The Rise of Environmental Allergies in South Africa
Sneezing, itching, running nose? Allergic sensitivity is increasing with more than a third of South Africans suffering from eczema, asthma, allergic rhinitis (hay fever), urticaria, food allergies or anaphylaxis in their life.
Many experts have been investigating and debating the rising numbers for years, and the answer is slowly emerging; it seems that environmental factors are taking the reign on irritating our airways.
Environmental allergies are different from seasonal allergies in that they’re found all year round versus different times of the year. This is because your body is responding to something in your surroundings that’s typically otherwise harmless, including building environments, food, pollution and sanitation.
Environmental allergies can cause mild to severe symptoms, including sneezing, headaches, fatigue and coughing, with prevention to exposure being the best way to treat them.
Changes in the Built Environment
Air pollutants and chemical substances have been adding to the allergy epidemic. For example, air pollution from diesel engines may worsen allergy-induced lung impairment when tiny particles are filtered from the exhaust.
Air conditioning units can contaminate the air, causing allergic reactions, including hypersensitivity pneumonitis, allergic rhinitis and asthma. Other allergens include treated wood, printer toners, cosmetic products and other household goods that may use extremely small particles called nanoparticles.
Food allergies occur when your body’s natural defences overreact to exposure to a particular substance, treating it as an invader and sending out chemicals to defend against it. In adults, the foods that most often trigger allergic reactions include fish, shellfish, peanuts, and tree nuts such as walnuts. Problem foods for children can include eggs, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, soy and wheat. Due to mass-production of food, traces of these allergens may affect you at any time.
The Pollution Effect
By far the most pungent indoor pollutant is tobacco smoke, which is strongly associated with asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Exposure to smoke results in the body’s enhanced ability to produce allergy antibodies that attach to allergens such as pollen, dust mites and dander. Climate change caused by pollution, is another potential driver for the increased burden of allergic diseases.
Health and Sanitation Environment
Another leading theory behind the rising allergy and asthma diagnosis rates is the “hygiene hypothesis.” This theory suggests that living conditions in much of the world might be too clean and that kids aren’t being exposed to germs that train their immune systems to tell the difference between harmless and harmful irritants.
Treating These Symptoms
The best defence against most allergies is to avoid the allergens that cause your symptoms. This is not always easy to do, especially if the problem is in the environment around you.
In addition to taking regular medicines to help treat your allergy symptoms, there are several steps you can take to help prevent symptoms before they occur:
- Use an air filter to improve the quality of indoor air.
- Allergy-proof your bed with allergen-proof pillowcases and mattress covers.
- Close your windows to reduce the number of environmental allergens in your home, especially if you live close to a busy street.
- Keep pets out of the bedroom.
- Take probiotics to reduce allergy symptoms.
- Practice good hygiene.
- Use saline nasal spray as an effective way to manage symptoms of dust mite allergies.
You may not be able to avoid the allergens that trigger your symptoms. Speak to your healthcare provider about creating an effective treatment for your allergies through home remedies and medications.