Environmental and Food Allergy
What is an Allergy?
Allergy results from an over-reaction of the human immune system to a substance in the air, a solid substance or a food that is normally harmless. Many different parts of the body, such as the upper respiratory tract or the skin may be affected. The number of people in the western countries with allergy has increased threefold over the last 20 years and is still rising.
Between 20% to 30% of the population in those countries suffer from symptoms caused by or associated with an allergy. It is predicted that a similar increase in the presence of allergy will be seen in developing countries. Certain factors have been proven to be at least a triggering factor for developing allergic diseases.
These include a unnaturally refined diet, increased exposure to chemicals, popularity of indoor pets, style of housing (A/C), exposure to tobacco smoke and the introduction of certain foods to the infant diet.
Even allergic diseases often present with acute symptoms such as watery eyes, runny nose or sudden skin rashes, allergic diseases are chronic in nature. They are persistent and recurring over many months or years. People with allergies are not always aware of the allergy and do not necessarily look ill.
The most problematic impact that allergic diseases have is that they can interfere with sleep, causing tiredness and difficulty concentrating. School performance has been found to be significantly affected in students suffering from an airborne allergy.
Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis
Also known as hay fever, seasonal allergic rhinitis is caused by an allergen that is carried in the air (aeroallergen) and that is found only at certain times of the year. A person can be allergic to more than one allergen, such as grass pollen, flower pollen and various tree pollens.
Symptoms include sneezing, runny and itchy nose, nasal congestion, sleep disturbance, coughing, sore throat, itchy and watery eyes, fatigue, hives
Perennial Allergic Rhinitis
If symptoms of allergic rhinitis occur all year around, then the condition is called perennial allergic rhinitis. House dust mites (Dermatophagoides farinea, Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus), animal hair and dander (dog, cat, horse, rabbit and guinea pig), mould spores and feathers can cause a great deal of misery to sensitive adults and children alike.
Especially the latter are often suffering from sleep disturbance leading to lethargy which also often significantly impacts their performance at school.
Asthma is a frequent health problem in children, which is slightly less commonly seen in adults, and is characterized by a chronic inflammation of the lining of the lung air ways. Chest tightness, shortness of breath, wheeze and cough are common symptoms. Allergic asthma often presents with a clear link between symptoms and a trigger such as contact with an allergy.
Common triggers for an allergic asthma include: pet hair and dander, housedust mites and mould spores. Other non-allergic triggers are upper respiratory tract infections (URTI), tobacco smoke, sudden changes in air temperature and/or humidity and exercise.
The skin is frequently affected by allergic diseases. Atopic dermatitis (eczema), contact dermatitis, urticaria and angioedema are the main skin problems caused by an allergy. Symptoms include itchiness, redness, blisters, skin thickening, dry patches, open weeping areas as a result of scratching.
Common agents causing a skin allergy include medications or drugs, chemicals and dyes. Depending on the allergic reaction pattern as well as the suspected allergen, Prick- and Patch-tests can be performed to determine if the agent(s) suspected is truly the cause of the allergy
Food allergy is an abnormal response to a food by human immune system. Food allergies can result in a number of symptoms, including skin conditions (eczema, acute urticaria), respiratory complaints (sneezing, shortness of breath), gastrointestinal problems (vomiting, abdominal cramps or constipation) and anaphylaxis (severe, life-threatening collapse).
All these symptoms may be mild, moderate or severe and occur within minutes of exposure. In adults, the foods that most often trigger allergic reactions include sea food (fish, shellfish), peanuts and tree nuts. In children, the following eight common allergens account for 90% of all allergic reactions: eggs, milk, peanuts, tree nuts (walnuts and cashews), soy, wheat, fish and shellfish.
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