Sanjana wakes up to a smoggy morning sneezing uncontrollably and her nose drips like a leaking tap. Shaan can't open his eyes in the morning; the belching diesel fumes from the traffic have caused excessive discharge in them matting his eyelids. Someone coughs rackingly without rhyme or reason. Allergies are rearing their ugly head with a vengeance what with increase in atmospheric pollution and unsanitary civic conditions.
Allergies are still a mystery even to the medical world. A lot still needs to be known about what causes allergies and why certain individuals are more prone to them. Medications too, fall short of curing the condition. There is no magic medicine that can make allergies vanish without a trace. Steroids may seem the panacea for the moment, but they have their own drawbacks. Though, allergies may be genetically predetermined, it can grip one at any age, in infancy, childhood, adolescence and even, adulthood. Therefore, it is important to know about allergies.
What are allergies
Allergy is, to put it in a layman's term, a condition whereby a child is extra-sensitive to certain innocuous substances or "triggers" like dust or pollen, which are harmless to a normal person. Some children are particularly predisposed to allergies. Their immune response is wired a little differently, so that it interprets the presence of harmless substances as a threat and overreacts. Therefore, while one child hugs a cat comfortably, another goes into spasms of relentless sneezing.
Children with allergic tendencies are known to produce excess Immunoglobin E (IgE) antibodies in their blood and are categorized as "atopic" individuals. And in fact, most atopic children react violently to multiple allergens, not just one.
There are thousands of substances that cause allergies in atopic individuals. Such substances called "allergens" are mainly, air-borne or food-based. Among the indoor air-borne allergens, the innocuous house dust is one of the common causes of allergies. House dust is a composition of fine cloth fibres, lint, mold, mildew, paint peelings, pet dander, hair and so on, all of which are potent allergens. No matter how clean the house, it is not possible to completely eliminate dust-mites, especially in mattresses and carpets.
Outdoors, it is the tree-, weed- and grass-pollens that provoke allergic reactions. Who would have thought that this otherwise useful agent for plant pollination could play havoc with someone's health? But, pollens, unlike house dust are seasonal occurrences and hence, allergies due to them are seasonal, too.
There are some food types like milk, wheat, seafood and soy, whose proteins are food allergens.
It is also important to note that the same allergen can often cause different reactions in different people. For instance, house dust can irritate one child's mucus lining of the respiratory tract and another's conjunctiva of the eye. When allergens cause itching or hives on the skin, the child suffers from eczema or dermatitis. When it inflames the bronchial tubes and causes wheezing, the condition is asthma and a runny nose means allergic rhinitis. When the conjunctiva of the eye is inflamed, then the child has allergic conjunctivitis.
When someone consuming fish or prawns break into skin rashes, it means that he is allergic to seafood. Artificial colours in colas or canned fruit juices can give an atopic child an itchy and scratchy throat.
There is no panacea for allergies. Allopathic medicines can only alleviate the symptoms but are inadequate for a complete cure. A lot of over-the-counter medicines are available in the form of nasal sprays, eye drops, inhalers or oral drugs to bring symptomatic relief, but they need to be repeated often. Corticosteroids are potent drugs that may bring dramatic results, but even doctors discourage their prolonged use and are cautious in prescribing them.
However today, there is a wide array of drugs that intervene at different levels or processes of immune reaction that cause the outward symptoms. Antihistamines (that which counter histamine release which is a fallout of excessive antibody activity), decongestants or anti-inflammatory drugs are good enough for children who show up mild allergic reactions, periodically. But, for those suffering violent allergic symptoms the year round, alternative solutions have to be tried.
An allergologist would recommend immunotherapy, which is giving allergy shots to desensitise the person of allergens. But for this, he has to first zero in on the allergen/s that are the culprits. This is done by a series of skin tests, whereby the antigen from the suspect allergen is injected into the skin and the reactions studied. It is a tedious process, time-consuming and not always fruitful.
Homeopathy has shown good results in some cases and can be followed provided you ensure that the homeopathic preparations do not use steroids. A lot of alternative therapies like ayurveda, reiki or yoga claim to alleviate allergies and can be given a shot, although with great circumspection.
The best way to tackle allergies is to manage them yourself. It will help to maintain a logbook of his symptoms and daily routine, so that slowly a pattern may emerge. This may give you insight into things to avoid or do. For instance, if you find that your child is allergic to house dust, his bedroom should be vacuum-cleaned, the mattresses, couches and carpets aired and sunned to minimize allergens.
It is cruel to expect not to take your child to the park or playground because the billowing dust irritates his eyes. But if it gives him unbearably itchy and red eyes - violent reactions that affect his daily routine - then perhaps taking him for a swim may be a good alternative. Remember, medicines alone will not help him overcome his condition; a little change in lifestyle could help considerably.
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