Beginners Guide to Allergies and Chemical Sensitivity
Table of Contents
- How Allergens and Toxins Enter your Body
- About Anti-Histamines and Other Drugs
Do you find that whenever you are exposed to certain substances, you start feeling ill? If so you may well be suffering from allergies, chemical sensitivities, or both. There are over 40 million people (some estimates put this number as high as 100 million) in the US who have allergies or chemical sensitivities. If you think you have allergies, chemical sensitivities or other forms of intolerance, you are not alone.
Allergies and chemical sensitivities can manifest itself in a large variety of symptoms, many of which are not often associated with allergies or sensitivities. Furthermore, you may notice that on some days you can tolerate that substance, while on other days the slightest exposure knocks you on your back.
The problems described above are a result of your body's immune system not working quite right. For some this may be a result of a hereditary trait. A friend of mine, for example, is normally healthy except that he is highly allergic to squash. A single bite of squash will send him to the hospital. This is likely to be a hereditary trait. Others may have been born healthy but over time have developed sensitivities to various substances.
When your immune system is weakened, the amount of allergen and chemical toxins you can tolerate before reacting decreases. Furthermore, there is a "stacking" or cumulative effect to allergen exposure. For example, you may normally be able to play with your dog even if you have mild pet allergies, however, if at the same time you are exposed to a large dose of pollen and smog (which you are also sensitive to), your immune system can go into overload and you may begin reacting to your dog. Therefore, regularly keeping your exposure of known allergen and toxin sources to a minimum through the use of air purifiers, sealants and other treatments can help you cope with unexpected or unavoidable exposure to other allergens.
Your immune system can be weakened by common illnesses, stress, poor diet, lack of exercise and exposure to toxins. Due to the large number of factors potentially involved in triggering an allergy attack, it is no wonder sometimes it is very difficult to identify what really caused it. It is therefore important to have allergy tests to identify what substances you are allergic to and how allergic you are to them.
The science on how to treat allergies and chemical sensitivities is not yet fully developed. Some solutions are surrounded by a great deal of controversy. However one thing that is almost universally agreed upon is that the avoidance of substances that trigger the allergies or sensitivities, and reducing the intake of toxins into the body, is a good thing.
Most of the solutions we provide at AlerG concentrate on this principle, the avoidance and removal, neutralization or sealing of toxic substances and allergens from your environment.
How Toxins and Allergens Can Enter Your Body: Top
- Through the air you breathe
- Through food you eat and liquid you drink
- Through your skin
The Air You Breathe Top
Air is essential to life. In fact it is so important that we will die if deprived of air for a just a few minutes. We often take the air we breathe for granted and assume it is safe. Unfortunately, the truth is the air in the average home, workplace and other public places can contain levels of toxins that can slowly poison you and break down your immune system. These toxins often referred to as VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) can come from a variety of sources, furniture containing chipboard or plywood, carpets, paints, pesticides, cleaning products, new consumer electronic products, plastic products, even cosmetics and perfumes.
In addition to these poisons there can be allergens such as molds, dust mites, dust and animal dander that although not exactly poisonous, can cause reactions even more severe than some of the toxins. Numerous studies have shown that the air in homes and buildings often have levels of toxins and allergens several times higher than outside air. This is commonly known as the "sick building syndrome". The obvious solution might be to open the windows, but this may not be practical if the weather is cold and even if the temperature is fine, opening the window can let in another set of potential allergens and toxins, pollen, ozone and exhaust fumes.
So what is the solution to this problem? There are several steps that you can take to reduce the levels of toxins and allergens in the air inside your home:
- Use a good air purifier that removes both particulate allergens (such as dust mites, pollen, mold, etc.) AND harmful gases. Note that most lower-cost HEPA filters do not remove VOCs (volatile organic compounds) or other toxic gases. Air purifiers with a good volume of activated carbon filtration media are by far the most effective and safest way to remove VOCs and other toxins from the air.
- Grow plants in your home. Almost all green leafy houseplants are good at removing toxic gases from the air. Note: although this helps, plants cannot remove toxins anywhere as fast as a good air purifier (unless you have a jungle of plants) and therefore should not be considered a direct substitute. Growing a lot of plants may not be a good idea if you suffer from mold allergies.
- Use low- or non-toxic detergents, cleaners, personal care products, and pesticides around your home. These products are as effective but avoid many of the dangerous chemicals found in commonly available products.
