Health & Wellness

Allergy Awareness

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by Marlene Warren

Have you ever experienced a runny nose (without a cold), itchy eyes, constant sneezing, breathlessness or hives? While not an exhaustive list, any one of these symptoms could be a sign that you are having an allergic reaction.

This occurs because our immune system reacts when the body is sensitive to an allergen. Common allergens include mould, various types of food, pollen, pet dander and insect bites/stings.

For years, Agnes* lived with a continuous, runny nose. Last year she decided to try to find the cause. She made an appointment with Dr Jo-Ann Cousins-Simpson, of Associates in Integrated Health, who ran several tests including an allergy test. The results revealed that she was allergic to six different types of mould! It was then she discovered that other health challenges she had experienced – blood-shot eyes, memory loss, hair loss, fatigue and vertigo could also have been allergic reactions to mould.

According to the US company Alletess Medical Laboratory, “Mould spores thrive in warm, humid conditions, but can also be found in dry, hot places. They may exist in cooler environments like refrigerators.

“Outdoors, mould can be found in shady damp areas where leaves or other vegetation are decomposing. Indoors, moulds make their home in basements, bathrooms, refrigerators, indoor plants, air conditioners, dehumidifiers and furnace filters. Moulds like sugar and salt-you may have seen them on refrigerated jelly and salami.”

While a d aunting task, there are several actions that can be taken in your immediate environment to eradicate or prevent mould from developing and growing. Some suggestions by the Alletess Medical Laboratory are as follows:

  • Reduce excess humidity in the house
  • Regularly clean air conditioners, air vents and exhaust fans
  • Remove all obvious mouldy items like shoes, luggage, books, plants, wallpaper and carpet
  • Check rubber gaskets, seals, washing machine, dishwasher, refrigerator, vaporizers, humidifiers for mould growth and clean these items regularly.
  • Check bathroom walls, floor and shower doors or curtains for mould.

These are but a few ideas, but you can find the full list on https://foodallergy. com/allergy-immunology/yeast-and-mould-allergies/

As a society, in what ways can we protect persons who are allergic to mould? Proprietors of schools, churches and commercial buildings, especially, can be proactive in this regard.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “Since mould requires water to grow, it is important to prevent moisture problems in buildings. Moisture problems can have many causes, including uncontrolled humidity. Some moisture problems in buildings have been linked to changes in building construction practices . . . Some of these changes have resulted in buildings that are tightly sealed, but may lack adequate ventilation, potentially leading to moisture build-up. Building materials, such as drywall, may not allow moisture to escape easily.

Moisture problems may include:

  • Roof leaks
  • Landscaping or gutters that direct water into or under the building
  • Unvented combustion appliances
  • Delayed maintenance or insufficient maintenance are also associated with moisture problems in schools and large buildings”

Because mould loves damp areas with low or no light, a restaurateur, for example has to work very hard to keep mould from growing in his premises in order to protect workers and patrons. Kitchens, bathrooms and storage areas are all very susceptible to mould.

It is common to find mould under sinks, behind freezers and refrigerators, on tile grout, in microwaves, grills and pantries. Cleaners must constantly be aware of the potential for mould growth and be diligent in taking preventative measures.

The EPA provides an important warning, “After you detect mould in your establishments, you need to move quickly and remove it for good…but if you do it unprofessionally, it can cause even more trouble. Because it’s airborne, mould can travel far distances really fast. If you disturb a pocket of mould without knowing precisely what you are doing, you might trigger a restaurant-wide infestation.” Therefore, it’s important to recognize when you need to call for the help of professionals.

If you have eaten at a restaurant, lately, you will have noticed letters on the menu such as V(vegan), VG (vegetarian) and GF (gluten free). This is now a standard practice because some people need to be vegan, vegetarian or gluten free because of allergies. According to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) “the vast majority (of allergic reactions) are caused by the “Big Nine”: milk, eggs, nuts, fish, crustaceans, shellfish, wheat, soy and sesame.

Food allergic reactions include skin rashes, itching and swelling of the mouth, face and airways, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, and anaphylaxis, a life-threatening condition. Allergy statistics in Bermuda were hard to come by, but in the United States of America, FARE reports that every three minutes, a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency room.

You might have noticed that the labels of packaged foods disclose — in simple-to-understand terms — when they are made with a “major food allergen” or even if they have been processed in a factory that also handles certain food allergens. This is mandated by the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act which by virtue of its name, includes ingredients in cosmetics.

In addition to restaurants, there are other organizations, locally, that can take measures to minimize the dangers presented by specific food items. Bakeries, food vendors and food packers all have a responsibility to ensure that ingredients are clearly visible on labels. When planning a special event, it’s now customary to ask guests of their dietary needs.

The pollen of Bermuda grass is microscopic and airborne causing allergic reactions that include a runny nose, itchy eyes, sneezing and coughing. Allergy & ENT Associates suggests that people “make sure that you keep your lawn at a manageable height and wear face protection whenever you cut it. It is also important “take extra precautions to maintain the air quality inside of your home to reduce your overall exposure…Island-wide, we can be mindful of those with a grass allergy by ensuring that our grass doesn’t grow too tall as it produces more pollen when cut.

*Name changed protect privacy

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