Publix GreenWise Market Magazine - Spring 2010
Allergies at Your Age?
|How can you hit your 30s (or beyond) and only then start reacting to ragweed or cat dander? That’s the question on the minds of more and more grown-ups who are suddenly sneezing right alongside their kids. |
“If you look in the medical literature, you’ll see an explosion of new cases of allergies, sinus problems and asthma in adults all over the world,” says Clifford Bassett, M.D., an allergist/immunologist with the Long Island College Hospital of Brooklyn. “In my practice, I see mostly children and adolescents who eventually outgrow allergies. Then there’s a bump of patients in middle adulthood coming in for the first time.”
Bassett and Maeve O’Connor, M.D., an allergist at the Carolina Asthma and Allergy Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, cite five possible reasons for adult-onset allergies:
- Undiagnosed allergies. Some adults had allergies as kids but were never diagnosed. Now they’re finally coming in for treatment.
- New exposure. Other adults never had allergy symptoms before but develop them after exposure to brand-new allergens. Moving is a prime example. “Suddenly you’re vulnerable to new grasses, trees and weeds,” O’Connor says. It typically takes one to two years to develop an allergy after moving because it’s chronic exposure that creates sensitivity.
- Environmental factors. One USDA study on plant pollen production showed a direct link between carbon dioxide gases and increased ragweed pollen. “If you extrapolate that study to other plants, scientists theorize that more pollen is being produced, and people who weren’t sensitive to smaller levels are now suffering for the first time,” Bassett says.
- Immune system changes. “A respiratory infection can tilt your immune system toward hypersensitivity to an allergic response. Even hormonal changes, pregnancy and menopause can make people more susceptible to allergies,” O’Connor says.
- Over-sanitization. Clean is good but only up to a point. A theory called the hygiene hypothesis states that over-sanitized environments don’t provide enough exposure to germs. This leaves the immune system weak and inadequate, which may contribute to the development of allergies and asthma.
Is It an Allergy?
Recognizing an allergy can be tricky, since symptoms—runny nose, breathing problems, excess mucus and coughing—are similar to those for a cold or sinus infection. Colds usually go away within a week, Bassett says, but sinus infections are harder to distinguish from allergies since they can last for months. “One difference is that allergies almost always cause itchy eyes,” he says.
Fatigue is an under-recognized symptom of allergies, O’Connor adds. “When people complain about being tired all the time, I ask if they have allergies, and the answer is almost always, ‘Oh, they’re terrible right now.’”
Finding Sweet Relief
Over-the-counter remedies are available for taming allergy symptoms. But if your symptoms persist and you’re not sure what’s causing them, it may be time to see an allergist, who can order tests to nail down what you’re allergic to and whether the allergen is seasonal or year-round.
Treatment options include avoiding the allergen, prescription medications and allergy shots. “A little planning can go a long way,” Bassett says. “If the allergies are seasonal, I have patients start preemptive medication before the season kicks in to reduce the severity of the symptoms. If we find out the allergen is year-round, we can take steps to remove the problem or treat it.”
|Can Folic Acid Help?|
A recent study at Johns Hopkins University found that folic acid may help suppress allergic reactions and lessen the severity of allergy and asthma symptoms. Though researchers caution that it’s too soon to recommend folic acid supplements to prevent or treat allergies and asthma, both O’Connor and Bassett believe the study is part of a larger trend of looking for holistic treatments. “Keeping the immune system healthy is the first line of defense against sickness and disease,” O’Connor says. “Natural approaches to allergies and asthma are very promising.”
Home Decorating Remedies
Cut down allergen exposure and improve the quality of indoor air with these home decorating fixes:
- Remove carpeting, which harbors dust mites, and replace it with hardwood or tile flooring and washable area rugs. If that’s not possible, the next-best choice is carpeting made with short fibers.
- Treat hardwood floors with a water-base finish, which dries quickly and is low in toxic solvents.
- Opt for rugs made of natural fibers, such as cotton, wool or hemp. Synthetic rugs emit chemical compounds that can cause allergic symptoms.
- Choose low- or zero-VOC paints to avoid gaseous emissions.
- Keep window treatments simple—wood blinds with a top valance that’s easy to take down and wash are a good choice. Heavy curtains collect sneeze-inducing dust.
- Pare down knickknacks to a select few. There’s a reason they’re called dustcatchers.
- Purify the air with live plants. English ivy, mums, gerbera daisies, peace lily and bamboo palm are some of the best for absorbing toxic gases. Spread aquarium gravel over the potting soil to help keep mold in check.