Knowing how to avoid your allergic triggers is vital; when you can’t, treatment options are close at hand
by Vejay Steede
Allergies can be crippling. They are lifestyle conditions that limit sufferers in many severe and sublime ways. While many allergies are mild seasonal concerns, or involve simply avoiding certain foods or atmospheric conditions, others can be deadly, life-altering afflictions.
According to the allergy experts at medlineplus.gov, “an allergy is a reaction by your immune system to something that does not bother most other people. People who have allergies often are sensitive to more than one thing. Substances that often cause reactions are pollen, dust mites, mould spores, pet dander, food, insect stings and medicines.
Normally, your immune system fights germs. It is your body’s defence system. In most allergic reactions however, it is responding to a false alarm.
Of course, all common allergens are present in Bermuda, so Bermudians suffer from allergies just as frequently and intensely as people from all over the world. Our symptoms and treatments are the same as those that exist in the wider world and our local experts know how to deal with flare-ups as well as long term treatments.
Local expert, Nurse Jutta Harvey, R.N., B.S.N. informed us that “the most common allergic problems that we see at the Allergy Clinic of Bermuda are the following: nose (rhinitis) – runny, sneezy, itchy nose and/or nasal congestion; sinus congestion; eyes (allergic conjunctivitis) – watery, puffy, red, itchy eyes; asthma; skin – eczema, hives, itching; digestive – diarrhoea, bloating, nausea, vomiting. We also see and treat bee sting allergy and medication allergy.”
While treatments are widely available in Bermuda, Nurse Harvey puts education and prevention at the top of the list of effective ways to reduce allergy flare-ups.
“Education regarding avoidance of allergic triggers is primary. Secondly, medication can be very helpful. The most common categories of allergy medication are antihistamines and anti-inflammatories – these come as tablets, liquids, creams, eye drops, nose sprays and inhalers. There are certain medications called monoclonal antibodies that are very effective against allergies, but are not easily available in Bermuda due to extremely high cost and limited accessibility.”
Not all allergies can be controlled by simple medications alone. Some allergies require intensive procedures to eliminate the root causes of dangerous reactions to everyday triggers. Nurse Harvey outlines one such thorough treatment:
“The most intensive treatment for allergies is allergen desensitisation. This is commonly commenced following allergy testing, which determines to what a person is allergic, and how allergic they are. Then, by giving the person tiny doses of what they are allergic to in a controlled fashion, a person can, in fact, become less allergic. Although very effective, it is not a quick fix; benefits usually start within a few months of treatment, and the entire course of treatment may take three to five years.”
While it’s good to know that Bermudians living with allergies have relief available, they still have to navigate their daily lives with caution and a heightened sensitivity to their surroundings. On how allergies affect patients’ daily lives, Nurse Harvey disclosed:
“Allergies affect people’s daily lives in several ways. Some reactions are dramatic and life-threatening (anaphylaxis). This sometimes occurs with bee stings, foods and/or medication. If a patient has an allergy to any of these, it is required that the person carry an Epi-Pen. In the case of bee stings, one should consider allergen desensitization, which can be lifesaving.
“The more common allergies of rhinitis, asthma and eczema are not as dramatic. However, they can still have a major impact on a person’s quality of life. Allergy patients must endure disruption of sleep, fatigue from relentless symptoms or perhaps as a side effect of the allergy medication, loss of work days or school days or loss of productivity at work or school, and an inability to participate in certain activities; for example, outdoor activities during pollen season may be uncomfortable without medication. Lastly, untreated allergies may contribute to recurrent sinus infections or asthma.”
Having to avoid going outside during the spring can be highly frustrating in Bermuda; not to mention not being able to enjoy wonderful foods such as nuts, dairy or shellfish. Then there’s the need to allergy-proof your surroundings, especially your home.
The experts at the Mayo Clinic recommend that allergy sufferers use allergy-proofing techniques such as using dust-mite proof pillow cases and mattress covers, removing carpets from your home, using washable curtains made of plain cotton or synthetic fabric, choosing easy-to-clean chairs, dressers and nightstands made of leather, wood, metal or plastic, avoiding upholstered furniture and removing items that collect dust, like knickknacks, tabletop ornaments, books and magazines to create an allergen-free abode.
There are dozens of measures that allergy sufferers can take to protect themselves from the misery of allergic reaction flare-ups at home. Storing toys, stuffed animals, and games in plastic bins, keeping windows closed and using air-conditioners during pollen season, washing curtains in hot water regularly, and using air filters. The Mayo Clinic recommends choosing an air filter that has a small-particle or HEPA filter, and adjusting your air filter so that it directs clean air toward your head when you sleep.
Temperature control is also vital for allergy sufferers. “Hot, humid houses are breeding grounds for dust mites and mould. Maintain the temperature between 68 F (20 C) and 72 F (22 C) and keep relative humidity no higher than 50 percent. Clean or replace small-particle filters in central heating and cooling systems and in room air conditioners at least once a month.”
Finally, keeping pests at bay is of paramount importance to allergy sufferers. “Control cockroaches and mice with inexpensive traps from the hardware store. If that’s not effective, hire a professional exterminator. To remove allergy-triggering insect and mouse residue, thoroughly vacuum carpeting and wash hard surfaces. To prevent re-infestation, seal cracks or other possible entryways.”
It’s clear that controlling your environment is necessary to avoid common allergy flare-ups. However, in the living of daily life, when controlling the environment is not really practical, it’s good to know that other options exist.