Airborne Allergy Attacks! What you need to know and how wearing a mask can help.
In the last decade, the World Health Organization has estimated that between 10% - 30% of the world’s population suffers from allergies caused by airborne allergens. That is an average of 1.5 billion people or rather 3 BILLION unbearably itchy nostrils.
So, with practically the same number of people as the entire population of China walking around with at best a slight sniffle, it is certainly not an issue to be sneezed at. Especially when you consider that the very serious respiratory symptoms of asthma are often provoked by airborne allergens. Luckily, your trusty respirator not only prevents nasty pollutant particles from infiltrating your lungs but also obstructs those aggravating allergens from entering your system through your delicate airways.
What is an allergic reaction?
Your immune system is your body’s first line of defence against invading germs like viruses and bacteria. When an allergen enters your body, your immune system registers this false alarm as a dangerous invader and prepares to attack. It generates large numbers of immunoglobulin E, which is a type of antibody designed to wage war on the foreign interlopers detected in your system. Your body is truly an amazing machine - incredibly, each antibody you produce is specifically designed to attack whatever substance your immune system detects.
So if its pollen that sends you running for a tissue, your immune system is smart enough to produce one antibody specifically designed to target oak pollen and another against ragweed pollen. When the antibody encounters the allergen it is designed to combat, it slots together like a key fitting into a lock. Powerful chemicals like histamine are released causing tissues in various parts of your body, such as your respiratory system, to become inflamed. You may suffer from: sneezing, a running or a clogged up nose, coughing, itchy or watery eyes and an itchy throat.
When can I use my mask to stave off an allergy attack?
In Spring, Summer and Autumn, hay fever sufferers come under attack from the tiny pollen particles that various plants release. When the pollen count in the air sky-rockets, allergy sufferers can’t simply be expected to stay inside with the doors and windows closed. There’s no escaping those pesky pollens when you’re out and about. Scientists have even found samples of ragweed pollen 400 miles out at sea and 2 miles high in the air! However, there’s hope yet! The dense filaments in a respirator filter and trap those problematic particles as you breathe through the activated carbon cloth.
Mould is another serious offender for those affected by allergies. It reproduces by releasing millions of small seeds called spores into the air. Each spore that germinates causes the mould growth to spread and then releases its own mega batch of tiny spores, which are so small that they can inadvertently find their way into your lungs. Mould spores can be so plentiful in some areas that they actually outnumber the pollens in the air.
Fortunately, only a few dozen types can cause an allergy attack but for people suffering existing lung damage or serious illness, these minuscule fungi can do real harm. If they become lodged in the airways or part of the lungs, they have the ability to grow into a compact sphere known rather horrifically as a fungus ball. A serious invasion of spores can also lead to asthma or lung disease in some people. Mould counts, while useful, can only really suggest the number and type of moulds present in the atmosphere at one time. If you’re particularly sensitive or your respiratory system is compromised, your best line of defence is to use a mask as a barrier to protect your precious airways.
I don’t want to creep you out but…there’s someone in your bed. That someone and his millions and billions of extended family members are also lurking in your carpets, curtains and furniture upholstery. Yes, it's the dastardly dust mite! This microscopic organism lives in dust found in all homes and workplaces. The next time you spy a speck of dust whimsically floating through a shaft of light, think about the fact that what you’re seeing is quite possibly a dead mite or, even worse, dust mite waste. It's actually the proteins in dust mite waste that provoke allergic reactions. If you’re planning on cleaning out your closets, put on your respirator to prevent breathing in a nice lungful of irritating bug poop. Yuck!
Saddle up because while we’re on the topic of truly disgusting things that get a kick out of pushing your allergy buttons, we’re going to talk about the much-despised cockroach. They plague crowded cities and aren’t just an unwanted sight in any residence…its the things they leave behind that you don’t see which are the real menace. Cockroach faeces and saliva also contains proteins found in household dust. Children are particularly sensitive to these allergens, which can even trigger asthma symptoms. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases asserts that cockroach allergens probably play a significant role in causing asthma in many inner-city populations. So if you live in a heavily populated area, consider educating your child to wear a mask in particularly dusty environments, as this can really help safeguard your little one’s lungs.
And here you were thinking that “fungus ball” would be the grossest thing you’d read all day! Let’s take it down a notch and discuss some significantly more adorable beasties and how their dander affects your system. Unsurprisingly, household pets are the most common sources of allergic reactions to animals. It's not the snuggly fluff that irritates your airways, but certain proteins found in pet saliva, skin and urine. Animal allergies can take more than 2 years to develop, but’s here’s the real kicker: symptoms may not develop until 6 months or more since you last had contact with the animal.
If you’re allergic to your best friend’s furry best friend, it doesn’t necessarily matter whether on not you have contact with the animal or even if the owner has done their best to clean up after it, as carpets and furniture are deep, fluff-ridden reservoirs that can send your sinuses spiralling out of control. It's best to wear a mask when visiting an animal owner’s home to prevent those pet particles from wreaking havoc on your immune system If you’re prone to pet allergies and buying/renting a house where a pet has once lived, be aware that allergens from previous animal inhabitants can linger in the air for months after the animal has vacated the premises.
I don’t know about you but I’m not too sure I want to take my respirator off ever again! It’s a cruel world out there, people.