The Allergy Dossier

Air pollution in India is a cause of major concern as the pollutant levels have risen steadily in most of the Indian cities. While most of us are aware of the pollution that we encounter day in and day out on our roads, we know precious little about the innumerable pollutants that are present indoors, affecting the quality of life of millions of people. I have been afflicted by chronic allergy for the past several years and if you are a regular reader on my blog, you would have come across my lighthearted take on it at the The Perennial Sniffles.

In 2012, I took a break from my IT career, post which I no longer spent long duration in air-conditioned offices and instead started spending a substantial amount of time indoors at home. That period also curiously coincided with the time my allergies started aggravating. According to an article published in NCBI, indoor air pollution is 10 times worse than outdoor pollution. In India, the major cause of indoor air pollution are combustion, building materials, fine particulate matter and bio-aerosols. Indoor air contains pollutants from both indoor as well as the outdoor.These air-born agents cause asthma, bronchitis, allergies and irritation of the respiratory tract. It took a long time for me to associate my increased time at home, with my increase in allergies.

In a bid to reduce the pollutants and the effects they had on me, I started researching on several alternatives. In this post, I summarize some of the key points and also hope that it helps other allergic people, find some solution to their problems.

Environmentally sustainable designs : A well ventilated and optimally designed house helps to prevent mold and mildew formation. Keeping a good air flow allows the free exchange of indoor and outdoor air and reduces build up of toxins. Many composite building materials emit VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds). Substituting these materials for naturally occurring materials and buying formaldehyde free furniture reduces our exposure to such allergens. If you haven’t already invested in a permanent home, this could be a good thing to keep in mind. However many of us may not have the option to change our house construction and adapt to sustainable designs.

Air purifiers / Air filters : Air purifiers and air filters with HEPA filters are another great way to maintain air purity. They work by filtering particles from circulating air using filters, electrical attraction or ozone. While choosing air purifiers , choose ozone free ones as ozone can aggravate asthma and respiratory issues. However, they are expensive with the normal price range in India in the region of 17K to about 40K. Smart Air Purifiers look more affordable at the price range of less than 5K, however most of the air filters will have a running cost of replacing the HEPA filters at regular intervals, in the absence of which the fan can burn out due to clogged filters.

Air Conditioning : Air conditioners have some basic stuff to remove dust and odour filtering, but ACs are in no way a replacement for Air Purifiers. AC’s refrigerant gas leakage can also be a source of air pollution. However, ACs may marginally improve air quality depending on what’s your allergy trigger. I have often experienced my allergy coming down, if I sit in the car with the AC on for some time.

Indoor plants : Keeping indoor plants is a great way to increase the oxygen levels inside the house. Several plants which are ideal include the ubiquitous money plant, bamboo palm, areca palm, Aloe Vera. Plants like the Snake Plant (Sanseviera Trifaciata) releases oxygen at night and hence is ideal for bedrooms. If you keep the windows closed at night due to high allergies, improving oxygenation levels inside the room might be good idea. Check out this awesome video where Kamal Meattle talks about growing fresh air !

Removing allergens like dust and dust mites : Professional cleaning of dust and dust mites, with high powered vacuums and spring cleaning your sofa and bedding could go a long way. The picture below is not of a scrumptious chocolate cake but of the dust cleaned from sofa. The froth on the surface are the eggs of the mites. Yuck !

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Reducing dust and particulate matter : Home furnishings should be critically looked at, from the point of view of capturing dust. Reduced usage of carpets, heavy furnishings and fabric heavy sofas can drastically lessen the amount of dust and dust mites.

Pet dander : While I adore dogs and cats, my allergic nature leads me to strongly suspect the possibility of pet dander aggravating it. Pet dander is a known issue which causes allergies and knowing beforehand whether you are vulnerable to it, might be the most important thing for yourself and for your future pet.

Reduce Strong Smells : Having the kitchen well ventilated is extremely important. Indian cooking emits a lot of strong smells and it’s lately been causing a lot of my allergy attacks. Reducing exposure to strong scents / deos / chemicals can reduce the chances of an allergy attack. Opt for natural ingredients in personal care products and try unscented variations of deos / antiperspirants.

Humidity Control: Humidity plays a key role in regulating mold, mildew and dust mites. Both high and low humidity act as asthma triggers. High humidity could result from water leakage / seepage, plumbing leaks or moisture retained in building materials. Drying clothes inside the house can also result in high humidity. Plugging the sources of high humidity and ensuring good ventilation should lower humidity.But very low humidity can also result in dry airway passages, dry skin etc. This can be alleviated to a certain extent, by letting clothes air dry and letting more air evaporate inside the house. One can also invest in a good humidifier.

