Smoke and debris from the wave of fires across the Western Cape during the past few weeks could see a spike in nasal allergies, especially among those living in Hermanus, Paarl, Simon’s Town, Somerset West, Stilbaai and Vredehoek where blazes have been the most rampant. 

 

Asthma and allergy sufferers are being warned to stay indoors and limit exercise to minimise the risk of their allergies being triggered by the high levels of particulate matter in the smoky air.

 

Nicole Jennings, spokesperson for Pharma Dynamics – a leading provider of allergy medication – says fires can intensify allergy symptoms by up to 11%.

 

“Even if you can’t see or smell the smoke from the fires, the body may still respond to particulate matter, which is made up of miniscule particles or droplets of pollution in the air that are inhaled.”

 

Jennings says last week’s fires in Vredehoek may also play a part in increasing hospital traffic by putting more allergens in the air. “Any exposure to any kind of smoke to those with underlying allergy conditions can cause problems and make them more susceptible to respiratory infections.”  

“Smoke is an environmental allergen that contains particles which can irritate the lungs, throat and eyes, triggering symptoms like:

 

  • Difficulty breathing normally
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Runny nose, itching, nasal congestion and obstruction of breathing
  • Coughing (with or without mucous)

“The most commonly affected people are allergy sufferers, the very young – whose lungs are still developing – and the elderly – whose lungs may be compromised.”

 

Fortunately, says Jennings, there are many steps allergy sufferers can take to minimise the effects of the fires on their health. She recommends:

 

  • Taking your medications as prescribed, including antihistamines (ask your pharmacist for an antihistamine that doesn’t make you drowsy)
  • Staying indoors with your windows closed as much as possible (commercial paper masks do not offer significant protection)
  • Limiting exercise outdoors – school children who suffer from allergies may have to cut back on sports training when fires are ablaze and the high winds carry particulate matter far and wide
  • Do not smoke, light candles or vacuum as these activities will increase the particular matter count in your home
  • Wash your hair, clothes and pets after being outside

 

She urges sufferers or parents who suspect their children may be sufferers to access www.allergyexpert.co.za for more information about allergies.

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