your mucus membranes, causing inflammation of the nose and throat and itchy eyes. These reactions may occur at any stage, as 36 year old Divya Arora discovered. "I was in school when I started having fits of sneezing when the floor was being swept," she recalls. Eventually Arora realised that she was also allergic to pollen and changes in temperature. "Early in the morning when the temperature is low, I wake up sneezing. If I enter an air-conditioned room during the summer I go through yet another round of nasal blows," she says. For the past 15 years, Arora has tried all kinds of remedies without much success. "Medicines only suppress the symptoms for a while without dealing with the real cause," she says.

YOUR COMBAT STRATEGY

You can't completely run away but try reducing your contact with dust and pollen. Restrict your outdoor activities to the evening when pollen and dust counts are lowest.

Use a saline rinse daily to wash pollen from your nasal passages. Also, keep windows closed and clean the air filters in your air conditioners including the car one.

Allergen-proof pillow covers and mattress can go a long way in dealing with dust mites. Wash your bedsheets, linen and blankets in hot water because dust mites die at 54 degrees Celsius.

You need to shield yourself from the dander shed from your pet's skin and saliva. At least keep them out of your bedroom. This will cut your daily exposure by a third. If you are visiting a friend who has a pet, start using a nasal steroid spray five days beforehand.

WHEN IT'S WHAT YOU EAT

THE BAD news for some people is that while they may salivate at the sight of a plate of fried fish or scrambled eggs, eating these can be an invitation to disaster. Ever since Sanjana Arora reacted violently to Chinese food, she has been forced to avoid cokes, pizza, pasta, snacks from street vendors or cake.

Every time she eats something that doesn't suit her, she develops widespread rashes on the body, cramps, dizziness and breathlessness and has even landed in the hospital emergency ward for a shot of anti-allergy medication. Tests indicate that she is allergic to a large number of items, including sesames, mushroom, chocolate, broccoli, fish, whole wheat bread, dog dander and various plants. "Soon after these incidents, I realised I need to stick to home-cooked food. I carry my own food wherever I go," she says.

Sanjana also keeps shots of antiallergens handy in case of an emergency. "You never know when things can go wrong. I have had some horrible experiences with food and am not willing to take any more chances," she asserts. Fortunately food allergies are the least common. They are also easier to detect and simple restrain can help overcome it. There are only a handful of food you can be allergic to including seafood, nuts, chocolate and soya.

YOUR COMBAT STRATEGY

Adults who have never suffered food allergies before most commonly become sensitive to seafood and nuts.

Proteins are typical culprits where allergies are concerned. So, if you feel you got an allergic reaction, try singling out the protein rich food like seafood or soya.

If something you eat triggers a headache, mild cramping and diarrhoea, don't jump to the conclusion that you are allergic.

These symptoms can also signal food intolerance which is an inability to digest a certain food comfortably and easily.

TRICKY DIAGNOSIS

THOUGH most allergies can be ascertained based on patient history, in some cases proper tests are required to be done to arrive at a conclusion. Skin prick test is the most reliable form of allergy testing available right now. "This 20 minute procedure involves pricking your skin with minute amounts of a number of specific allergens like mold spores, pollen, dust mites or animal dander. When the results are positive, a small bump may occur on the skin, accompanied by itchiness," says Dr Rajeev Sekhri, senior consultant, skin allergies department, Fortis Hospital, Noida.

However, it's difficult for people who are on life-saving medications to undergo the testing because they have to be off medication for 72 hours. There is scepticism about its efficacy too. "The skin tests cost between `2,000 to `10,000 and are not always conclusive. Also, you can only test for 40-50 allergens at one go. If you don't test positive for them, you have to undergo another round for more allergens which makes it very tedious," says Dr Aggarwal.

TESTY TREATMENTS

TREATMENT of allergies may vary depending upon the severity of case but the first line of action has to be removal of the allergen. This is easier said than done. To manage allergies, doctors recommend anti-histamines and leukotine inhibitors to neutralise histamines and leukotines which are released in response to an allergen. Another effective line of action is the use of mast cell stabilisers, medication that acts on mast cells which release histamines and leukotines.

"Mast cell stabilisers have fewer side effects and the effect stays even after the course is over," says Dr Vaibhav Gupta, senior consultant, internal medicine, Rockland Hospital.

However these have to be taken 15- 20 days in advance. So if you are allergic to a particular season, start taking the medication beforehand. In more severe cases, doctors prescribe cortisone, a steroid hormone available in form of nasal sprays for allergic sinusitis and lotions and creams for skin allergies.

The final line of treatment is immunotherapy. Though effective this is tedious and thus not widely used. Doctors need to determine the exact allergen before proceeding with this. He then injects the patient with gradually increasing doses of that allergen over a period of two years. "The premise is that the person's immune system gets habitual to that allergen and hence does not overreact.

However, first of all it's difficult to single out an allergen because people are generally allergic to more than one trigger," says Dr Shabnam Singh, clinical allergist, Max Hospital.

The treatment costs `5,000-6,000 per month, another reason it isn't too popular. But scientists all over the world are trying to improve the process. In Europe, pollen tablets are available which can be put under the tongue while clinical trials are being done for oral drops in US.

manu.moudgil@mailtoday.in

DID YOU KNOW

STRESS can intensify your allergic reactions. According to a study done at the Ohio State University College of Medicine even mild stress can cause severe reaction in people with seasonal allergies. in the study, subjects who were asked to make a short speech had red raised bumps that were 75 per cent larger than they'd been during the "low-stress" portion of the study.

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Publication:Mail Today (New Delhi, India)
Date:Nov 16, 2010
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