All About Allergies: Silent Suffering, Public Perception & More

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Allergy by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images

Allergies can be incredibly troublesome. They bring forth a huge number of symptoms, ranging from the mildly inconvenient to the outright unpleasant. They can make you fearful of coming into contact with the substance that causes you so many problems, and even reduce your willingness to try new things due to a risk of exposure to an allergen.

The perception of allergies

Yet despite all of the information in the above paragraph being true, somehow, allergies aren’t quite taken seriously by the general public. Food allergies, for example, have long been the subject of ridicule, with general consensus suggesting that “food allergy” is just a term for “picky eater”. Even those with severe allergies report that they have experienced people deliberately trying to trigger their allergy.

Allergies are also seen as easy to control. Antihistamines, for the most part, work well to reduce allergic symptoms, so the condition itself is not given its dues. The thought process seems to go: why would someone be bothered about having allergies, when there’s an easy treatment for the issue? Even for those with potentially life-threatening illnesses, Epi-Pen exists, so why would it be of that much of a concern to a person’s life?

Of course, this is flawed thinking, but it has crept into public consciousness and refuses to quite let go. The result of this is that many allergy sufferers find themselves without support, feeling ostracized and unable to truly express what it’s like to live with an allergy. Whether an allergy is mild, serious, or something in between, it does impact people’s lives, and it’s a shame that these issues are not addressed with the focus they deserve.

Silent allergies

Those who are diagnosed with a specific allergy — usually via a skin patch test — can, in some ways, be viewed as the fortunate ones. Millions of people are living with undiagnosed allergies, dealing with a myriad of symptoms that can hamper their enjoyment of life.

These symptoms are generally mild; severe allergies, such as those that can cause anaphylaxis, are fairly easy to diagnose. Milder allergies are more difficult, as sufferers may be allergic to something that is not tested for on specific skin patch tests, and the fact the symptoms are mild mean many doctors just prescribe an antihistamine rather than trying to find the root cause. The somewhat “anti-allergy” mindset of the general public means that sufferers are often disinclined to ask for more information, accepting the antihistamine to help control the worst of the symptoms, and never entirely being sure of what it actually is that they are allergic to.

Signs of allergies

You may be experiencing an issue with allergies if you have chronic issues with any of the following:

  • Frequently blocked nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Swelling of the lips (particularly after eating)
  • Frequent indigestion or abdominal issues
  • Unexplained rashes
  • Bodily itching
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Fatigue

Obviously, many different conditions can produce these symptoms, so you should always check things out with a medical professional. If you are otherwise found to be healthy, however, it’s worth considering that allergies might be the cause of your discomfort.

You may experience these symptoms occasionally, or they may be a daily concern.

Is it important to know exactly what you are allergic to?

If you identify with the signs on the list, you may find yourself feeling curious about what it is you are actually allergic to. The standard skin patch test only measures a tiny selection of allergens; it focuses on those that are most common, rather than a broad-spectrum approach.

As a result of this curiosity, and standard testing not delivering answers, many people find themselves trying to obtain a full diagnosis through other methods. Many “alternative health” gurus claim to be able to identify allergies, but this has no scientific background, and should generally not be considered. You may find yourself being diagnosed with an allergy you don’t suffer from, leading to you unnecessarily cutting a product, food, or activity from your life.

What you can do to help determine the cause is keep an allergy diary. Every day, write a brief list of the things you have done and eaten, as well as a note on the different places you have been. You should then note down when your allergic symptoms are at their worst. Over time, you may begin to see a pattern which can help you zone in on a culprit. If you ask for specific testing for an allergy, backed by evidence in a diary, then your doctor will likely acquiesce.

However, for the most part, no: you don’t need to know what you’re specifically allergic to if the symptoms are mild. You just need to know how to deal with it and improve your quality of life.

Focusing on the fix

Medication

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There are a variety of different treatments for allergies, with by far the most common being antihistamines. Antihistamines are a range of medication that specifically try to eradicate the bodily response to an allergen, by lowering the production of histamine in the body.

Antihistamines are generally considered to be safe and effective; some forms, such as Certirizine, can even be sold over-the-counter due to their mild nature. This might be an option for you, but remember: you should always consult a doctor prior to taking over-the-counter medication, especially if you are also taking prescribed medication.

If the over-the-counter antihistamines don’t solve the problem, then you may need to move to prescribed medications such as Hydroxyzine. These antihistamines are more effective, and should eliminate even severe allergy symptoms, but they do have a downside: they have more side effects. Over-the-counter antihistamines are relatively side effect free, but stronger versions can cause drowsiness and usually cannot be taken when you are planning to, or already have, consumed alcohol. However, if you are uncomfortable and want an end to the allergy symptoms you are experiencing, then these remain a good option.

Elimination diets

If you have reason to believe you have a food allergy, the best way of ascertaining exactly what you’re allergic to is to try an elimination diet. This is a long process, that often involves eating a range of rather dull food, but it can be effective. The idea is that you strip back to a very basic diet, then slowly add foods back into your diet. If you add a food back in and suddenly experience an upswing in your symptoms, then you can safely conclude you are allergic to this food.

As useful as elimination diets can be, they are also notorious for giving false positives. Say, for example, your allergic symptoms were not being caused by a food allergy as you suspected, but a dust mite problem. On the day you introduce avocados back to your diet, you empty the household vacuum; as a result, your symptoms spike, and you conclude avocados are the cause. You should therefore only use an elimination diet as a guide to future medical testing; always have a food allergy verified by a medical professional before eliminating that food from your diet.

Nevertheless, elimination diets can be useful if used correctly. If you want to find out more, then you can read up on the subject here; just remember to inform your doctor you will be trying an elimination diet before you actually begin.

Environment changes

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There are millions of different fibers, chemicals, toxins, and particles that you come into contact with every day. Narrowing the field of all this exposure to determine the exact cause of your allergy can be nigh-on impossible. However, there are a few environmental changes you can make that can eradicate some of the more well-known allergens.

If you have skin rashes and itching issues, then the first suspect should always be your laundry detergent. There are thousands of different chemicals in laundry detergent, so a process of elimination for each component is impossible. However, you can give eliminate some of the most common chemical allergens by choosing to opt for a natural detergent such as those made by BetterLife; natural products like this don’t use parabens, SLS, dyes, and other known allergens. An SLS/paraben/dye allergy won’t be tested for on a patch test, but it is still considered fairly common, so switching to a natural product could give you the answer you have been searching for.

You should also carefully examine the cleaning products that you use around your home. If you experience issues with rashes, redness, coughing, or itching when cleaning, then switching to all-natural cleaning products is a good place to start. As with the laundry detergent, natural products tend to opt for a simpler ingredients list that eliminates a number of potential allergens, so they’re worth giving a try to see if that makes a difference.

In conclusion

Allergies are very difficult to live with, especially for those who do not have a definitive answer as to what they are actually allergic to. However, the ideas above will hopefully have altered your perception of allergy sufferers, as well as provided some helpful advice to living with an undiagnosed allergy yourself.

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