April 26, 2023

The allergy season is back

Pollen, hair, dust mites, sunlight, food, medication: you can be allergic to more or less everything. That said, allergy is sometimes a seasonal disease. People do not expose themselves to pollen or sunlight all year round. Spring is a particularly difficult time for many allergy sufferers. What should you look out for?

Les allergies saisonnières les plus courantes

Having your nose constantly stuffed up is very common. However, about 20% of Luxembourgers suffer from hay fever.

This allergy, among the most well-known, is not the only one to occur as spring season approaches. Here are some of the most common ones:

  • Wasps and other hymenoptera (ants, bees, hornets, etc.) have a type of venom that can create sometimes dramatic and even dangerous allergic reactions. In the event of a sting, watch out for signals of possible anaphylactic shock or breathing difficulties.
  • Sun allergy (also called benign summer light eruption) is of course a seasonal condition. As the scientific name suggests, it is not very serious, although it does cause patches, redness and itching on certain parts of the body exposed to the sun. These rashes usually disappear within a few days.
  • Air pollution peaks can exacerbate asthma symptoms in sensitive individuals. This is why it is often recommended not to exercise in case of ozone pollution.
  • Contact allergy to grasses causes hives. The effect will be even greater if you are sweating or injured. 

How to react in case of symptoms?

The answer could be complex, as no two allergies are the same. However, while leaving it to the doctors to give you prescriptions and medical advice, here are some basic rules:

Isolate yourself from the allergen

In the case of hay fever, stay away from fields, limit outdoor sports activities, do not dry your clothes outside, do not keep daytime clothes in the bedroom and wash your hair before going to bed.

For sun allergy, in addition to seeking shade, you can use specific creams, sold in pharmacies, while your skin adapts to the rays. You can also supplement with vitamins C, A and beta-carotene a few weeks before your exposure and throughout the summer, as they help increase the resistance of sensitive skin to the sun’s harmful rays. 

Watch for reactions

An allergic reaction usually occurs within a few minutes of contact with the allergen, but can also occur several hours after exposure.

Remember that even a mild allergic reaction can worsen in a short time to the point of anaphylaxis. Breathing difficulties, dizziness and nausea are worrying signals that should be taken very seriously.

Don’t make the symptoms worse

If you have red, watery eyes which are less able to withstand light, don’t rub them, as this can lead to conjunctivitis.

Something as simple as wearing sunglasses protects your eyes from the sun and pollen.

Avoid cross-allergies

An allergist can determine which cross-allergies are likely to affect you.

Some examples of frequent associations with grass pollen (which causes hay fever) are: peanuts, wheat flour, melons, tomatoes, oranges, peas, peppers, potatoes.

See a doctor

Your doctor is still your best source of advice on allergies. You can go to him for different reasons:

  • Suspicion of a new allergy: thanks to skin or blood tests, the allergist will identify the allergen you need to protect yourself from.
  • A worsening of symptoms: if you feel that you are reacting more intensely or virulently, the allergist will guide you towards treatment.
  • Help to relieve the symptoms: your doctor may prescribe an antihistamine, corticosteroids, Ventolin, eye drops, etc., depending on the case. No medicine cures allergies, but they can help to overcome them.
  • Desensitisation: the principle of allergen immunotherapy (AIT) is to regularly expose the body to small amounts of the allergenic substance in order to gradually reduce the immune response to it. This can be done by subcutaneous injections, by a few drops under the tongue, or by exposure to UVA light (in the case of sun allergy). This technique has been very successful against insect venom allergies and pollen allergies.

For severe allergic reactions

Anaphylactic shock is the fear of all allergy sufferers. This is a major life-threatening condition that requires rapid emergency treatment.

Wasp stings in particular can be a trigger. If you know you are highly allergic to venom, always carry an adrenaline auto-injector pen. The adrenaline stops the reaction, at least temporarily, while you are transported to a hospital emergency department.

Is it possible to become allergic overnight?

Affirmative. You can become allergic overnight. Even belatedly. And this applies to all types of allergies. Including those to animal hair or food allergies.

Nowadays, allergies are becoming more and more common and better detected. According to the WHO, it is estimated that 30% of the world’s population is allergic compared to 3.8% in 1968. This rate is constantly increasing, with forecasts for 2050 estimating that one in two people will be allergic.

The most common hypothesis to explain this upsurge is that we live in an increasingly sanitised environment. Improved hygiene limits our exposure to germs and therefore the strength of our immune system.

The increase in the number of allergic individuals is also attributable to an increase in the number of allergens. Among the factors are global warming (leading to an increase in pollen), rising air pollution and the increased use of scented indoor products.

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