World Allergy Week: Breathing better to live better
How many of us only appreciate fresh air when our noses are blocked? It might be slightly amusing, but when you battle to breathe because of asthma or allergies, it’s deadly serious.
Breathing Better is the slogan for this year’s World Allergy Week, observed from June 5 to 11. Hosted by the World Allergy Organisation (WAO), the week will be used to raise awareness about how asthma and allergic airway diseases are connected and how important it is for both doctors and patients to understand and manage both to allow for better breathing.
Allergic airway diseases of the respiratory system are the most common chronic diseases in humans. These diseases - such as asthma, allergic rhinitis, chronic rhinosinusitis, chronic cough - often occur together. Asthma affects over 350 million people globally, with South Africa ranking 25th for asthma prevalence and fifth for asthma mortality, while allergic rhinitis affects as many as 16 million people in South Africa.
Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease that causes swelling in the airways, making it harder to breathe. Allergies, on the other hand, are immune system reactions to foreign substances, and inflammation caused by this reaction can happen in many places in the body such as the skin, sinuses, airways, or the digestive system.
The main difference between asthma and allergies is the location of the reaction. If the reaction happens in the nose, like congestion and sneezing, this is a sign of an allergy. But it can happen in the lungs as well, and the person can experience asthma symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. This is called allergic asthma.
Trevor Brewer, director of air treatment specialists Solenco says while there is no cure for allergies or asthma, managing the air quality around you can drastically reduce or even eliminate a lot of the symptoms associated with these conditions to allow you to live a healthier and more comfortable lifestyle.
He outlines some of the ways you can manage your air quality and your symptoms to breathe and live better:
- Vacuum often. Dusty and dirty floors are often primary culprits for indoor allergies. Whatever harmful particles are floating in the air will settle into dust, so along with mites, sweeping only recirculates these allergy triggers. Look for vacuum cleaners with high efficiency filters to ensure they pull in dust particles and minimise allergens effectively. More and more people are investing in robotic vacuum cleaners, which can be scheduled to clean automatically on a daily basis, and which use smart mapping technology to ensure a thorough clean.
- Humidifier or dehumidifier? These smart devices are some of the latest in wellness design, and are making a positive impact on the health of many. But which one is for you? Dehumidifiers will help to keep down the amount of humidity in your home and result in decreased amounts of mould, mildew and dust mites. Humidifiers bring moisture into your home to ease breathing and prevent the dry air from causing an asthma flare-up.
- If airborne chemicals and pollutants are your triggers, then an air purifier will effectively boost the air quality in your home and reduce your allergic symptoms. Look for air purifiers with multi-stage air purification technology such as HEPA filters, carbon filters and ultra-violet filters. Brewer says, “HEPA filters capture 99.9% of particles, including allergens, pollen, dust, smoke, pet dander, viruses and bacteria.”
- If you buy products to help alleviate asthma and allergy symptoms, make sure they have the Allergy Foundation’s seal of approval. This confirms that the products have been scientifically tested to show that they are efficient at reducing or removing allergens from the environment or that they have significantly reduced allergen or chemical content.
Brewer concludes “The bottom line is that allergic and asthmatic symptoms can have a serious and even life-threating impact on sufferers, and as a result, we need to spread more awareness and education around the symptoms associated with these conditions in order to manage them and to live a normal and healthy life.”