Health Does a day out in an unprotected environment leave you sneezing and gasping for breath? You probably have dust allergy. Experts tell how to cope with the problem

G iven the hot and dry climate in India, dust allergy is a fairly common problem.While it may not be a  major health hazard, it is, nevertheless, troublesome and can escalate into a more intractable condition if ignored and left untreated.

Ask those with dust allergy what it is like to live with the condition, and they will tell you about how it can stop a person from functioning optimally. So, what causes dust allergy? Says Prof Mohan Kameswaran, director and consultant, Madras ENT Research Foundation: “Dust allergy is caused by house dust particles and house dust mite, which is a microscopic organism”.

Babu Manohar, senior consultant ENT surgeon, Apollo Hospitals, elaborates: “Dust allergy denotes inhalation of allergens — it could be pollen from grass, trees, flowers and fungi; house dust, including fibres from fabrics; animal dander; or insect sources such as cockroaches, moths, flies and silver fish.”

What are the symptoms of dust allergy? Dr. Babu says it usually includes “watery nasal discharge, itching in the eye and in the nostrils, excessive sneezing, nasal congestion and a reduced sense of smell”. The symptoms, points out, Dr. Mohan, “usually resemble those of a cold, and include sneezing and the occasionally headache. This usually results in the patient mistaking it for a sinus problem.”

Who's prone to allergy?

Not all are susceptible to dust allergy; some people can, at the drop of a hat, be seized by a fit of sneezing, and all the attendant symptoms. Says Dr. Babu: “These individuals have a predisposition to developing exaggerated immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibody responses — hypersensitivity to common allergens.” Sometimes, dust allergy can manifest itself as early as when a child is two years old.

It is also important to take note of the link between dust allergy and asthma. “ A person who has a nasal allergy is likely to be prone to allergic bronchitis and asthma. If the sinuses of such patients are affected and not treated, it can lead to exacerbation of the underlying asthma. So, control the nasal allergy immediately,” emphasises Dr. Babu.

What is the treatment for dust allergy? Says Dr. Mohan:  “Avoiding exposure to such allergens, which is easier said than done, and medicines called antihistamines. Nasal sprays, which are steroidal derivatives, are also popular. Of late, sub-lingual (under the tongue) immunotherapy, SLIT, is also gaining popularity. You must also have in place dust control measures; and two-wheeler riders must wear a mask or cover the nose with a cotton cloth.”

Things to avoid

Dr. Babu suggests that people prone to allergies avoid going out in the mornings and evenings, as the pollen load is maximum during these times. “As long as the individual is exposed to the allergen, the problem will persist. Sometimes, when he/she moves to a different place devoid of the allergen, the individual will see a cure,” he says. SUDHA UMASHANKER

Keep allergy at bay

  • Keep mattresses and pillows clean — they are the favourite hide-outs of dust mites. Opt for synthetic bedding materials that can withstand washing — preferably with hot water. Alternatively, encase pillows, mattresses and upholstered furniture in washable covers.
  • Carpets, curtains, upholstered furniture and stuffed animals tend to attract and trap dust. Replacing carpets with a hard-surfaced floor can eliminate over 90 per cent of dust mites.
  • Keep moist places in homes, such as the basement and bathroom, well-ventilated.
  • If you are allergic to dust, get someone else to vacuum upholstered furniture, draperies and other items, as dust mite particles become airborne (these are what you see floating in the shaft of sunlight).
  • Don't store things under the bed.
  • Keep pets out of the bedrooms of allergic persons.