All about respiratory allergies: 5 facts that you should know of

How often have you found yourself sneezing incessantly, or blowing your nose hard? Well, trust us, you are not alone. As soon as the climate hits the reset button, respiratory allergies take over our lives.

Respiratory allergies develop when your body reacts to certain irritants in the air. The symptoms usually present in the form of continuous sneezing, sore throat, itchiness in the eyes, and a blocked/runny/stuffy nose.

According to Dr Mahendra Kawedia, a sudden change in temperature is when more people are likely to suffer from this condition.

He says, “Not many people know that there is something called the respiratory season, when there is a change in climate, for instance, at the end of August and September, or the time between January and February, when there is a transition from summer to winter. A sudden change in temperature is the time when more respiratory symptoms develop. It also occurs when there is an increase in pollution, such as during Diwali.”

Respiratory allergies are not to be taken lightly, as negligence can lead to asthma, bronchial allergies and other pulmonary disorders. Unfortunately, there’s very little awareness about this condition.

“People generally think it’s a regular cold and they just buy over-the-counter medicines to get temporary relief. But what they don’t understand is that when allergies progress, they can, over the course of a few years, involve the lower respiratory tract and turn into bronchial asthma. When that happens, there’s additional pressure on the airway, thereby causing a direct impact on the heart. The heart muscles can then dilate, and there can be cardiomyopathy. If an allergy is controlled at an early stage, then these problems can be avoided,” advises Dr Amol Shiromany.

Here are some facts that you should know of, in order to manage it better.

Outdoor pollution can increase incidences of respiratory allergies

Yes, that’s true. What’s worse is that India has one of the highest concentrations of air pollution—in fact, out of the 10 most polluted cities in the world, 9 are in India, according to the WHO. The common pollutants include chemicals such as nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, and diesel exhaust particles from motor vehicles and factories. These can irritate your eyes and nose, and make your allergy symptoms worse

Also, be wary of other outdoor pollutants, such as cigarette smoke, pollen, perfume, and insecticides.

Indoor pollutants can also make respiratory allergies worse

Pollution is not just limited to outdoors. It also exists inside our homes, and can make your symptoms worse. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the levels of indoor air pollutants are often 2 to 5 times higher than outdoor levels. Surprised?

The common indoor pollutants are dust mites, which usually thrive in bedding, furniture, or carpets. Paint is an equal culprit. Remember the time when you were getting your house refurbished and found yourself sneezing or suffering from itchy eyes? It could have been an allergy.

Cockroaches and even latex—commonly found in balloons, rubber bands, and shoe soles—can also cause an allergy. Pet allergy is another reason, because animal hair, fur, and dead skin can cause breathlessness. So, even if you love the company of your cutest pet, you have to be cautious about your health.

Mold is also around us, and is seen commonly in damp areas or where the moisture is high, such as the kitchen or the bathroom.

“Indoor pollutants are very much neglected. People do not realise how harmful they are. In our pursuit of materialism, we buy so much equipment or use products to make our house luxurious, without understanding how much harm they cause. For instance, carpets shed a lot of fine particles and dust, or paints give out fumes of formaldehyde and other chemicals that can be detrimental for your lower respiratory tract. That’s why it is important to ensure proper ventilation in the house. We must open our windows every day, so that fresh air enters our spaces, and the stale air goes outside. One can also use indoor plants to reduce pollution to an extent,” says Dr Shiromany.

Respiratory allergy symptoms might be similar to that of Covid-19—here’s how to differentiate

It is important to understand the difference between coronavirus and respiratory allergies, because the symptoms are often similar.

As mentioned earlier, the most common symptoms of respiratory allergies include continuous sneezing, sore throat, itchiness in the eyes, and blocked/runny/stuffy nose.

Dr Kawedia further explains, “In case of Covid-19, however, there is more of a dry cough, breathlessness and severe body ache, or loose motions, but if a patient suffers from only a runny nose, choking of nose, that is unlikely to be Covid-19, and more likely to be seasonal flu or allergies. Fever in Covid-19 is mostly associated with severe body ache and leg pain, which is not there in respiratory allergies problems.”

Take a look at the table below, which further explains the distinguishing factors between the symptoms of respiratory allergies and Covid-19/cold/flu.

Allergies can disrupt the quality of life

There’s more to allergies than just experiencing nasal discomfort. They can affect a person’s daily activities, including the quality of sleep. If you sneeze constantly, it can be difficult to fall asleep, and in most cases, it is likely to increase snoring too. In the long run, sleep deprivation also causes a person to suffer from concentration issues, and can also interfere with the memory.

Timely precautions can help reduce allergy attacks

It is important to take note of the signs and take action, instead of waiting it out. Allergies might not look as serious, but they can snowball into a lot more, and throw your life out of gear, as mentioned earlier. A few steps can go a long way, advises Dr Kawedia.

“It is important to wear a mask whenever a patient goes out, and if someone is meeting too many people outside, it is better for him to take steam inhalation. Because of its physical characteristic of heat, taking steam can help the respiratory system. That’s the first thing you should do after coming home. It’s the heat that keeps the respiratory tract sterile,” he adds.

Although masks work well as protective gear, Dr Shiromany advises people to be cautious of their shelf life.

“If we wear masks beyond their shelf life, we could land ourselves in trouble. Inhaling the fibres of the masks might cause silicosis or fibrosis in the lungs. So, if your mask has a shelf life of five days, you need to change it,” he recommends.

Other measures include cleaning your bedding/curtains regularly to ensure that they are devoid of dust mites, bathing your pets to get rid of dander, avoiding smoking, tackling the moist/damp areas in your house, and keeping the doors and windows closed so that pollens don’t enter.

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