You’re going about your regular routine at work or school when, suddenly, you are stopped right in your tracks. You begin sneezing, your nose starts getting all runny, and your eyes are itchy.
Are you experiencing a cold, or are you suffering from an allergy?
What Is an Allergy?
According to the World Allergy Organization, about 30 to 40 percent of the world population suffers from one or more allergies. This estimate is seen to rise due to an increase in pollution as well as other environmental changes.
But what exactly is an allergy?
An allergy occurs when a person’s immune system responds to a substance (an allergen) found within your immediate environment. This particular substance may not cause allergic reactions in other people. However, the chances of developing allergies run higher if your other family members are suffering from allergies or asthma.
When your body is exposed to allergens like dust mites, insects, pests, molds, food, or even certain types of medicines, your body reacts by releasing substances like histamine. In turn, this leads to common allergic symptoms.
Different Types of Allergies
Allergies can be broadly classified into four main categories:
● Eyes, nose, and throat
This type of allergy occurs when you breathe in allergens. This results in the release of histamine, which triggers the production of mucus in your nose. In turn, this results in familiar symptoms like a runny and itchy nose, sneezing, watery eyes, and a sore throat.
● Lungs and chest
Allergens may also trigger asthma. As you breathe in allergens, you will experience swelling of the passages in your lungs. This can make breathing difficult.
● Stomach and bowel
Certain types of foods can induce allergies. Some of the foods that most commonly cause allergies are eggs, dairy, peanuts, and shellfish. There are infants that are allergic to cow’s milk.
Some types of food may trigger skin conditions like eczema and urticaria.
Is it a Cold or an Allergy?
A few symptoms of an allergy may mimic those of a common cold. There are some ways to differentiate between the symptoms of a cold and an allergy.
- Common allergic symptoms include a runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, wheezing, and watery or itchy eyes. You may also experience these symptoms with a cold, along with other symptoms like fever, sore throat, and body pain.
- An allergy occurs immediately after exposure to an allergen. A cold, on the other hand, usually incubate over a few days.
- Finally, an allergy can last until you are exposed to the allergen that triggered your condition. With a cold, the condition can clear up in a few days.
Remember to consult a physician to confirm your actual condition, whether it’s a cold or an allergy.
How to Manage Your Allergies
While it is impossible to shield yourself from allergies completely, there are a few steps that you can take to minimize the chances of triggering your allergies.
- The first crucial step that you need to take is to determine what triggers your allergy. For some people, it is easy to determine their specific allergen. For others, the help of a medical professional may be required. Your doctor can either run a skin prick or blood test to determine the allergens that cause your allergic reaction.
- Once you have identified the root cause of your allergy, the next step you need to take is to either avoid the allergen or, at the very least, minimize your exposure to it. It can be as simple as removing indoor plants or cleaning your home regularly.
- The final step you will need to take, with the help of your doctor, is to determine the best allergy treatment. Among the most common treatments are antihistamines, decongestants, corticosteroids, and specific mast cell stabilizers. In some cases, physicians recommend immunotherapy to their patients.
If you have allergic rhinitis, your physician may prescribe antihistamines for treatment. Allergic rhinitis is commonly triggered by dust, dust mites, and grass.
Antihistamines treat allergic rhinitis by countering the effects of histamine. It is histamine which causes common symptoms like a runny and itchy nose, sneezing, and itchy eyes.
Persons suffering from urticaria or hives may also use antihistamines.
Once you have identified the trigger for your allergy, it becomes easier to follow the specific steps to prevent allergies and avoid or minimize your exposure to allergens.
● If you have a pet allergy
If it is possible to remove the pet from your home, that would be the best step to take. However, if it is not possible, or if you are only experiencing minor problems, you can designate certain areas in your home as pet-free zones.
● If you are allergic to molds
If molds trigger your allergy, the first important thing you need to do is to eliminate visible mold through bleach or similar products.
Once you have removed visible mold from your home, make sure that your home has sufficient ventilation. Consider using extractor fans.
Next, check for leaks inside your home, especially in the bathroom and the roofs.
See if your indoor plants promote the growth of molds. Remove these your home if they do.
Finally, make sure that your carpets and rugs are completely dry.
● If you are allergic to dust mites
Dealing with dust mites can be particularly challenging due to their small size and invisibility to the naked eye. However, there are things you can do to minimize your allergy to these creatures.
Make sure that you wash your bedsheets, pillowcases, and other beddings with hot water every week. Hot water can kill dust mites.
If you have stuffed toys or similar soft toys inside the bedroom, remove these. If possible, replace these with playthings made out of wood or plastic.
Carpets and rugs can harbor dust mites. If it is possible, remove these from your home and replace these with other types of flooring like tiles or linoleum. If you insist on having carpets inside your home, make sure that these are vacuumed once a week. Just make sure that you are out of the room while the carpet is being cleaned because vacuuming increases the number of dust mites in the air for around 20 minutes.
Make it a habit to wipe all the surfaces in your home, including flooring, with a damp or electrostatic cloth.
By following these steps and taking the necessary precautions, you can effectively keep your allergies at bay.