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     Volume 4 Issue 69 | October 28, 2005 |

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The Air We Breathe

IF you suffer from allergies or asthma, you are not alone. More than 50 million Americans share symptoms that range from the runny nose and itchy eyes of hay fever to the wheezing and shortness of breath associated with asthma.

Allergy and asthma attacks are both provoked by environmental factors. Generally harmless substances such as dust, pollen, peanuts or cold air become "triggers" to the sensitised immune systems of people with allergies or to the inflamed airways of those who endure asthma.

Identify Your Triggers
The first step in controlling your condition is to find out which triggers provoke an attack. Keeping an allergy/asthma diary may help you isolate suspected triggers.

If you are not able to identify the triggers on your own, skin tests are an accurate and inexpensive method to do so. The skin is pricked or scratched with a small drop of a potential allergen and the reaction is observed.

While the number of potential triggers is as varied and numerous as the people who might suffer them, there are several common ones that can be listed.

Indoor Triggers

  • Dust
  • Dust mites
  • Mold
  • Pet dander
  • Colds and flu
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Wood burning smoke
  • Perfume
  • Paint fumes
  • Aerosol sprays
  • Foods
  • Medications
  • Cockroach debris
  • Outdoor Triggers
  • Cold air
  • Exercise
  • Pollen
  • Insect stings
  • Exhaust fumes
  • Pollution

Avoiding Triggers
Once you have defined the offending triggers it will be easier to start a program to control your symptoms. Total avoidance of triggers isn't often possible, but minimising them can make a significant difference in the quality of your life.

A treatment known as immunotherapy (allergy shots) could be helpful to you if your triggers are insect stings or inhaled allergens such as pollens, moulds, house dust and dander. Given over a term of 2 to 5 years, allergy shots increase your tolerance to the offending triggers and could provide you with long-term relief.

Seek Treatment
Untreated allergies can lead to serious respiratory illnesses such as sinusitis or asthma and if your allergies are severe you could experience the life threatening allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis.

Mismanaged asthma not only prevents you from leading a full and active life but can also be life threatening.

A selection of medicines are available to help minimise allergic reactions and to decrease the intensity and frequency of asthma attacks. Because of the possible side effects of any drugs and the complex nature of asthma medications, it is advisable to work with your doctor to design the regimen that is right for you. With attention and diligence you can minimise or even eliminate your symptoms and lead a full and active life.

City or country, indoors or out, air pollution knows no boundaries. Whether it's bus emissions, the dust from tilled fields or cigarette smoke, the harmful effects are more severe for children and people with allergies or asthma.

Who is Most Affected?
Children, whose lungs are still developing and who breathe faster than adults, seem to be more susceptible to soot and other small air borne particles. Children are also at greater risk to develop asthma if there is second hand tobacco smoke (a smoker's exhaled smoke combined with smoke from a burning cigarette, cigar or pipe) in the home or if they live in an area with high smog levels.

People with allergies or asthma become even more sensitised to allergens (generally harmless substances such as pollen, dust or pet dander that trigger an allergic reaction) when exposed to the ozone in smog. This increased sensitivity produces symptoms ranging from reduced lung function to severe asthma attacks that require a doctor's attention or hospitalisation.

Pollutants in Your Life
Wood burning stoves and tobacco smoke are the primary indoor pollutants linked to the development and aggravation of respiratory conditions such as allergic rhinitis, asthma, chronic bronchitis, and lung cancer.

Smog is a major outdoor pollutant. The ozone in smog irritates the respiratory system, can reduce lung function, aggravate allergies, severely affect people with asthma and lead to permanent lung damage if exposure is frequent or continuous.

Indoor Pollution?

  • If you use a wood burning stove and cannot change to other forms of heating in the near future:
  • Be sure that there is plenty of fresh air circulating in your home.
  • Make sure the ventilation in the area is good at all times.
  • If you or someone in your family smokes:
  • The most important step is to quit smoking. It may not be easy, but it is possible and there are many programs and services to help you. Ask your doctor for their names.
  • Make your home a smoke-free home by asking guests not to smoke in your house.
  • Carefully choose your childcare provider so that your children won't be exposed to smoke. Children are the most susceptible to the damage tobacco smoke can cause.
Outdoor Pollution?
  • Stay indoors as much as possible.
  • Limit outdoor activities to early morning or until after sunset since sunshine drives up ozone levels.
  • Don't exercise or exert yourself outdoors because the faster you breathe, the more pollution you'll inhale into your lungs.

On A Larger Scale
After doing what you can to alleviate your symptoms and to minimise the affect of pollution in your daily life, there are steps you can take on a broader scale.
The harmful ozone in smog is created when specific pollutants (ozone precursors) are warmed by sunlight. Cars and other vehicles are the largest producers of ozone precursors. You can help to decrease the levels of these ozone-producing pollutants by making an effort to:

  • Drive less. Combine errands into fewer trips. Use mass transit, ride a bike or walk whenever possible.
  • Keep your car well tuned.
  • Be careful not to spill gasoline when you fill your car and lawn or recreation equipment.
  • Tightly seal the lids of chemical products such as solvents, garden chemicals, or household cleaners to reduce evaporation.

This article was first published in YahooHealth

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