Whether they are respiratory, cutaneous or food allergies, allergic manifestations are on the rise. They increase by 50% every ten years and are one of the most frequent causes of illness in children.
By Patricia Bernheim
What we call “allergies” is in fact a disproportionate reaction of our immune system to an aggressor. It releases inflammatory substances, such as histamine, which causes itching, redness, runny nose and eyes, respiratory problems, or headaches. Each time we are in the presence of the allergen, our system provokes the same allergic reaction.
Allergic reactions can be of three types: respiratory, skin, or food. Allergic reactions to dust mites, pollen or animals manifest themselves as rhinitis and conjunctivitis. Medication and food cause digestive or skin reactions. Substances that act through contact cause dermatitis. Injected substances cause more generalized reactions.
While pollens proliferate in the spring, causing classic hay fever, people can develop an allergic reaction to dust, dust mites, insect bites, molds, pets, certain medications or vaccines, cosmetics, natural or synthetic fibers, latex, or metals throughout the year. In total, nearly 20,000 allergenic substances have been identified. Not to mention reactions to certain foods or the sun, or cross-allergies. Those who are allergic to birch pollen can develop hives by absorbing carrot, celery, apricot, apple, and kiwi proteins. The dust mite allergy sufferer may also have to avoid snails, shrimp, mussels, and oysters.
In the case of hypersensitivity, some reactions can be much more severe and manifest themselves as anaphylactic shock, angioedema, or asthma. Allergy symptoms should therefore not be overlooked, as some reactions can be life-threatening. The WHO, which has ranked allergies as the sixth most important public health problem, notes that they are not only becoming more frequent but also more acute.
Pollution, an unbalanced diet, and a stressful lifestyle have all been blamed. In recent years, specialists have also blamed the progress made in hygiene, anti-infectious treatments, and prevention. Living in a world that is too clean, our immune system would be underemployed and would be activated against banal things, such as pollens, dust mites, or others.
The best protection is to avoid contact with the allergen. But, if we can avoid contact with animals or avoid certain foods, it is difficult to eliminate pollens or dust mites from our lives. On the other hand, we can limit their proliferation thanks to certain hygienic measures, such as the regular airing of rooms, eliminating carpets and rugs, and washing pillowcases and sheets at over 60 degrees.
Pollens in Geneva
In Geneva, the pollens that most frequently cause allergies to come from alder and hazelnut, between February and March; ash, from the end of March to mid-April, and birch during the month of April. Grass pollens are present in the air from May until early summer. During this season, various types of grass such as mugwort, plantain, or ragweed can cause the same type of symptoms.
Desensitization in five questions
According to the World Health Organization, desensitization is, along with the avoidance of allergens, the only treatment likely to modify the natural course of the allergy. Many international studies confirm this. This treatment is therefore now the subject of a genuine consensus. Here are some explanations. See this here for more tips on dealing with allergies.
What is desensitization?
It is a treatment that attacks the source of the problem and whose aim is to restore the immune system’s tolerance to the substance to which it is allergic. In concrete terms, the allergist regularly administers drops or injections of the offending allergen in doses that are initially infinitesimal, in order to gradually develop tolerance. As the treatment progresses, the doses are increased until the maximum dose tolerated by the patient is reached. This initial phase of treatment is followed by a maintenance phase during which this maximum tolerated dose is administered at regular intervals. The earlier the allergic signs appear, the more successful the desensitization is likely to be.