Thursday 22 March 2018

Dr Ciara Kelly: How to compact dreaded allergies this summer

Ciara Kelly
Ciara Kelly
Allergies occur when our immune system overreacts to minor threats
Dr Ciara Kelly

Dr Ciara Kelly

It's allergy awareness week. Although I'm sure if you're one of the very many Irish people who suffer from allergies, you're probably more than well aware of them. Allergies tend to kick off at this stage of the year - so allergy awareness week is very well timed. As all around the country people's sinuses are starting to block. Their noses are starting to drip and their eyes are starting to stream, as the allergy season fully takes hold. And that's not even to mention the poor people who end up with the rashes or the wheezes.

Allergies are increasingly common nowadays it seems - where our immune systems (possibly because they don't have as much to do as they once did) overreact to minor threats, known as allergens - like pollen, dust, cat hair, eggs, peanuts and chlorine. I won't bore you with the full list, but there's a huge amount of foodstuffs and environmental factors that can set you off, in allergy terms, if you're prone - and even worse, once you are sensitised; by being exposed, you can be set off allergy-wise by new allergens that were previously not a problem for you.

I often liken control of allergies to putting out the embers of a fire. It can look like the fire has gone out or the allergy has settled - but if the embers are still lit, the allergy can flare up again quite easily. Which means you have to treat beyond the stage where the allergy has just resolved - if you want to avoid relapse.

The mainstay of allergy treatment is avoidance of the triggers. Something that's not too hard if it's shellfish you're allergic to, for example, but nigh on impossible if it's pollen. But some effort should be made to remove dust from under beds, soft furnishings or animal hairs from your home, if they're what's causing your symptoms. A nice tip is to pop a bit of Vaseline up your nose to catch allergen particles so they don't manage to invade or irritate the lining of your nose.

The other mainstay of treatment is, of course, antihistamines. These can be bought over the counter, but in severe cases you may require a higher dose or a more prolonged course than you might think - so it's probably still a good idea to talk to you doctor about using them unless your allergy is very mild.

Oral steroids may also be necessary sometimes if the allergy is quite bad - or in milder cases, topical steroids in the form of nasal sprays, creams or inhalers can be very useful if your symptoms are nasal, dermatological or respiratory respectively.

Injectable steroids, while very effective, are no longer recommended, as the risk of nasty side-effects is thought to outweigh the benefits in terms of symptom-control. And there are also treatments, albeit quite expensive ones, available to desensitise you to allergens too, if you're unfortunate enough to warrant that. Injectable adrenalin 'pens' should be carried by all allergy sufferers who are at risk of anaphylaxis - which is a rare, profound, severe, life-threatening form of allergy - that in the main people will know they have a problem with.

My main advice for anyone dreading the pollen season or any other allergy-prone time, is to start anti-histamines as soon as you know you're in trouble and continue them long after your symptoms have subsided - all the while avoiding what you can by way of triggers. That prized Persian cat's days could be numbered!


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