Let’s Play: Is That A Cold Or An Allergy!
We separate fact from fiction to stop your sniffling, sneezing and wheezing for good.
You don’t need to google your symptoms to decode your allergies. The reason for your sniffling is simple: your immune system encounters a foreign substance (pollen, say), registers it as a threat (it’s not), and launches a counterattack. Cue the runny nose and itchy eyes. Straightforward, right? In fact, that may be the only thing about allergies that is straightforward. “Many people suffer quietly with allergies for decades,” says Dr William Reisacher, an assistant professor of otorhinolaryngology at Weill Cornell Medical College. “They don’t tell their doctors because of the false belief that allergies are a trivial problem with no solution.” Breathe a sigh of relief: we’ve uncovered the truth about allergies – and the best ways to keep airborne enemies at bay.
Allergies Are On The Rise Because We’ve Sanitised Our Lives
Probably True – But hand sanitiser isn’t entirely to blame. One leading theory is that the uptick in allergies began with our shift away from farm life and has accelerated because of our obsession with antibiotics and cleanliness, says Dr Estelle Levetin, head of biological science at the University of Tulsa. As a result, we’re exposed to fewer infectious agents than ever – with an unexpected side effect. In the absence of its usual targets, your immune system may become overly sensitive and could launch an attack on harmless substances like pollen or grass, says Dr Morris, allergy specialist at allergyclinic.co.za.
Your Move – There’s no need to play FarmVille in your backyard. But the next time your doctor prescribes an antibiotic, ask if it’s absolutely necessary. When your immune system is forced to focus on invaders that matter, it may eventually start to ignore allergens, say researchers in France. Another strategy is to eat more fermented foods, such as sauerkraut and yoghurt. They’re full of good bacteria that may boost your immune system and, according to scientists in Pakistan, further help prevent it from reacting to allergens.
Special Pillowcases And Mattress Covers Will Banish Dust Mites From Your Bedroom
False – You won’t win this pillow fight. Simply covering your bedding with miteproof covers isn’t enough to reduce your symptoms, a 2011 Cochrane review concluded. “Covers will work as part of a plan that includes other dustmite control measures,” says Dr Thomas Platts- Mills, director of the University of Virginia’s asthma and allergic disease centre.
Your Move – The first step in your mite-control mission: the right pillow and mattress covers. Skip the cheapie versions – their weave isn’t tight enough to block the little buggers, says Dr Platts-Mills. Instead, invest in Dreamguard which manufacture pillow cases, mattress covers and bed protectors (dreamguard.co.za). When it comes to vacuums, Dr Morris suggests any vacuum that it is fitted with a HEPA filter.
In a Rutgers study, HEPA filtration reduced dustmite allergens by 81%. The key: after vacuuming, the scientists waited two hours to let any agitated particles settle, and then they vacuumed again.
You May Have Allergies And Not Even Realise It
True – You’ve pegged your runny nose as a cold symptom, but could it be allergies? “Many people misdiagnose allergies as a cold or the flu, so they never receive appropriate care,” says Dr Stanley Naides, medical director for immunology at Quest Diagnostics. This could prime your body for more misery: untreated allergies can predispose you to sinusitis (a sinus infection due to fluid build-up) or middle ear infections (inflammation/fluid build-up in your ear).
Your move – Take this test from the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology: (1) How did your symptoms start? Cold symptoms evolve, but allergy symptoms often strike all at once. (2) How long have you been miserable? Colds typically clear up within a week or two, whereas allergies may drag on. (3) Achy and feverish? Probably a cold or the flu. (4) Itchy eyes? Allergies, most likely. (5) Sore throat or coughing? Generally a cold. Bottom line: don’t let symptoms linger. After two weeks of suffering, visit your doctor, who can spot subtle signs of allergies, such as pale nasal mucous membranes, says Dr Jeffrey Demain, director of the Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Center of Alaska.
Hypoallergenic pets won’t stir up your symptoms
False – Don’t expect a hypoallergenic pet to sneeze proof your pad. In a recent Henry Ford Health System study, allergen levels in homes with “hypoallergenic” dogs were found to be no lower than in homes with other breeds. The reason: the particles sloughed off the dog’s tongue and saliva – not its fur – are what trigger your reaction, says study author Dr Christine Cole Johnson. Plus, pets are often covered in other allergens, such as pollen, dust and mould.
Your move – The Obamas were smart to adopt Bo, but not because of his so-called allergy free coat. A dog can be an allergic person’s best choice because cat dander is “stickier” and thus tougher to eliminate, says Dr Reisacher. Shampoo your pooch regularly, and blow-dry its fur on low heat to fight “wet dog” smell, which is caused by mould. Finally, use bleach or a colour-safe alternative to destroy any skin flakes from your pet clinging to your clothes.
Nasal Sprays Are A Safe Steroid Treatment
True – You may associate steroids with meatheads, but what they use are anabolic steroids, which mimic male hormones. The corticosteroids in nasal sprays, on the other hand, are inflammation-fighting hormones. “They have fewer side effects than antihistamines because they go directly into your nasal tissue instead of throughout your body,” says Dr Timothy Mainardi, an allergist at Columbia University. Studies also show that corticosteroid sprays reduce nasal blockage and discharge more effectively than antihistamines do.
Your Move – Start spraying a couple of weeks before your allergy season. This usually begins in September, says Dr Morris, but this won’t guard you against perennial allergies like dustmite. Red, itchy eyes? Opt for a corticosteroid spray that controls nasal and eye symptoms. Or pair a nasal spray with a second-generation antihistamine. Generics work equally well, says Dr Morris, so don’t feel pressured to buy pharmaceutical brand names.
Skin Testing Is A Waste Of Time – You’ll React To Everything
False – If your test results say “allergic to the world”, find a new allergist. Skin reactions need to be at least three millimetres across to indicate an allergy that can cause symptoms, says Dr Demain. Another key to avoiding false positives: share your medical history before testing. If you now eat eggs without problems despite a childhood egg allergy, your allergist can skip that test.
Your Move – Avoid antihistamines three days prior, since they may dampen your allergic response and skew your results, say Mayo Clinic scientists. And at your appointment, provide the full rundown: timing of your symptoms, family history, suspected triggers and previously diagnosed allergies. Your allergist will then decide which allergens to test for.