Allergy sufferers have a lot to put up with. After all, constantly having to avoid pollen and other allergens is an almost impossible task. While the sight of flowers blooming and grasses gives some of us a reason to be happy, for anyone with a pollen allergy the spring and summer are nothing to smile about. Hay fever is by far the most widespread allergy – followed by allergies to house dust mites and animal hair. However, they all have one thing in common: the danger comes from the air.
What is an allergy?
Runny nose, constant sneezing, skin rashes, a cough and itchy swollen eyes accompanied by a constant feeling of breathlessness: these are symptoms that are part of everyday life for many of us – especially during the pollen season. For allergies are among the most common diseases of our time and are basically nothing more than a hypersensitive physical reaction to harmless environmental substances. These substances which trigger allergies, e.g. pollen, house dust mites, animals, food or medicines, we call allergens. If they get into the body, for example through the skin or as a result of being ingested or inhaled, then the body reacts by putting up an exaggerated form of defence. And it is this overreaction to the exogenous substance that then leads to the typical allergic symptoms. According to the aha! Swiss Allergy Centre, around a quarter of the Swiss population suffer from one or more allergies – and the number is rising.
Pollen flies around in the air – practically all year round
One of the most common types of allergy is pollen allergy – also known as «seasonal allergic rhinitis». Persons affected by this react to one or more types of pollen produced by plants. Besides grass and cereal pollen, early-flowering trees and some herbs can also cause allergic reactions. Although only about 20 of the approximately 3500 plants found in Switzerland are of significance to pollen allergy sufferers, the flower on a single blade of grass contains around four million grains of pollen. What is particularly annoying is that the problematic hay fever season is getting longer and longer. That is because the earlier in the year temperatures start to rise, the sooner the pollen starts flying around in the air. The first grains of pollen from early-flowering trees such as hazel and alder start whizzing around as early as January, followed by birch, elm and beech. Grasses bloom in summer and the pollen from mug wort, goldenrod or ragweed can carry on causing misery right into the autumn. So for hay fever sufferers, it is particularly important to know exactly when «your» pollen is flying around and knowing the latest pollen count forecast is a great help for allergy sufferers.
Allergens in the air
Indoors as well as outdoors: a lot of allergens which whiz around in the air are mostly found indoors. They come from tiny house dust mites, our beloved pets and mould spores. While the occurrence of pollen is at least limited to the flowering period of the relevant plants, these indoor allergens are present more or less all year round. Besides hay fever, house dust allergy (house dust mite allergy) is one of the most common types of allergy which between 5 and 8 percent of the people in Switzerland suffer from. The second most common cause of allergy in homes is animal hair, e.g. from cats, dogs, guinea pigs and horses, with cats in particular causing a very high allergy risk.
Symptoms with an allergy
The symptoms experienced with an allergy can differ depending on how the allergens enter the body. In the case of pollen, animal hair or mites, these enter via the airways and sometimes via the mucous membranes in the nose and eyes. The predisposition to develop this type of allergy is often determined by our genes. In addition to the inherited risk, there are also external influencing factors which can tip any such allergic predisposition over the edge, leading to the excessive formation of certain antibodies. The result: typical symptoms ranging from a runny nose and sneezing, a scratchy throat, a cough, skin rashes, itchy swollen eyes and even asthma.
Pollen & co. indoors
Hiding away at home during the pollen season is not a solution either – there is pollen indoors too. Whether in your own home or in the office, pollen can get in through gaps in windows and doors, can be blown in by ventilation systems or brought in on clothing. Once inside, they then attach themselves to surfaces such as cushions, curtains and furniture. The tiny allergens are so small that they stick to dust particles and are then spread throughout the house or office. As ordinary house dust, the allergens end up on bed linen, the sofa or the floor, are stirred up and enter the indoor air in the form of tiny suspended particles, ultimately getting into our airways.
What can you do to prevent allergens in the indoor air?
While the symptoms of hay fever, dust allergy or dust mite allergy can be treated with medication, they can also be effectively alleviated by means of preventive measures. That way, allergic symptoms can be significantly reduced quite easily in many situations and without any side effects. If you know what type of allergy you have, the smartest thing to do is to avoid contact with the substances you are allergic to as much as possible. Here are some tips to help you alleviate allergy symptoms.
10 tips on how to alleviate allergy symptoms
- Humidify the indoor air – An optimal humidity level of approximately 50 percent will help alleviate suffering by preventing your mucous membranes from becoming dry. If necessary: use a humidifier
- Breathe through your nose – Your nose acts as a filter system and over half of the house dust you breathe in through your nose will stick to your mucous membranes if they are moist. If they are dry, use natural sea salt spray too, for example
- Vacuum every day – Use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter and delegate the task to someone who is not an allergy sufferer, if possible, as a lot of dust can be stirred up when cleaning
- Use an air purifier – This will help to trap undesirable particles and permanently improve the air quality. An air washer will also even guarantee the right level of humidity
- Clean surfaces regularly – Wipe all furniture thoroughly with a damp cloth and wash textiles. It is particularly important to change bed linen frequently
- Remove dust collectors – Provide as few surfaces where dust can collect as possible such as carpets, fur rugs, bedspreads, heavy curtains, upholstered sofas, open shelves and soft toys
- Keep pets away – Keep pets away from beds and upholstered furniture
- Pay attention when buying houseplants – Only buy species which do not give off allergenic substances
- Drink plenty – At least 1.5 litres a day, otherwise your mucous membranes can dry out and lose their protective function
- Avoid cigarette smoke, chlorinated water and ozone – Keep away from allergy-promoting influencing factors as much as possible
Pure clean air with an air purifier
Because we spend more than 90 percent of our time indoors, we need to pay special attention to the quality of our indoor air since it is essential for our well-being and our health – especially where allergy sufferers are concerned. After all, your home should be somewhere you can retreat to and in the bedroom or children’s room in particular, you want nothing more than healthy clean air. Even if you clean your home thoroughly on a regular basis, the amount of allergens in the indoor air can often still be too high. So it is worth thinking about using an air purifier which will help to trap unwanted particles and permanently improve the air quality at home or at the office. This type of device can remove not just pollen but also fine dust, animal hair, house dust mite excreta, viruses, bacteria and even unpleasant odours from the air.
Optimum room air humidity of between 40 and 60 percent will ensure that the amount of allergens whizzing around in the air is reduced considerably. The small particles attach themselves to water droplets in the air, making them heavy so that they ultimately fall to the ground. At ground level, they are less able to damage your airways than when they are at head height. They are virtually washed away – like the pollen outside when it rains. And that’s exactly what an air washer does indoors. Being both an air purifier and humidifier at the same time makes this type of device the ideal housemate for allergy sufferers, especially during the dry winter and spring months. Optimal humidity will also help prevent your mucous membranes from drying out. If mucous membranes are kept moist, they are able to provide better protection against allergens as well as viruses and bacteria. For a home you can feel good in and where you can also breathe freely and easily.
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