Allergies occur when usually innocuous substances provoke an immune response. The allergen contacted by touch, inhalation, or ingestion prompts Immunoglobulin E (IgE), a protein, to muscle up to the invader, causing chemicals like histamine to be released. This provokes itchy, watering eyes; runny nose; difficulty breathing; rashes; and, yes, sneezing.
Allergies are a popular topic of conversation in spring, but some agents provocateur irritate year-round. Drugs, such as penicillin, sometimes incite reactions. As a pilot, even if flight is allowed by the FAA while taking certain drugs, don’t be Dopey—wait a day or two from first dose, as the cockpit is no place for an allergic reaction. While food allergies do exist, many of what we commonly call food allergies are truly intolerances because of enzyme deficiency (e.g. lactose intolerance), inability to digest gluten in celiac disease, influences of food fads, or simple dislike.
Other nonseasonal allergic agents include house dust mites, latex, animal dander, and mold; with more than 1,000 American species, a small plumbing leak, dank basement, or disregarded pile of leaves can easily become a superb sneezing source.
Contact dermatitis occurs when environmental allergens initiate allergic skin rashes: swollen, red, itchy, possibly blistered and quite uncomfortable. Poison ivy, soap, skin products, jewelry, and cleaning compounds can incite problems. Use latex-free gloves when using any cleaning chemicals to limit exposure. Some dermatitis is not truly allergic in nature, but still can make you unhappy. An allergic effect can occur even if you have not changed products you use, either because sensitization has occurred or manufactured formulation has changed. Avoiding responsible products is key, and treat rashes with cool compresses and anti-itch cream. Steroids help, but use sparingly.
Anaphylaxis can occur soon after the activating stimulus, causing such profound chemical releases that blood pressure drops, breathing becomes difficult, the heart is compromised and, without therapy, death can ensue. Anyone who has had a strong allergic reaction to bee stings, for instance, should talk to their Doc about carrying an EpiPen—a self-administered epinephrine injector that can save your life.
With seasonal symptoms, irritating items may be mold or tree, grass, weed, and flower pollen or pine needles from wreaths and Christmas trees. And a special mention to ragweed, a frequent offender at its peak from August to November. Depending on locale and vagaries of weather, “seasonal” varies year to year. For instance, mild winters encourage early pollination; in tropical climates plants always spread seed, and rainy springs engender increasing mold.
To address allergies, know what triggers them; are they truly seasonal or year-round? If pollen is an issue, listen to weather and pollen reports, consider the worst times of day to be outside, keep windows shut, and stay away from relevant plants. After spending time alfresco, shower and change clothes to limit continued exposure, and, if symptoms merit, don’t be Bashful—wear a
Anti-allergy medications control symptoms and are available over the counter, but many cause one to imitate Sleepy. Flight as pilot in command is not allowable with many. If allergies are making you Grumpy, consider skin testing to identify the causative agent and then try a series of desensitizing shots.
Because sneezing was an early symptom of bubonic plague, it gave rise to asking for heavenly blessings. Other history suggests sneezing was a gift from on high. In The Odyssey, Penelope awaiting Odysseus’ return hears her son, Telemachus, sneeze, and smiles, secure in the knowledge that her beloved will soon be hers again. In the writings of Xenophon, Greek mercenaries attempting to flee the Persians feared for their lives until someone sneezed, and Xenophon knew everything would be all right. In the poems of ancient Roman Catullus, infatuated lovers Septimius and Acme were euphoric when the god of love sneezed on them.
The longest sneezing bout on record is held by Donna Griffiths from England, who kept going for 978 days. If you don’t want to challenge the record, see a real Doc about your allergies.
Email [email protected]