- Make sure that there are no gas or exhaust leaks in your gas heater, gas water heater, gas cooker/stove or gas clothes dryer. If you can detect any kind of gas smell around those appliances, however slight, that should be cause for concern.
- If you have a gas cooker/stove, make sure you have a very good expeller fan that vents to the outside. If you are chemically sensitive, seriously consider changing it for an electric stove.
- New carpets should be treated to seal in the VOCs. If you are allergic to dust mites, treat carpets and other fabric upholstery with a dust mite treatment as well. Even better, replace carpets with hardwood, stone or laminate flooring.
- Treat furniture that is made with particleboard or plywood with the appropriate VOC sealant (note that almost all furniture today, even the most expensive stuff, is made with some particleboard or plywood content.)
- dust mite allergy sufferers should cover their mattress, pillow and quilt with a dust mite proof barrier/cover. If you suffer from dust mite allergies, this is probably the single most important thing that you can do to make yourself feel better. Why? Every time you move in your bed your mattress and pillow compresses a little, which forces air together with a cloud of dust mites and their feces up through your sheets and into the air you are breathing. Your just-washed sheets become almost instantly recontaminated with dust mites if you do not have dust mite proof covers. Note: It is estimated that as many as 80-90% of all allergy sufferers suffer from dust mite allergies and virtually ALL homes have dust mites.
- Change your bed linen at least once every 1-2 weeks. Your sheets, blankets and pillowcase should be washed in hot water or dried in a dryer on "hot" setting. (Dust mites will be killed in hot water over 140 degrees. They will also be killed if you put your laundry in a dryer over 140 degrees for at least 30 minutes. Most dryers on "hot" will exceed that temperature once the laundry is almost dry). If hot water washing is not an option, special detergents and additives are available to kill or neutralize dust mites and their allergens.
The Water you Drink Top
Next to the oxygen in the air we breathe, water is probably the next most critical substance to sustaining life. However, many toxins are soluble in water and during the long journey that it has to make to arrive in our homes, the water supply can become contaminated with dangerous toxins. Most municipal water treatment facilities do a decent job at removing the worst of the toxins and virtually all of the potentially disease causing microbes. However, it is often not cost-effectively possible at the municipal treatment plant to remove all traces of potentially toxic substances, and the primary chemical used to kill the microbes, chlorine, is itself a toxic chemical that many people are sensitive to. In most areas, it is therefore important that you either filter your drinking water or buy bottled water. Please note that there are many different types of water filters available it is important to choose a filter that is able to remove the toxic substances that are in your water supply. There also some substances that cannot be completely removed with filtration materials. If you are sensitive to these substances, you may consider using a water distiller.
It is also possible to absorb a very large amount of toxins through your skin. When you bathe or shower you are exposing the entire surface area of your skin to any substances dissolved in the water. If you consider how effective a small nicotine patch or motion sickness patch can be in transferring chemicals into your body, you'll realize how much more you may be absorbing while you bathe. Therefore, we highly recommend that you install a shower water filter.
The Food You Eat Top
It goes without saying that food is also essential to life. We are all used to eating platefuls of food, but anyone that has taken medication will know that even one small pill can have a huge effect on your body. Imagine how much toxic substance can be hidden in a plateful of the wrong kind of food. You only need to watch a video of a crop pesticide spraying to understand how our produce can be laced with toxins. Meat from animals (cows and chickens for example) that are raised on feed that contains crop sprayed with pesticides will also usually contain traces of toxins from the pesticide.
The solution here is to try and eat organically grown food whenever possible. It usually is not feasible to completely eliminate normally grown food from your diet since almost all restaurants and fast-food outlets do not use organically grown produce or meats. But even if you can manage a 25% reduction in pesticide laced food intake, that is 25% less toxin that your body and immune system has to deal with.
Regularly drinking lots of water and taking Vitamin C and E supplements can also help your body remove toxins from your system.
What about Anti-Histamines and Other Allergy Symptom Drugs? Top
The majority of allergy sufferers treat their allergies by popping prescription and over the counter drugs. Although we believe that these drugs can play a valuable part of keeping allergies at bay, you should understand that these drugs are simply treating the symptom, NOT the underlying cause.
Removing the allergens and toxins and strengthening your immune system on the other hand are treating the cause. We believe a balanced combination of the two is the best route. Reduce your unnecessary exposure to allergens and toxins as much as possible and use allergy drugs when necessary and when excess exposure is unavoidable.