Autumn wars: allergy strikes back

Autumn has arrived, and you’re not feeling too good. You can’t stop sniffing and sneezing. Your nose is clogged and you don’t sleep well. The return of cool weather leaves you feeling not invigorated but miserable.

What’s going on? You may be suffering from a type of allergy called allergic rhinitis. Around 100 million Europeans do, and symptoms usually flare up in autumn.

Allergies stem from a glitch in the immune system. Instead of attacking harmful foreign substances such as bacteria and viruses, it tries to neutralise “invaders” that ordinarily are quite harmless – in most cases house dust mites or pollen grains which fill the air.

During autumn and winter in Portugal, house dust and mites are the most common culprits of allergy symptoms.

When someone with allergic rhinitis inhales these tiny mite particles, a cascade of biochemical reactions is triggered, resulting in the release of histamine, a protein that causes the all-too-familiar symptoms.

In addition to sneezing, congestion and fatigue, it can cause coughing, post-nasal drip, itchy eyes, nose and throat, dark circles under the eyes and even asthma attacks.

But there are effective ways to curb symptoms of rhinitis: prevention strategies and, if that is not enough, medical treatment.

If you had allergic symptoms in previous years, odds are you’ll have them again this year. Ask your doctor if your symptoms might be allergy related. Specialist doctors, called allergists, may conduct a skin test to determine exactly what is triggering an allergic reaction.

Dust mites are small creatures which one can’t even see, but they can stir up a lot of trouble. If you have been diagnosed with house dust mite allergy, here are some proven strategies to help you cope with the problem:

▪ In order to reduce symptoms, the best strategy is to limit your exposure to dust. That’s where the tiny creatures live, favouring temperatures of 25° C (77 F) or higher and humidity of 75% to 80%. They can’t survive in colder, drier climates.
▪ Large numbers of dust mites can gather in mattresses, bedding and upholstered furniture. So, use airtight plastic dust-mite covers on pillows, mattresses and box springs.
▪ Use pillows filled with polyester fibres instead of kapok or feathers.
▪ Wash bedding in very hot water once a week.
▪ Clean bare floors often with a damp mop or cloth.
▪ Vacuum carpets and sofas once or twice a week. Use a vacuum with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter.
▪ Replace curtains with roll-up window blinds. If you must have curtains, wash them in hot water each season.
▪ Get rid of stuffed animals, soft toys and other dust collectors.
▪ Keep air clean and dry. Use an air conditioner or dehumidifier to lower humidity.

Your doctor may also prescribe medication such as antihistamines, nasal steroids and decongestants which may help to ease your symptoms. Taking medication before symptoms appear can limit both their severity and duration – sometimes markedly. Your allergist can also help you to decide if immunotherapy (allergy shots) is right for you.

Enjoy autumn leaves … symptom-free.

By Dr Pedro Morais Silva
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Dr Pedro Morais Silva is a specialist allergist now working at the Hospital Particular do Algarve in Alvor and at the clinic in AlgarveShopping in Guia.