Changing seasons, high pollution levels or even a pet dog can be dreadful for allergy sufferers. And depending on the particular allergy issue, expatriates in China are likely to experience different symptoms than in their home countries.
Allergies happen when the immune system overreacts to the presence of an allergen – whether it’s pollen, cat dander, mosquito saliva, peanuts, and so on. An antibody, Immunoglobulin E, triggers white blood cells called masts and basophils, which leads to sniffing, itching, sneezing, or even anaphylactic shock.
Irritating at best, and potentially fatal at worst, allergies can play havoc with your health and wellbeing – but they don’t have to. Enterprise China caught up with Dr Yee Yong Lie from Parkway Health in Shanghai, to discuss some of the most common allergies and how to ease those pesky symptoms.
Seasonal allergies like hay fever are often less pronounced for people living in China’s urban areas, according to Dr Lee.
“If you find that your plant allergies aren’t so bad in China, this is probably because the flora is different from your home country’s,” he said. “Unless you live in the countryside, your exposure to grass and ragweed is very limited.”
However, if you are still suffering from hay fever symptoms, some simple measures can be taken. Keep windows closed at all times, and try to avoid parks and grasslands. When allergies strike, take some antihistamines to ward off sniffing and sneezing. Look for non-drowsy medications including Claritin, Zyrtec and Allegra. Dr Lee also recommends steroid nasal sprays, or even allergy shots for extremely severe cases.
Warmer weather brings more mosquitoes, whose unmistakable buzz can blight summertime unless you know how to keep them at bay. While it’s the saliva of female mosquitoes that causes allergic reactions, the best way to prevent bites is to spray bug repellent that contains at least 10% of DEET.
To relieve bites, clean the skin area with soap and water, then apply an ice pack to reduce swelling. Try to resist the temptation to scratch, as breaking the skin can cause infection. Apply cooling calamine lotion onto bites to reduce itchiness and hydrocortisone cream to prevent swelling.
Dust mite allergies cause wheezing, sneezing and running noses. A home-based allergen can be inconvenient, but some household changes can make a big difference.
Switch carpeting for linoleum or wood flooring, and vacuum your house or apartment at least three times a week. Use anti-allergen bed linen, and invest in a foam mattress instead of one with springs. “Over a period of five years, a spring mattress can double in weight due to dust mites,” Dr Lee said.
Animal allergies are caused either by proteins in saliva, or by dander. The simplest way to prevent pet allergies is to avoid animals, but what if you just can’t bear saying goodbye to Sparky? Use anti-allergen wipes (available at most large pet stores) and wipe your cat or dog down every couple of days. Wash your pet’s hair with animal shampoo at least once a month to remove dander build-up.
According to Dr Lee, pollution doesn’t cause allergies, but particles in the air can lead to respiratory sensitivity and skin problems. “Chinese cities rank among the most badly polluted in the world. For example, Shanghai’s air contains five times more particles than what is allowed in EU countries,” he said.
It’s impossible to avoid going outside completely, but try to limit your time outdoors when the air quality index is particularly high. Early in the morning is usually when the air is cleanest. Surprisingly, indoor air quality is often worse than outdoor air quality thanks to solvents in building materials, so make sure you circulate the air regularly using fans and open windows. Another option is to use an air purifier.
Food allergies are the hardest to diagnose because the symptoms are usually systemic rather than symptomatic. In other words, instead of just sneezing, a food allergy sufferer may have a variety of reactions. It can also take days or weeks for a reaction to occur.
The most common food allergens are nuts (particularly peanuts), shellfish, milk, eggs, wheat products and soybeans. Symptoms vary in severity from just a rash to severe anaphylactic shock that must be treated with an adrenaline shot.
If you think that you have a food allergy, the best thing to do is visit a family doctor who can conduct extensive tests to pinpoint exactly what you are allergic to.