Recent decades have seen a steady increase in allergic diseases. Around 25% of the population suffers from allergies, and this number is expected to rise in the coming years. During the past year, due to coronavirus (COVID-19), we have paid attention to hygiene even more, so as to prevent, or at least reduce, the chance of catching the virus. However, overemphasis on hygiene can divert the immune system from fighting infection to states of allergy – although we still need to take care to keep to the rules of caution to protect ourselves from coronavirus and prevent its spread.
Various studies in recent years indicate a direct connection between hygienic habits, particularly during childhood, and the chance of developing allergies in adulthood. One of the reasons for the rise in the incidence of allergic diseases is linked to changes in the population due to adoption of a modern, “clean” lifestyle. According to the hygiene hypothesis, children who grow up in a more hygienic environment, for example children who live in the city, children who grew up in small families, without animals, and those who started childcare at a later age, tend to develop allergies at a significantly greater level than children who grew up on a farm or were sent to childcare frameworks at a young age.
Spring is a wonderful time to go on trips and enjoy nature and the flowers blooming. However, for some people spring is a time for rashes, or in more professional terms – allergies.
Around 25% of the population suffers from allergies
Why does it happen?
During the spring and early summer months, we are exposed to many allergens in the air, stamens of various plants and trees which float in the air and create allergic effects, including skin irritations and breathing difficulties. The pollen tries to get as far as possible for fertilization of the plant or tree. It is carried great distances by the wind and reaches everywhere.
The stamens of the plants and trees contain a substance called an allergen which is, essentially, a complex protein structure of those plants and trees. When the allergen enters the respiratory system and comes into contact with the allergic person’s immune system, the immune system’s cells create IGE antibodies, and these cause a string of processes, including the body producing a substance called histamine. Histamine causes an allergic reaction expressed in watery nasal secretions, sneezing, bothersome coughing, tears, irritation to the eyes, and shortness of breath and wheezing.
Each person has their own level of sensitivity. The allergy can develop over several years and its severity can change. For some people the allergy is only expressed in irritation in the eyes, and causes conjunctivitis, while others have very high sensitivity leading to asthma attacks and even development of skin complaints and rashes.
In addition, springtime does not only bring blooming together with stamens carried in the air, but also the “blooming” of a tiny creature which rests in the closet – the house dust mite. This microscopic insect tends to become dominant when we air out our closets and switch from winter to summer clothes. The symptoms of sensitivity to the house dust mite are the same as spring allergies.
How to diagnose an allergy?
The formal diagnosis of the various types of allergy is carried out by a doctor who specializes in allergies, using the following methods:
Skin tests – a breathing allergy, such as one for stamens of trees and plants, grasses, cat hairs, dog hairs, and the house dust mite, can be diagnosed using skin tests, usually from the age of five. The tests are carried out by placing one drop of the allergen on the forearm and scratching it into the skin. A reaction is considered positive if there is local swelling and redness where the skin was pricked.
Blood tests to specific antibodies – provide similar results to the skin tests.
Dr. Vered Schichter-Konfino conducting a skin test
How to treat it?
The basic treatment for allergies is preventative, and it is preferable to include a decrease in contact with the breathed-in allergens. This is not easy, especially since the stamens are carried through the air. Regarding the dust mite, you should make sure to launder the clothes and linens which you take out of the closet, carry out more frequent dusting and vacuuming, use an air filter in the rooms, and avoid carpeting.
Medical treatment and vaccinations
Medical treatment includes antihistamine medications which oppose the effects of the histamine. This treatment is safe, for both adults and children, and has almost no side effects, but demands adjustment of the correct dosage.
In addition, it is preferable to include local treatment in the nose, using a spray, and eye drops. Should the symptoms be accompanied by shortness of breath, the treatment will include inhalers and inhalation devices as required and according to the doctor’s recommendations. As noted, before any treatment, please consult a specialist.
It is important to be treated during the coronavirus outbreak period too, particularly for patients suffering from nasal secretions and chronic allergic asthma, and of course, should things worsen, to turn to the doctor and not be concerned about leaving the house for medical treatment.
In cases where prevention and medical treatment do not help, there is an option of being given vaccinations against the causes of the allergy from the age of 5-6, after the allergen is identified using skin tests. The vaccination is given by a subcutaneous injection to the arm with concentrates containing the various allergens to which the patient is sensitive, with the aim of immunizing him to the allergy. The concentration in the vaccine is gradually increased, and at the same time the frequency of the shots is reduced, so while the patient initially receives a vaccination once a week he eventually reaches a stage of getting it monthly. The concentration of the dose is gradually increased and the improvement regarding the allergy is only anticipated after several months. Therefore, it is recommended to continue with the treatment for at least three years, so as to achieve the greatest possible effect.
Vaccination for house dust mite allergy also exists in pill form today, and has the same effectiveness as the vaccination. The patient can take one tablet a day and come for a medical check-up once in three months – a convenient solution, especially during the coronavirus outbreak period.
To schedule an appointment at the Allergy and Immunology Clinic at the Hillel Yaffe Medical Center, please call *6742.