It’s that time of the year again! If you’re under the impression that I’m referring to a joyous event, alas — tis the season for allergies.
I can now be found at my desk at work, looking like something extricated from under an 18-wheeler, sporting bloodshot eyes and surrounded by several empty boxes of tissue. I’m not even certain anymore what I’m allergic to; an early test revealed that amongst other things I was intolerant of pollen and dust and lizard droppings, but since I’ve spent several years in Austin, TX (aka allergy capital) I’m sure the number of things my immune system can’t deal with has risen exponentially.
The thing is, allergies are much less miserable than an actual cold or flu, but so much worse in terms of lingering agony. Anyway, that’s my reason for missing Daily Roundup yesterday — and the reason why I’m focusing on the subject today.
Some people I know are unable to distinguish between a cold and an allergy, because some of the symptoms are similar (runny nose, a general disinclination to continue living). But while colds are essentially viruses attacking the body, allergic reactions are caused by the immune system reacting violently to usually harmless things, and ravaging the body in the process. While with bacteria or viruses you can generally hope for your immune system to gear up and fight it off, allergic reactions are caused by the immune system itself.
This article from the US National Library of Medicine has a nice, brief overview of allergies in general, but what’s frustrating about allergic reactions, to me, is the sheer variety of factors that could be causing them, as well as the abruptness of their development. For years, my father was perfectly fine eating any kind of food — until he developed an allergy to lactose. That’s not unheard of, and he’s not the first case I know, but the span of time it took for that to kick in is bewildering. Why don’t we all simply develop allergies to milk after we’ve been weaned off it onto solid food?
Then again, culture, dietary habits and even race apparently play into allergic reactions. If you’ve been brought up in a society where half your intake consists of diary products, it might be more likely that you’re simply more used to that kind of food. I came across this abstract that discusses briefly the racial/cultural factors that play into lactose intolerance; interesting stuff.
While I was growing up and battling a dust allergy of monstrous proportions, my parents tried everything in their power to stop me dropping used tissue all over the place — inhalers, special bedsheets that would keep out dust mites, whatever. But the inhalers were annoying and the special sheets felt too slippery to sleep on, so I rebelled (circumspectly). These days it’s all Zyrtec and Claritin while I’m back home, and I’m sure the humidity doesn’t help either. The thing is, drugs are expensive and unpleasant and I’m sure it would be far more attractive to either simply cure allergies or treat them with home remedies rather than shell out the big bucks. I had a curious introduction to the latter yesterday, when my room mate claimed that eating locally produced honey could increase tolerance to the local pollutants. At first, this makes a vague kind of sense. But when studies were conducted with local honey, non-local honey and a placebo, researchers found that local honey didn’t give participants any benefits. It could be that the pollen, and therefore allergens, present in plants and those spread by air are just very different, so you’d be developing a tolerance for the wrong thing.
Sadly, I haven’t found any interesting research lately to do with suppressing allergies. Curing them, of course, is out; unless you remove yourself entirely from a natural environment and keep yourself dust free, or somehow niftily manipulate your own genes, your allergies are here to stay.
In the meantime, of course, I shall invest in boxes of tissue and a lot of tea. And the cold comfort that there’s nothing I can do about this state of affairs.