The weather is warming, new foliage and blossoms unfurl all around … it must be Spring. Or, as millions of allergy sufferers call it, a new allergy season.
Anyone who suffers from allergies probably knows about common triggers like pollen, dust, mites, pet dander, and even some foods. But below are some allergens that you may not have thought about. So, the next time an unknown source causes you watery eyes and sneezing, or worse, it could be something from the list below.
1.VOCs in Construction Materials: VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, are a large group of solvents that release vapors at room or warmer temperature. They are present in some natural materials, like wood, and in many manufactured consumer products, including construction materials like particle wood, plaster, paints, carpeting, vinyl floors, wallpaper, caulking, glues and solvents. VOCs could cause you to experience allergic symptoms like coughing and wheezing. If it’s your home that’s being remodeled, use “green” paints with low or no VOCs, and put a temporary division between you and the part of the home that’s being worked on. Wear protective gear if you’re doing the work, and air out the finished space for several weeks.
2.VOCs in Household Cleaners and Cosmetics: VOCs are also found in store-bought cleaning and disinfecting products, air fresheners, moth balls and some cosmetics. Look for green alternatives to these products and buy hypoallergenic, fragrance-free cosmetics. With respect to cleaners, you can also make your own by diluting non-chlorine bleach with water or white vinegar with water, using them in a spray bottle.
3.Air Fresheners: Air fresheners with artificial fragrances can produce allergy attacks. Whether it’s the kind that you spray, the kind that shrinks gradually or the type you plug into the wall, these air fresheners can spell trouble for allergy sufferers. Better alternatives: use natural essential plant oils such as lavender or lemon to bring a pleasant scent into your home. Dilute a teaspoonful of essential oil with a quart of water in a spray bottle, or put a few undiluted drops on cotton balls and place these on a window sill. Or forego air fresheners altogether. Cleaning a home regularly, dusting and vacuuming weekly, plus ventilation or air filtration, will cause bad odors to leave your home.
4.Fruits: So beneficial for us in so many ways, some folks with allergies can’t eat certain fruits, as they experience varying allergic symptoms. People with fruit allergies are also likely to have grass, pollen or ragweed allergies. Fruits that people are most commonly allergic to include: apples, pears, bananas, melons, watermelon, peaches, kiwi, and even oranges. The solution is to avoid fruits that produce symptoms, and look for other fruits that you can tolerate. Also, buying organic produce may help or solve the problem; experiment cautiously with organic versions of fruits that normally produce allergic symptoms.
5.Cinnamon, garlic, onions and some spices: Great, super-healthy ways to enhance taste and add nutrients to foods — but for some people with allergies, they are allergens and are off limits. Don’t give up, if you have issues with some of these. Buy organic when available, and also, keep looking for natural alternatives that won’t bother you. For instance, some people may be allergic to the more common types of onion (such as white or yellow onions), but they do fine eating scallions (commonly called green onions).
6.Caffeine: It’s one thing not to like caffeine because it makes you jittery or gives you clammy hands; but for some folks, ingesting even a little caffeine can bring a world of trouble. The list of possible allergic reactions to caffeine is long, and they include: skin rashes, severe itching, headache, chest pain, ‘tightening’ of chest, anaphylaxis, dizziness, eyes swollen shut, flu-like symptoms, hallucinations, and numbness in face, hands or feet. For such people, the better alternative is getting plenty of sleep.
7.Artificial Preservatives: Some people experience allergic reactions to nitrates found in processed meats, and sulfites found in wine. Nitrates could cause hives and itching, while sulfites can trigger asthma attacks.
8.Fireplaces: Burning firewood can be lovely and warming in cold weather; but some people are allergic to the particles and gases that are released when the wood burns, which can set off allergies or asthma.
9.Wood: But wood doesn’t have to be burning, to trigger allergic symptoms. While some people are allergic to certain types of wood or sawdust, there are others who are allergic to any kind of wood; for these people, even touching paper or holding a pencil are out of the question! In most cases, people with wood allergies can get skin irritation, itching, coughing or sneezing. But in rare cases, wood can cause skin to redden and turn irregular, as from a burn.
10.Chlorine: Some people can react to the fumes in chlorine from swimming pools. Being in chlorinated pools or hot tubs a lot may make these people develop asthma-like symptoms — wheezing and tightening of the chest. For many people, chlorine can cause light-headedness, itchy skin rashes, dry or watery eyes, and redness and puffiness around the eyes. Indoor swimming pools that don’t have proper ventilation put all swimmers at higher risk for some of these reactions, from the inhalation of chlorine fumes (chloroform), which are toxic to all of us.
11.Plastic: Increasing numbers of people are developing allergies to chemicals often added to plastics. People with ‘plastic dermatitis’ have difficulty with plastic products such as water bottles, plastic utensils, credit cards, etc. This type of allergy causes the skin to react with redness, swelling or itching.
12.Nickel: Nickel dermatitis is not a rare allergy, but more people are learning that they have it, as cell phones and other electronics with nickel in them become increasingly popular. A nickel allergy causes skin that was exposed to develop red patches and swelling. Common items that have nickel in them include: coins, jewelry, scissors and eating utensils.
The above is of course by no means an exhaustive list of unusual allergies. If you suspect that you or a loved one is suffering from one or more allergies, make an appointment with an allergy specialist. Doctors can test you for a number of known allergens, which could help guide your daily choices.
By Jamell Andrews