Cape fires hit allergy sufferers

With more than 20 fires reportedly raging in the Western Cape this week, including wild fires around Simonstown and Franschhoek, allergy sufferers are being warned to stay indoors and limit exercise to minimise the risk of their allergies being triggered by the high levels of “particulate matter” or PM in the smoky air.

Mariska Fouche, Public Affairs Manager at Pharma Dynamics – one of the country’s leading suppliers of allergy medication - says that even if you can’t see or smell the smoke from the fires, the body may still respond to PM, which is made up of miniscule particles or droplets of pollution in the air that are inhaled. The particles stem from burning vegetation as well as buildings and their contents.

“Smoke is an environmental allergen that contains particles which can irritate the lungs, throat and eyes, triggering symptoms like:

  • Difficulty breathing normally
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Runny nose, itching, nasal congestion and obstruction of breathing
  • Coughing (with or without mucous)

“The most commonly affected people are allergy sufferers, the very young – whose lungs are still developing – and the very old – whose lungs may be compromised.”

Fortunately, says Fouche, there are many steps allergy sufferers can take to minimise the effects of the fires on their health. She recommends:

  • Taking your medications as prescribed, including antihistamines (ask your pharmacist for an antihistamine that doesn’t make you drowsy)
  • Staying indoors with your windows closed as much as possible (commercial paper masks do not offer significant protection)
  • Limiting exercise outdoors – school children who suffer from allergies may have to cut back on sports training while the fires burn and the high winds carry PM far and wide
  • Do not smoke, light candles or vacuum as these activities will up the PM count in your home
  • Wash your hair, clothes and pets after being outside
  • Use eye and nasal drops to wash particles out of your eyes and nose to decrease irritation

“If none of these help relieve your symptoms, consider leaving the area until the smoke dissipates.”

She urges sufferers or parents who suspect their children may be sufferers to access www.allergyexpert.co.za for more information about allergies.

- (Pharma Dynamics press release)

- (Health24, January 2013)

Read more:

Main allergy triggers
Kids and allergies

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