Allergy proof bedding: Investing in allergy proof linen can also help in reducing inhalation of allergens while sleeping. These sheets /covers which are dust-mite resistant can be spread on top of the bed. However, I did come across some research which mentioned that the reduction in allergies due to allergy proof bedding was not conclusive.

Air friendly Paints: Interestingly, Asian Paints has come out with a novel product called Royal Atmos. The paint is supposed to help eliminate odors by absorbing smells like smoke, ammonia, garlic etc. For a person who’s prone to allergy, strong smells can trigger an allergy attack. This also absorbs formaldehyde.Formaldehyde is an important chemical used widely in the manufacture of building materials and a number of household products and therefore, can be present in substantial concentrations in the house. Exposure to formaldehyde can cause irritation of eyes, nose, skin and throat. The paint also contains low levels of VOC which is within permissible limits. Since we plan to get our house painted soon, this paint will definitely be on my consideration list.

Air Pollution Masks : Air pollution masks are a good bet to reduce the impact of poor air quality. However not all masks are the same. The commonly available surgical masks are practically useless for an allergic person. Look for N-99 (which filters out 99% of PM2.5

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particulate matter) and N-95 masks (which filters out 95%). N99 is ideal for those who suffer from constant allergies. The best deal for the N99 mask is the Atlanta Healthcare Cambridge mask, priced at Rs.1999, which I started using recently.The recently introduced Vogmasks are also a good value for money.Check out this link for some great information.

Pranayama and Yoga: Pranayama has healed a lot of people of allergies. Undoubtedly improving your breathing and lung power could go a long way in ensuring good respiratory health. Kapalbhati pranayam is slated to be very effective for allergies.

Last but not the least, Eat Healthy with plently of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Methods to alleviate an allergic episode:

However, as all the allergic know, its not always possible to control allergens, especially the ones which are air-borne, at every place and all the time. So despite taking all precautions, allergic episodes can occur very commonly and can diminish the quality of life. These are some of the methods which I have either tried or read about.

Neti : Neti ie, the yogic practice of usage of salted water to clean the nasal passages, is a very helpful method. However I have also read that continuous practice of Neti could also remove the helpful bacteria and mucous.

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I normally resort to Neti, when I get a sinus infection superimposed on my allergies. But all care must be taken to do it the right way and its very important to dry your passages well, after doing Neti. Adequate care must also be taken to use filtered, boiled and cooled water, usage of Neti-salt or sea salt and finally maintaining the water at the right temperature. I found steel neti pot to be the best, as its possible to clean and sterilize it. Ideally one should consult a yoga practitioner who can guide on the correct way of doing Neti.

Steam Inhalation: This is one of my go-to techniques in the event of an impending allergy or cold. The steam goes into your nasal passages and gives instant relief for any heavy sinus or mucous. There is a good variety of electric steam inhalers to choose from. I have found the method of using the steam inhaler with a towel draped all around the head and the inhaler works the best, as the super hot steam doesn’t directly hit your face and at the same time, concentration of the hot steam all around your face, brings immediate relief.  In case you are stuck without an electric one, you could make one by boiling water directly on the gas. Fold a thick paper / cardboard in a conical manner such that the narrow opening of the cone faces the steam and the broader one is over your face.

Sipping warm liquids : Drinking warm liquids helps to thin the mucous and enables breathing easier. You can have green tea or apple cider vinegar with honey and lemon in warm water. In situations where none of these are available, sipping continuously on warm water also helps relieve congestion.

OTC Medicines: Mostly anti-histamines work by reducing the histamine level in your blood, which is the reason for allergic reactions. But most of these meds also produce a side effect of drowsiness. Levoceterizine is commonly used and doesn’t have a long term side effect. Though a reduced dosage of Montek-LC has worked for me quite well,  I would suggest getting your allergies tested and getting a doctor prescription.

Ayurveda / Homeopathy : Homeopathy has a lot of remedies for Allergies, however its efficacy seems to be highly person dependent. In my case, it hardly had any effect while I know of people for whom it was very effective. Ayurveda also has some remedies for allergy, though I have not tried them.

Immunotherapy : Also known as allergy shots, this is a therapy by which your allergen is tested and a small amount of allergen is introduced in the blood. This causes your body to generate immunity and reduce sensitivity to the allergen. This procedure is expensive, long drawn and need not always be successful. I have not yet resorted to this and hopefully will not have to, if all the other preventive methods can be used.

Would love to hear your suggestions on how you improve air quality and reduce pollutants / allergens.If you are a fellow allergic, do write in how you combated your allergies.

References:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4215499/
http://www.thehindu.com/features/homes-and-gardens/green-living/improve-quality-of-indoor-air/article6891298.ece
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360132316304346
http://gadgets.ndtv.com/others/features/how-to-buy-the-best-air-purifier-in-india-1622333
https://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/treatments/allergy-shots-(immunotherapy)

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FlipkartOutdoors Indiblogger Meet

An outdoor meet for bloggers sounded different and the #FlipkartOutdoors #Indiblogger meet at the sprawling Mango Mist Resort in Bangalore, definitely didn’t disappoint with an awesome outdoor experience and the latest gizmos to boot.As the executive from Flipkart said “On the go” devices are here to stay and are witnessing a huge boom. People want to relive their experiences more and that’s where technology comes to their aid.

We were divided into teams and each team got to use some cool gadgets for a couple of hours. Our team consisted of Seema , Abhishek , Mahesh , Priya, Rohit, Mayuri, Sushmita, Suresh, Radha and Rajesh.

The activities lined up were not for the faint-hearted and included Rock climbing, Zip Line, Burma Bridge,Rope Ladder,Quake Walk, Land & Water Zorbing and more !

Activities

As we were still trying to muster our courage, our Garmin Vivofit Fitness Band beeped ! A cool gadget with an activity tracker which promises to get you off your back.It alerts you if you have been sitting glued to your laptop for a good bit of time and sets a fitness goal based on your current activity level.It even has a sleep monitor which monitors body activity during the night.

Priya was wearing the trendy looking Garmin Forerunner Smartwatch.With an ability to show routes and metrics like speed, distance etc., it’s a great watch for runners. Nowadays when everything is smart and well-connected, it’s no surprise that though it’s positioned as  a sports watch, it has all the features of a regular smartwatch like phone notifications.

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Garmin Fitness Band and Forerunner

Most of the rope activities required a good grip. And it is a pity that we didn’t have the Red Chief shoes which promised superior grip while being surprisingly light weight and flexible.

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Red Chief

From our team, Abhishek attempted the rope ladder and had a free fall onto a trampoline. And he had just the right device to capture these moments. A Polaroid Cube for those who want to capture action as it happens ! Its a neat small cube which you can fit wherever you want.An armband,on a dogs collar or a remote controlled toy car. It can even be taken under water with a special waterproof case.

If you want to see what it can do, take a look at this video.

The Polaroid team also showed us the Polaroid Snap,an instant digital camera which was a throwback to our earlier times, when such cameras used to exist. It’s an interesting
modern avatar of the olden version  and prints the picture immediately using an ink-less printing method.

Polaroid
Polaroid Cube and Snap Camera

Coleman had some cool camping gear on display including ice-boxes, camping accessories, chairs and even a portable western loo ! The only thing which was puzzling was that it needed a pipe inlet.There was a prize for the fastest team who completed putting up the Coleman tent. So we timed our tent making to just 2 mins 40 secs but the fastest team did it in 1 min 50 secs !

Coleman
Coleman Camping Gear

Tent

After all those activities, I looked at my pulse rate. 142 said my cool Samsung Gear 2 Classic Smart watch. Promising to look after both the health goals and convenience.It syncs to the phone for notifications and can play songs from the phone.It monitors calories and even suggests meal plans.Of course, it cant tell if you are lying if you input the wrong calorie intake. It had some cool Samsung Apps and I really liked it’s sleek fit.

Samsung
Samsung Gear S2 Classic

After all these exhausting adventures, there was also a nice fish pond where you could relax . And if you needed a spot of music, you had the hardy Altec Lancing Mini LifeJacket wireless speakers.Immune to water and very rough handling, it’s a blue tooth speaker designed to withstand the rough and the tough of treks and hikes. And if you are a biker or a cyclist, nothing like a pair of Altec Lancing Bluetooth Active Earbuds which promise to never fall off.It’s special holder fits into the groove
of the ear and is connected to your phone via bluetooth.

Sony was there too with its range of digital and action cameras !

Sony
Sony cameras

And in between all these gadgets and adventure,was a chance to meet some really cool people and their awesome blogs. Hurrah for Team 5 !

Blogger Friends
Thanks to Indiblogger & Flipkart for managing the logistics so well including arranging the buses from central points !!

And here’s some awesome pics Flipkart put up.

Flipkart Pics of the Indiblogger Event

 

 

ASUS Indiblogger Meet

Indiblogger announced the ASUS meet,
I too rushed in to reserve my seat.
We got off to a rocking start,
With ear splitting music , my drums threatened to part.

Then waiters came laden with goodies,
A treat to all the foodies.
But vegetarian fare far and few,
I finally spotted some and got my due.




