Alleviating Allergies

You don’t have to sneeze, wheeze or scratch your way through life
By Marc de Chazal

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Asthma is the most common chronic disease of South African children, affecting 10 to 20 percent of the population. Doctors are treating more and more cases of children with this and other allergic conditions, including allergic rhinitis, eczema and food allergies. They are rarely life-threatening, except in the case of anaphylaxis, a severe whole-body reaction commonly caused by insect stings or a food or drug allergy. However, if you or your child suffers from allergies, you’ll know that the various symptoms associated with them are not trivial and can seriously affect a person’s quality of life. Even mild cases of allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever, can have debilitating side-effects for children – they don’t sleep well at night, so they can’t concentrate properly at school the next day. Studies conducted on allergic pupils who write exams during the spring hay fever season, found that they dropped an entire grade.
 
Why the allergy overload?
 
This explosion of allergies is not entirely understood, says Dr Michael Levin, head of the Allergy Clinic at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital. “People’s genes have not changed, so there has to be something in the environment – either added to it or taken away from it – which is contributing to the increase in allergies,” he says. Lots of research has been done to identify reasons for the increase. Possible guilty culprits over the past 20 to 30 years are pollution, a sedentary lifestyle which results in obesity and an increased use of antibiotics at an early age. “It’s also thought that exposure to farm animals, unpasteurised milk, infections within large families and parasite infestations may have actually protected children in the past from allergies such as asthma. A move away from traditional lifestyles to a more westernised way of life may therefore account for the increase, especially in Africa with its growing urbanisation,” says Levin. The “hygiene hypothesis” is another popular reason put forward for the increase in allergies. What this means, explains nutritional therapist Hannah Kaye, is that we spend so much time trying to prevent our children’s exposure to microbes, especially bacteria, that their immune systems don’t develop properly. “I also feel that our environment is a lot more toxic than it used to be, whether from parabens, heavy metals or phthalates, which places a lot of strain on the gut and liver, and thus the immune system,” says Kaye.
 
Healthy gut, healthy body
 
Professor Patrick Bouic, from the Department of Immunology at the University of Stellenbosch, points out that 70 percent of the body’s immune system dwells in the digestive tract, which is why it’s essential to maintain a healthy digestive system. He encourages daily supplementation of probiotics. Kaye agrees. “I think that probiotics are one of our greatest weapons in promoting good flora in the gut and thereby supporting the immune system, but it’s worth spending money on a good one that is right for your child, as some probiotics are pointless.” Although a recent study has shown an effect on allergic disease when pregnant mothers supplemented with probiotics, Levin believes the jury is still out on their usefulness.
 
Damage control
 
The good news is that allergies can be effectively managed, and in some cases even cured. Some of us are born with a predisposition to allergies, called atopy, often because we were born to parents with allergies. Sufferers more often than not have allergic children, but they don’t necessarily have the same allergic conditions. A parent with a nut allergy may have a child who has eczema or is asthmatic. Celia Fleming and her husband have allergies, as do their children Daniel, eight, and Jonathan, six. “They both suffer from allergic rhinitis, and Daniel has had asthma and mild eczema,” says Celia. “We live near an oil refinery, so I’m sure that airborne pollutants aggravate our allergic conditions.” Celia swears by homeopathic products, but also resorts to steroid nasal sprays when things get really bad. “We try to keep dust to a minimum. Having wooden floors throughout the house helps as they are easy to sweep and wipe clean,” she adds.
 
Atopic people have higher amounts of the antibody immunoglobulin E (IgE) in their blood. As a result, when an atopic person is exposed to an allergen such as pollen or house dust mites, their hypersensitivity to the allergen sets off an immediate allergic reaction. If your child has allergic rhinitis, pollen, or whatever allergen is responsible for the allergic reaction, will cause their system to produce histamine. The symptoms – a runny nose, itchy eyes, nasal congestion and sneezing – can be controlled by taking antihistamines and nasal sprays, but they’ll continue to react to the same allergens that trigger their immune response.
 
If you know what you’re allergic to, it can be managed by trying to avoid the allergen or being desensitised to it. A skin or blood test will determine the cause of the allergy. Immunotherapy is the process of desensitising people to the allergen causing their misery. “We find out what the person is allergic to, and instead of making them avoid it, we either inject the allergen into their system or give it to them in drops under the tongue until they no longer react to it,” says Levin. He says people with allergic rhinitis can see their symptoms reduced by 30 to 40 percent after successful immunotherapy. It is costly as it involves a long course of routine injections or oral drops, but some medical aids cover it.
 
“If you’re allergic to several things, it’s more difficult if not impossible to be completely desensitised, in which case your best option is to try avoidance and use medication properly,” advises Levin. “I tell parents that using medication correctly is more important than what they’ve been prescribed.” He advises patients to take their nasal sprays and asthma pumps with them to a doctor’s checkup to ensure they are using them properly. 

Comments

Anonymous wrote 5 years 32 weeks ago

Homeopathy is brilliant for this. Any homeopath can test for what allergy you have, without having have to draw blood, and also give a mouth spray to change the allergy into a tolerance or even get rid of an allergy permenantly.

porchia petersen wrote 5 years 32 weeks ago

My daughter is allergic to pollen. Sometimes it seems that she can't breathe, then her nose is blocked. Any remedies?

admin wrote 5 years 32 weeks ago

Hi Porchia. There are various over-the-counter meds you can try for seasonal allergies, but we recommend that you consult with your doctor and take it from there.

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