What is an allergy?
An allergy is an excessive reaction of our immune system to certain substances. This reaction does not protect the body, but rather causes damage. Normally the immune system ensures that the body is resistant to external threats such as viruses and bacteria.
A defense reaction can cause damage to the tissues. That tissue damage is then the price that must be paid to neutralize the threatening factor from outside. In the case of an allergic reaction, tissue damage is more serious than the external factor, which is not actually a threat to the body. This can therefore be seen as an exaggerated reaction of the body to a certain substance, the allergen.
Complaints may include itchy or swollen eyes, nasal congestion and sneezing, tightness, itchy bumps on the skin or eczema.
In and around the house we mainly deal with allergies to dust mites and animals. The moment a person comes into contact with the substances for which he has an allergy (the allergen), a strong immune reaction can arise. The consequences of this reaction vary.
With a dust mite allergy, the person may suffer from chronic nose complaints such as runny noses, sneezing, and itchy eyes. Similar complaints can also be caused by rarer allergies such as allergies to some fungi and stock mites that occur indoors.
Hay fever, an allergy where pollen from trees and grass are the allergens, can cause a lot of nuisance during certain months outdoors. As long as windows and doors remain closed as much as possible, people in the house will have little trouble with them.
With food allergies, the symptoms range from eczema to life-threatening allergic shock reactions. For example, with an allergy to cow’s milk, eczema can occur. Usually with this allergy ‘eating outside the door’ is the biggest problem.
How does an allergy arise?
Allergies are caused by the production of allergic antibodies by the immune system against allergens, substances that are not actually a threat to the body. The antibodies formed trigger certain reactions in the body that lead to the development of the complaints associated with the allergy in question.
With an allergy to house dust mites, the allergic reaction is mainly triggered by particles in the air from the faeces of the house dust mite. The dust mite is a small spider that is invisible to the naked eye and that lives off the skin flakes of humans and animals. The spider is common indoors in dusty places.
With an animal allergy, an allergic antibody is produced against the skin flakes of animals, such as dogs and cats. In the case of cow’s milk allergy, the allergic reaction to certain protein components of cow’s milk arises.
Is it serious and what can you expect?
Allergies are partly inherited. A child can develop an allergy while the parents are not allergic. However, if the parents are allergic, a child has a greater chance of developing an allergy. The age at which an allergy manifests itself varies greatly. Food allergies often occur in infants, but allergies can also develop later in life. One must have previously been in contact with a certain substance in order to develop an allergy to that substance. This is because antibodies to the allergen must first have been formed.
In a number of cases, people can also grow beyond their allergies. A food allergy can disappear automatically in the course of a few years. Most children with a food allergy grow over it in the first two years of life. An allergy to house dust mites, animals or pollen from grass or trees can also be grown. That usually takes much longer, sometimes tens of years.
The cause of an allergy can be treated to a certain extent. With an allergy, the body’s immune system incorrectly responds to factors that do not pose a threat to the body. This reaction can be prevented by ensuring that exposure to the specific stimulus does not occur. There is also a possibility to “learn” the immune system’s response by repeatedly injecting the triggering agent, a type of vaccination with the allergen.
When to the doctor?
If you often have symptoms that could be caused by an allergy, it is wise to make an appointment with your doctor. Complaints may include itchy or swollen eyes, nasal congestion and sneezing, tightness, itchy bumps on the skin or eczema. Initially the symptoms will not even stand out, but may gradually increase in intensity and cause a lot of nuisance.
With regard to the treatment of an allergy, there are a number of possibilities, which of course differ per type of allergy.
Avoiding incentives Initially, the doctor will make it clear that avoiding incentives that can trigger an allergic reaction is the most effective. This can lead to measures being taken in the design of the living environment and to ensure proper cleaning of the house. Another measure that the doctor can propose is, however sad, the removal of pets for which there is an allergy. The doctor will undoubtedly advise you to stop smoking in the case of asthma.