A game we played of sharing personal stuff,
People gave all things, including their fluff.
Some gave a key chain and some, a chocolate,
But some, over a ginger and clove too, met.

Old friends I met and some strangers too,
Shared laughter and banter flew.
When Bloggers meet, they wait to spring,
At slightest hint, their blog and writing.

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Then came Asus Product Manager Mr Chu,
Who gave a presentation of all features new.
PC ET2040 and EeBook 205,
ASUS promises to be a competitive buy.

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Fun and games again for a bit,
Showcasing blogging in a skit
But finally it was time for the awaited event
Minor obstacles were not a deterrent.

Off we ran towards the food
To be in time before the brood
Heaped plates and conversations collude
Spreading bonhomie with every morsel chewed.

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Finally I too headed back satiated,
And hope you will not leave this post unappreciated.
And forgive me these cheesy lines,
For bloggers come in all shades and kinds.

Apps, Wine and Food – Nokia Apptasting in Bangalore

Nokia Apptasting
The latest differentiating factor in the smartphone world is Apps or as Rajiv Makhni put it, quote unquote the last customization possible today in technology. As a consumer in today’s rapidly changing market, where every app becomes yesterday’s news even before its launched,I was eager to know more. So my attendance was a foregone conclusion when I found an invitation from Indiblogger featuring Nokia Apptasting which promised fine apps and fine wine.The fact that the show was to be hosted by Rajiv Makhni, a popular tech show host and Vikas Khanna,the celebrity chef from NY, increased the glamor factor even more.

As I drove towards the venue, ITC Gardenia, I had my navigation-app voice guide me. For someone who has been directionally challenged for ages, having this app gave me enormous independence.As I entered the plush lobby of ITC Gardenia, I saw several bloggers waiting with anticipation.Some were clearly techies and some were hard core foodies and I wondered at this interesting potpourri of tech and food.I shared a table with some very interesting bloggers – 2 food bloggers, 1 Travel blogger and couple of bloggers with personal blogs and memoirs.

Nokia was represented by their Country head – corporate communications, Poonam Kaul and she made an interesting statement in her opening address – How many of us actually thought apps were still technology ? The import of this became became increasingly clear as the show proceeded.

Soon Rajiv and Vikas made the grand entry amidst roaring applause and they held the audience spell bound – Rajiv through his wit and quick repartee and Vikas through his simplicity and understated elegance.We started with Blogger introductions which was tailored like an elevator pitch on why they blog and amidst a lot of them, I managed to remember a few – An elderly gentleman who spoke about building the ‘character bank’ of India, a young man in striped shirt who got 4 girl friends through his blog, married the 5th and had a child with the 6th :), a 10-year old blogger who blogged to express his personal feelings. Wow, it sure was liberating to see how technology has empowered lives by removing all barriers. Just as I was wondering of how we would get through the 250+ bloggers who were in the room, they announced a cut off after 30 bloggers.Though it was a bit of disappointment not to meet all the bloggers, it was understandable, otherwise we would just be ‘Chaar baj gaye lekin party abhi baki hai..’

What followed next was Nokia apps showcased along with plenty of audience engagement built around it. The apps that were chosen were picked from various categories like entertainment, food, navigation and all of them effectively translated their relevance in current times.

I witnessed an app which makes a funny Charlie Chaplin style video in less than two minutes. Vikas and 2 others from the audience were the chosen bakras for a mock ramp walk which was converted almost immediately to a CC style video in black & white complete with sound effects. An app which suggests the wine based on the food served and the audience was served Sauvignon Blanc wine with fried chicken to check out the app’s suggestion !

An app which gives you an alcohol test and tells you if you are fit enough to drive provided one is not sozzled enough to operate that app ! An app which tutors you to dance in Gangnam style and we saw this in action when a group of audience performed some of Psy’s captivating moves 🙂 though must say even an app cant teach you how to get that expression !

The event would not have been complete without a quiz and so a tech-food quiz was thrown in and lots of prizes won including some Nokia Lumia. The final event ‘Your wish is my app’ was selection of the best app suggestions from the audience. The app which won the prize was the idea of accessory shopper ‘AccsApp’ which would help women spot their favorite accessories and shop for them. I personally liked one which suggested taking pictures of the potholes along with their GPS positions and uploading it on Facebook for gathering likes which could then enable sending alerts to the local MLAs/Contractors.Talk about an app changing the face of citizen involvement in governance !

We then proceeded to have a sumptuous dinner along with a brief tête-à-tête with other bloggers before heading home.

Thanks to Nokia and Indiblogger team for organizing this event !