Like all bad news and the common cold, allergies can pop up when you least expect them. I’ve been there, having suddenly developed an allergy to crocin (paracetamol) some years ago after having it all my life to treat everything from headaches to fever and toothache. A seafood-loving friend found himself unable to breathe after having Thai food for dinner. A battery of expensive tests later, he was told the chest tightness was not caused by a heart attack but by an allergy to shellfish, something he ate once a week and had never reacted to before.
This week, it was the turn of my very fit neighbour, who runs each morning with an obsessive-compulsive enthusiasm that his wife thinks needs clinical treatment. I found him doubled up at his gate with a hacking cough this morning, which subsided soon after he used an asthma inhaler. He doesn’t have asthma, but the asthma-like symptoms were induced by exercised-induced allergy that was heightened by the high dust and pollen in the dry, spring air.
A stuffed or drippy nose, frequent sneezing, an itchy throat, rash, sinus, ear pain, difficulty in breathing, stomach cramps and itchy, red or watery eyes are some of the common symptoms of an allergic reaction. Pollen, dust, polluted outdoor air and indoor pollutants such as dust mites, animal dander, cigarette smoke and mould are among the common environmental pollutants, while other triggers include medicines, paint and chemicals in cleaners and cosmetics such as hair colour and skin creams. Among foods, eight allergens account for almost 90% of food allergies: milk, soy, wheat, egg, peanut, tree nuts, fish, and
Most of us wrongly believe that people with allergies are either born with the condition or develop identifiable symptoms in early childhood. You couldn’t be more wrong. An allergy can occur at any time in your life and experts say its prevalence among adults is rising. While most people who develop allergies as adults have experienced some allergic reaction — either to the same or an unrelated trigger — before, a few have no history of sensitivity.
In an acute immune reaction, the allergy trigger may be one, but the symptoms are is usually caused by a combination of factors. Stress, a sterile environment that prevents the body from developing robust natural immunity and lifestyle-induced changes in the body’s hormonal balance are thought to be some triggers. This is borne out by clinical evidence that shows that women are more likely to develop allergies at puberty, after pregnancy and at menopause, all of which point to hormonal causes.
Of course, avoiding the allergy trigger and taking an anti-allergy as soon as you can after exposure to an allergen is the best possible protection. Since pollen levels generally peak in the morning, people with airway sensitivity and asthma should postpone outdoor exercises to later in the day or stick to exercising indoors as deeper and more rapid breathing induced by aerobic exercise causes more pollen and dust being inhaled, which can wreck your airways and lungs. Since air pollutants tend to cling to clothes and hair, changing your clothes when you come home or washing your hair before going to bed lowers exposure.
Allergies in adults are treated using medicines such as antihistamines, antileukotrienes and nasal corticosteroid sprays that reduce the inflammation (swelling) and oral immuno-therapy vaccination. For those who do not respond to the standard treatment, there’s always the option of a series of allergy shots to help the immune system to build up a tolerance to the allergy. In most cases, though, identifying and avoiding the allergen is enough to stay free of trouble.