Surprisingly Ordinary Allergy Triggers

Alanna Nuñez and Lauren Gelman  


Wearing shoes at home
In addition to tracking in dirt and mud, you can track in pollen through your shoes and even clothes, says Dr Achal Gulati, director principal and director professor of ENT, Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar Medical College & Hospital, Delhi. The hidden pollen particles could get trapped--continuing to trigger symptoms. Using separate jackets and shoes for indoors and outdoors can be a partial deterrent, says Dr Isaac Mathai, medical director, SOUKYA, Bengaluru. Dr Mark Dykewicz, a professor in the allergy and immunology division at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, USA, recommends not only taking your shoes off when you get home, but also throwing them (and everything else you are wearing) for a wash. Use a vacuum cleaner regularly on surfaces and curtains to get rid of dust particles.

Exposure to smoking
Smoke can affect those susceptible to allergies in two ways. First, through first-hand and passive smoking: "The tobacco on the tip of a cigarette, when lit, has a temperature of 600-800 degrees Celciuswhich releases more than 3,000 chemicals, about 50 known carcinogens and 400 other toxins like tar, hydrocarbons and ammonia," says Gulati. He adds that these damage the mucous membrane of the oral and respiratory tract in the early phase and could lead to a malignant change in the oral cavity, voice box or the lungs. The fine cilia on the surface of the mucous membrane is also damaged, which, as a result, inhibits the clearance of the mucous. Therefore, the pollutants, toxins and pollen, he explains, do not get expelled, leading to infections, asthma or other harmful effects. The second is through environmental stressors like noxious gases, which contain carcinogenic hydrocarbons.

Your diet
According to the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, spicy food, such as red pepper can induce rhinorrhoea, probably because it contains capsaicin. Dyes and preservatives can also induce rhinitis. While peaches and apples can exacerbate symptoms in people with pollen allergies, vegetables such as celery, aubergine, beetroot or yam can cause swelling of the throat, lips and tongue. In fact, nuts, milk and wheat are common ingredients in packaged foods, which is why it's a good idea to read the labels carefully to keep allergies at bay.

Drinking alcohol
The same study found that alcoholic beverages may induce symptoms of allergic rhinitis by unknown non-allergic mechanisms. Danish researchers have found that alcohol can raise the risk of perennial allergic rhinitis by 3 per cent for every alcohol beverage consumed each week. Bacteria and yeast in some alcoholic beverages produce histamines. Mathai says, "Any beverage (food or activity) that affects the immunity can be potentially harmful for people with allergies, especially those with rhinitis." 

Putting off exercise

"Pranayama or breathing exercises like kapalbhati, bhasthrika, anulom vilom and naadisudhi are good for the lungs as well as all types of allergic and inflammation processes," says Mathai. Poses such as bridge, cat, cobra and locust help enhance breathing, he says. He also recommends jala neti (or saline nose wash) and steam inhalation with tulsi, eucalyptus or mint to relieve congestion. You can also have a glass of warm milk with turmeric daily to improve immunity and drinks with ginger and spices to reduce allergies.

Using hair gel
Anything you can do to minimize your exposure to allergy triggers can go a long way in making you feel better. One easy trick? Don't use hair gel, which, perhaps not surprisingly, collects pollen, says allergist and immunologist Dr Clifford Bassett, founder and medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of New York.

The effects of climate change
Does it seem as if your allergies get worse every year? You may not be imagining it. "An allergy is an impaired immune response, on exposure to an allergen and any climatic change that can weaken or lower the immunity can end up exacerbating the symptoms," says Mathai. The transition from the cold to the warmer season is always a risky time for those who suffer from allergy. "Regular exercise for 30 minutes will help overcome the impact of seasonal change," he adds. Air conditioners dry up the air, reducing humidity levels, which is why Gulati recommends using humidifiers during change of season.

Being stressed
After studying 179 people with hay fever, researchers at Ohio State University, USA, discovered that the 39 per cent who suffered more than one allergy attack had high stress levels. What's more, the majority of people in this group, who were studied for 12 weeks, had more than four allergy attacks within two 14-day periods. While the study did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship, stress is known to exacerbate many health problems, and allergies appear to be among them.

Leaving the windows open
Drive with the windows rolled up and turn your car's air conditioner to the "do not recirculate" setting, recommends Bassett. Close all windows at home to keep pollen out, and turn on the AC. Check that the filter on your air conditioner isn't too dirty.

Having house plants
Your harmless pot of chrysanthemum can actually be doing more harm than good. It belongs to the Asteraceae plant family and is known to cause occupational contact dermatitis. Shrubs of jasmine and juniper and plants such as ficus, ivy, orchids and ferns can cause an allergy.

Delaying your meds
People often don't start taking allergy medications until it's too late. However, "mast cell stabilizers can be taken before allergy season and once the season has started anti-allergy medicines and intra nasal sprays can be used to control allergies", advises Gulati. Visit your doctor immediately if you experience disturbed sleep and difficulty in breathing.
 --With inputs from Ayushi Thapliyal