Allergies and Air Pollution's Effect on Your Health

The heavy price that humanity has paid for technological progress is the overwhelming pollution that has been unleashed upon the land, waterways and atmosphere. Such chemicals as herbicides, pesticides, antibiotics, paints, solvents, fuels, etc.--despite all the benefits derived from them--have accumulated in such high amounts over the years that they can now be readily found everywhere, even in places where they do not belong. Some such places include the food people eat, the water they drink, and the air they breathe.

The body’s immune system is supposed to intercept materials and biological intruders that find their way inside the body. When such a system is overwhelmed the result can be an "allergic reaction." It happens when too much of a certain substance enters the body; it can also happen when the wrong thing gets past the body's natural defenses.

What symptoms accompany an allergic reaction? Some of the most common symptoms include sneezing, congestion, trouble breathing, wheezing, runny nose, tightness of the chest, itchiness, rashes, watery eyes, etc. A mild allergic attack might not leave any long-term effects and, in some cases, may not even be noticed. A severe allergic attack, however, may lead to anaphylactic shock, which can sometimes be fatal if treatment is not administered immediately (usually involving a shot of epinephrine).

One of the biggest culprits for allergies is a biological contaminant. These can include mildew, animal dander, saliva, feces, urine, dust mites, viruses, mold, bacteria, cockroach droppings, pollen, etc. Allergies can also be due to chemicals used every day at home, i.e., detergents, floor cleaners, body powders, deodorants, etc.

Allergies are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the medical problems that may be triggered or worsened because of all the substances people can come in contact with. In the case of indoor air pollution, for example, many of the substances previously thought to be harmless are now suspected of inducing serious medical problems such as cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disorders, breathing problems and cancer.

Radon, for example, a naturally-produced radioactive gas readily found in many homes and places of work, has been linked to lung cancer. The same can be said of asbestos and tobacco smoke. By the same token, things like carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and formaldehyde may lead to serious upper respiratory reactions and lung damage. Lead and pesticides have been linked to brain damage, developmental disruptions in children, and harm to the fetus.

When it comes to air pollution, a clear path has been established to disease development. Biological contaminants, for instance, may lead to allergic rhinitis, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, and some forms of asthma. These contaminants, furthermore, can include ejaculates from sick persons, i.e., saliva or mucus discharged into what can then be called biologically polluted air. Some of the diseases spread in this way include measles, chicken pox, tuberculosis, legionella, staphylococcus infections, and influenza. Not to mention, the molds and mildew that produce disease-causing toxins.

As for how people can reduce the chance of triggering allergies or succumbing to the many medical problems that can come about from outdoor and indoor air pollution, the following suggestions may be of some use:

  • Avoid letting pets inside bedrooms or on furniture; bathe them often and clean up thoroughly after them
  • Keep a close eye on outdoor air quality; stay indoors when air quality is poor
  • Reduce amount of exertion outdoors on hot, high-ozone days
  • Ride a bike, walk or ride the bus instead of driving when possible
  • Fill up your car's gas tank in the evenings
  • Wear mask and gloves when handling allergy-triggering things (pets, chemicals, etc.)
  • Vent all gas appliances to the outside
  • Regularly use air cleaners to improve air quality
  • Seek medical attention if you develop allergic reactions or develop breathing problems
  • Consider moving if you live in an area with known high air pollution levels
  • Quit smoking; avoid second-hand smoke
  • Avoid allergens after your allergist has identified them

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