Are you or your little ones suffering with itchy, watery eyes and excessive sneezing? As much as we love the warmer weather we don’t really love the symptoms that come with springtime allergies. Seasonal allergies include both hay fever and allergic rhinitis, where the main culprit for these allergies is usually pollen. Not all plants pollinate in spring however, there are some that do in autumn and therefore you may also experience allergies during that time of year as well.
In this post I will go into a little more detail on what causes the allergic reaction and share some tips to try keep the symptoms at bay or at least make them a little more bearable.
WHAT CAUSES AN ALLERGY?
According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, an allergy happens “when the immune system overreacts to a harmless substance known as an allergen”.
There are many different allergens out there but common ones include pollen, mold, pet dander, dust mites, bees and certain foods. Exposure to these allergens causes more production of IgE antibodies in some people. These antibodies then stimulate the release of chemicals, which are responsible for the symptoms of an allergy.
ANTIHISTAMINES AND ALLERGIES
Histamine is one of the main chemicals involved in the allergy process and the antihistamines, we commonly buy over-the-counter, help reduce the undesirable effects caused by this chemical. There are many different antihistamines on the market, some of which have undesirable side effects themselves.
Antihistamines are divided into 3 classes called generations. First generation antihistamines are the original ones, which are very effective but usually very sedating. Ever heard of Benadryl? This drug is not available in South Africa but it belongs to this class and is commonly given to children on long haul flights in order to make them drowsy. Shocking right?! Actually, some of these sedating antihistamines can in fact cause hyperactivity in children.
The second generation of antihistamines is equally as effective as the first but they are non-sedating. However, recent studies have shown that this class of antihistamines can cause heart arrhythmias. The newest class is the third generation, which are mostly metabolites of the second-generation antihistamines. These have been found to be both non-sedating and non-cardiotoxic.
Many of the antihistamines are not licensed for use in children less than two years of age and should not be given unless recommended by your healthcare provider.
Common antihistamines available in South Africa include:
|First generation||Allergex, Phenergan|
|Second generation||Allecet, Allergex non-drowsy, Clarinese, Clarityne, Texa allergy|
|Third generation||Adco-desloratidine, Deselex, Fexo, Telfast, Xyzal|
SOME HELPFUL TIPS TO REDUCE ALLERGY SYMPTOMS
Antihistamines may seem like the obvious choice to help reduce the symptoms of allergies but there are a few other things you can do.
1. Put on your cleaning gloves
It’s not called spring cleaning for nothing. Giving your house a good spring clean is highly recommended because it helps get rid of indoor allergens such as dust mites, mold and pet dander that have collected during the winter. This should also be done in autumn.
Vacuum your home often and regularly wash linen, upholstery and all stuffed toys. If you have pets you also need to wash their beds and blankets regularly and it’s probably not a good idea to allow them into the bedrooms.
2. Keep pollen out of your home
During spring it’s always a good idea to keep the windows and doors closed in your home and also in the car, to prevent pollen from being blown inside. It’s advisable to use an air conditioner instead. Stay indoors on dry windy days and avoid outdoor activities early in the day when pollen levels are the highest.
Change your clothes when you enter your house and what’s even better, have a shower. This will help get rid of any pollen you may have brought into the house. You should definitely shower/rinse every day and also rinse your hair so the pollen doesn’t end up in your bed and on your pillow.
Be careful where you hang your laundry. Pollen can also stick to sheets, towels and clothes and then be brought into the home.
3. Keep pollen out of your nose
Keep a saline nose spray on hand and use it regularly throughout the day to gently wash away any pollen stuck to the little hairs inside the nose.
If you do need to resort to antihistamines it’s better to take them in the evening so that by the time morning arrives they are working well, because pollen concentrations are the highest at that time of the day.
Take extra precautions when the pollen counts are high. There are some apps and online resources you can consult to check levels in your city. I like, the Real Pollen Count (https://pollencount.co.za), which gives you a weekly report of what you can expect in major cities around South Africa.
If the symptoms are absolutely unmanageable it’s better to talk to an allergist to find out what exact allergen is causing the allergy.