Seasonal allergies abound

2015-06-11 06:00

IF you’re finding yourself having sneezing fits in autumn, it’s likely that the change in season has something to do with it.

Seasonal allergies are typically associated with spring and the proliferation of pollen, but experts say when the weather gets colder, symptoms such as sneezing and a blocked or runny nose are often mistaken for the common cold, when in fact it’s outdoor mould spores at play.

Mariska van Aswegen, spokesperson for Pharma Dynamics, says mould spores are in abundance everywhere this time of year.

“Mould allergy levels tend to rise in autumn, especially during wet and mild weather. Outdoor mould can be found on fallen and rotting leaves, grass cuttings, compost heaps, garden sheds and window frames, especially when there is a lot of condensation on the windows. Indoor mould can be found on damp walls, in a refrigerator (if it’s not cleaned regularly), as well as under wallpaper and in the soil of houseplants. Kitchens and bathrooms are also hotspots, with tumble dryers being used more often and bathrooms not being ventilated properly.”

She describes mould spores as microscopic particles that are released in their thousands into the air.

These spores can irritate the skin, nasal and bronchial membranes, triggering colds and flu-like symptoms such as hayfever (allergic rhinitis), itchy eyes, dark circles under the eyes, coughing, eczema and even asthma. “The immune system of an individual who is allergic to mould spores, treats these particles or allergens as invaders and releases a chemical called histamine into the bloodstream to protect itself from foreign bodies. It is the release of histamines, in particular, that causes allergies.

“An easy way to distinguish between a cold or flu or allergy is if it lasts for longer than seven to 10 days, whereas allergies can loiter for weeks or even months on end. Colds or flu are also often accompanied by a fever and general muscle pain.”

If you are affected by mould allergies, you should take heed of the following to lessen your exposure to spores:

• ventilate your office and home to prevent mould growth;

• wear a face mask when clearing your garden of fallen leaves and cut grass and when cleaning mould from window frames;

• close bathroom doors when showering or bathing to prevent steam from entering the rest of the house;

• clean out your fridge regularly;

• don’t hang clothes in damp cupboards and leave your wardrobe doors partly open to ventilate clothes or linen;

• try to switch to a condenser-dryer or ensure that your tumble dryer is vented outside when in use, and avoid drying clothes indoors;

• do away with old foam mattresses, piles of old newspapers or magazines where mould tends to grow

• don’t burn damp firewood as it will make you sick from bacteria, mould, mildew and fungus;

• keep house plants to a minimum or replace the soil regularly; and

• paraffin and bottled gas heaters generate large amounts of moisture, so try to avoid using these.

“Predicting just how bad the autumn allergy season will be isn’t an exact science, but there are some clues in the weather. Outdoor mould increases after rain, so if you live in an area affected by heavy rains, you can probably expect a worse than usual autumn allergy season.

“Most people associate mould with damp walls and similar extreme conditions, but we are all exposed to mould to a lesser or greater degree.

“An allergy can also develop at any time, even if you’ve never been allergic to the allergen before.

“If you do find yourself troubled by mould allergies, typical treatments to alleviate symptoms, include antihistamines, which will reduce sneezing and an itchy nose; nasal sprays containing corticosteroids will reduce inflammation in the lining of the nose; and decongestants will aid in relieving congestion and swelling. Should symptoms be severe and impact on the quality of your life, then immunotherapy allergy injections could be the solution for you.

“These expose your body to small, but regular doses of the allergen that can reduce your symptoms for a longer period of time,” advises Van Aswegen.

- Supplied

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