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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The Perennial Sniffles

A mini explosion threatened to bring the house down.The decibel was loud enough to send people scurrying out of their houses in panic.My husband and son slumbered on. All was well with the world. They were so accustomed to the comforting sounds by now, that at times, the absence of it caused some confusion.It was an impending disaster as I scampered frantically around the house with my eyes streaming. I berated myself for the hundredth time for not being more scrupulous. Suddenly I spotted the small bottle peeping out from the back of the medicine cabinet and pounced on it with relief.

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I was afflicted with the dreadful nasal allergies.

The family woke up grudgingly after being subjected to an intense stress testing of their sleeping abilities.But decided not to hazard asking delicate questions and conspicuously avoided the red eyes and twitching nose.The nasal explosions were timed to occur when both my hands were strategically occupied. When the collision between culinary and nasal catastrophes appeared imminent, I was forced to dash to the bathroom. The family was rather used to seeing me whizzing between the kitchen and the bathroom as I was prone to do most mornings.And woe betide anybody who managed to get in the path of a trampling rhino. My streaming eyes and nose were deterrent enough to scatter everybody a mile away. I wondered why I never had the common sense to build a wash basin inside my kitchen.

I had visited numerous shady-clinics and not-so-shady clinics who promised to put an end to my perennial watering nose.The only thing I know,unaffected by seasonality,droughts or global warming.But all I have to show for the innumerable visits and my famished purse,are the rows and rows of small empty bottles which now hold some vegetable seeds.I steamed my face till I resembled a lobster, but my sniffles were made of sterner stuff.

I walked around with an air purifier mask,opening it only to eat or sneeze.For some strange reason, a neighbor hurriedly closed the door after one look at my incongruous appearance.I slept with it and wouldn’t have been surprised to have frightened a burglar or two if the torch light had happened to fall upon my rather grotesque visage.Somebody suggested that I stand on my head as apparently the sniffles didn’t like being suspended upside down, but mine didn’t seem to mind them one bit.In fact, just to show that they were a good sport, they tried to see how I would react if they timed the explosion right when I was all knotted up.

I googled and searched till even the great Google was rendered mum on the matter. For my efforts, I was rewarded by finding one of my enemies.They looked like prehistoric dragons with tentacled feet.The dust mites which ruled the world of mattresses and bedding.But finding all the enemies which affected me was far more tedious than finding horcruxes.

Relationships have been threatened by fungus laden houses whose thresholds I absolutely refused to enter. Yellowed books telling stories of an age gone by in forgotten library shelves, were better to be forgotten for the sake of my nose.But even more curious was my apparent allergies to all ‘green’ soaps. I gasp for air when the household decides to spray themselves with noxious perfumes. Not for me, a romantic tête-à-tête where the man’s perfume comes wafting.I snorted derisively as a salesman tried to sell me those small pieces of cloth they call ladies’ kerchiefs, who quietly slunk away when he saw the mammoth towels I carried in my purse.

But there are times when it has saved the day. A calm and serene home stay in the plantations and the silence only broken by the singing of the crickets and sudden explosions.During one of his nocturnal birding forays as my husband was figuring out the way home, the far away sound of sneezing was like a beacon, aiding the way to poor lost souls. I was well suited to become a foghorn directing far away ships through the correct course.

Of course, all this became thankfully not-so-ubiquitous, once I found my savior. I would unceremoniously dump the knight in shining armor anyday for a small round pill called Montek-LC, quite unrelated to the noted economist.A quarter of a pill and I manage to keep the devil at bay. Whoever had coined that saying about apples, hadn’t heard of Montek or didnt have the foggiest clue about the sniffles.Stranded without food or water doesn’t scare me one bit, but stranded without my beloved Montek will have me quaking in my boots.

The time has come and I call upon all the allergy afflicted in the world to unite and come forth to form the Allergix Anonymous(AA).If you think you can be member of this elite society, then you need to stake a claim and prove that you deserve it!