Antihistamines In certain cases, the doctor may decide to prescribe medication. For example, so-called antihistamines can be prescribed to combat chronic nasal complaints (runny nose, sneezing). These medicines inhibit the action of histamine, a substance that is responsible for the development of the symptoms associated with an allergic reaction. There is a choice of tablets, nasal sprays and eye drops. The antihistamines work quickly and the effect often persists throughout the day. They can also be used as a precautionary measure if someone knows that they are in a situation that is known to cause complaints (for example, a visit to people with pets).
Corticosteroids With prolonged nasal seizures, the doctor may decide to prescribe a nasal spray that contains corticosteroids. These ensure that the mucosa becomes less sensitive. These agents have the disadvantage that they only work optimally after a few days and therefore cannot be used for the rapid combating of complaints. Another disadvantage is that the nasal mucosa is suppressed in such a way that it is more fragile and bleeds faster than normal. However, after the medication is stopped, the nasal mucosa will recover quickly. The nasal sprays can in principle be used for a long time. An attempt is made to suppress the symptoms with the lowest possible dosage.
Cromoglicates There are also nasal sprays and eye drops that contain so-called cromoglicates. These have hardly any side effects, but also have less effect. Cromoglicates also only have sufficient results after a few days.
In certain cases, an allergy blood test will be performed to make the diagnosis with certainty. With an extensive allergy to various allergens, the doctor will often refer you to the specialist.
What can you do about it yourself?
Allergic yachts can be limited by various measures. By taking into account the design and cleaning of the house in daily life, the use of medicines can often be limited or even prevented. The measures are designed to minimize contact with allergens in the living environment.
In the case of an allergy to pets, it is best to dispose of the pet. This will of course not be easy, but it will lead to a clear decrease in complaints. The same applies to smoking. No matter how hard it is to stop, try it anyway. Smoke can cause irritation of the mucous membrane in the lungs in people with asthma, which in turn leads to tightness. Moreover, the quality of the lungs deteriorates. In the case of allergic children, parents should stop smoking.
House dust mites thrive best when there is a lot of dust and moisture. To reduce the symptoms of a dust mite allergy, care must be taken to ensure that the house is as dust-free as possible and the air is not too moist. The latter can be achieved through good ventilation. It is good to air the house well twice a day and furthermore to provide ventilation by opening an upper window or ventilation grille for example. If possible, hang the laundry outside to dry or use a tumble dryer.
General advice and precautions
To give dust no support and to keep the house as clean as possible, there are a number of tips for the design of the house. It is of course not always possible to refurbish the entire house immediately after the discovery of a dust mite allergy. You could take the allergy into account when purchasing new furniture and changing the furnishings:
- Ensure that all bedding can be washed at 60 ° C. Wash the bed linen every week, duvets and pillows every six to eight weeks and the curtains at least once a year.
- Special house dust mite covers are available for mattresses, pillows and comforters. However, this has recently been shown to be the only measure, without further remediation adjustments, having insufficient effect.
- If possible, replace your child’s hugs with washable hugs. The house dust mite dies when washing at 60 ° C. Do not put plants in the bedroom, because they provide a lot of dust and moisture.
- For the floor, choose a smooth surface, so no carpet, but for example parquet, tiles, tarpaulin or laminate. These floors are easy to clean.
- Choose a smooth sofa made of (artificial) leather, for example, which contains as little dust as possible and take closed cupboards. A large amount of dust can accumulate in an open bookcase over time.
- Keep doors and windows closed as much as possible during the tree or grass pollen season to minimize indoor hay fever complaints.
- Airing at night or the use of mosquito-repellent insect screens also prevents the majority of pollen from blowing inwards.
It is of course no small matter to have to take such drastic measures. In general, fortunately, the changes are getting used to quickly. In many cases, medication use is limited in this way and these measures for the prevention of allergic complaints are certainly worthwhile.