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Summer is the season of fun; the season of joyously rolling around on the grass and playing outside to breathe the fresh air. However, this is also the season that many people are particularly scared of because of that unforgiving condition called allergy. In this issue, Dr. Khôi will provide some insights into this teary health condition that’s affecting so many of us.

Allergies occur when our body comes into contact with a foreign substance. Our body produces IgE, an antibody, and when it comes into contact with pollens, it will attack the pollen’s proteins. The result of this “battle” is the busting of mast cells, which release a substance called histamine. Histamine is responsible for causing the side effects such as inflammation, runny nose, itchiness, sneezing… Some people also suffer from eczema and other more serious conditions.

 

What are some effective anti-allergy drugs?

Dr. Khôi: Currently on the market, there are many anti-allergy drugs, also known as antihistamines. Some are over-the-counter, and some are prescription drugs. The usual over-the-counter brand like Benadryl is a short acting medication, which means after about 6 hours, you have to retake the medicine and this type of drug often causes drowsiness. In recent years, prescription drugs like Claritin, or the now over-the-counter drug like Reactine, can provide longer protection results. However, they need a longer absorption period, so you will need to take them a few hours before they can be effective. The recent brands of anti-allergy medications often don’t cause sleepiness and drowsiness.

The most important thing is to remember when your allergy season usually starts and to take your medication a week before that. Don’t wait until you experience symptoms to start taking your medication. May is the blooming season; you should take the medication in advance. The beginning of August is also a high allergy season for many people; therefore, you should take your medication towards the last week of July. There are other nasal pumps and subcutaneous injections available to battle allergies. You should consult your family doctor to determine the type that fits you best.

 

Can you give me some tips that will help lessen my allergy?

Dr. Khôi: Besides taking medications like I have mentioned above, you can also change your lifestyle and habits a bit. When you get home, change into new clothes right away, and if you can, take a shower immediately to get rid of pollens in your hair and on your skin. You can also use saline solution to clean your eyes and inside your nose. Drink a lot of water because it has been proven that a dehydrated body will produce more histamine. If you have pets, be sure to bathe and trim their fur often. When going outside, remember to wear a hat and oversized sunglasses to avoid contact with pollens. Another trick is to apply Vaseline around the inside of your nose. Vaseline will help trap some of the pollens that try to make their way up your sinuses.

My last suggestion is you should get into a healthy eating regiment with high antioxidant intake, which will help strengthen your immune system and lessen allergic conditions. I don’t support taking vitamin supplements to fight against allergies. I have always preferred providing your body with the necessary nutrients through fresh ingredients such as vegetables and fish… Natural selection is always the best choice. Things that have been processed by humans can no longer be called natural. Think about it: if all of one million vitamin pills are exactly the same, how can we still refer to them as natural supplements?

 

I have always wondered why new immigrants in Canada rarely have allergies, but the longer they are here, the more often they will catch it. Can you help me make sense of this?

Dr. Khôi: At the early stage of arrival, their bodies can come into contact with foreign substances without producing side effects. This is because their bodies don’t have time to produce antibodies to fight these foreign substances yet. The longer they are here, the more often they come into contact with foreign substances, the more frequently their bodies will produce antibodies and these antibodies are the culprit for allergic symptoms.

According to many studies, people living in poor or developing countries have a higher level of IgE, and they hypothesize that this is due to the presence of ascaris. When we have ascaris, the body produces more IgE to fight it. Therefore, a new anti-allergy treatment is being considered where ascaris is injected into the body to help fight against allergies. I personally don’t recommend this type of treatment. All you have to do is to take a trip to Vietnam – no need for the injection – and you will have enough ascaris in your body (laugh).

Another study suggests that families with high education levels and high income tend to suffer from allergies, compared to the rest of the population. Perhaps it is because they don’t come into contact with dusty environments as much and therefore, their bodies don’t produce as much IgE. So ladies, don’t yell at your husbands if they don’t clean or vacuum the house thoroughly (laugh).

 I hope these tips can help you somewhat in the battle against allergy season!

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Dr. Khoi Nguyen
Dr. Khoi holds a Science Degree from the University of Toronto and received his medical degree in 1988. He is currently seeing patients at his private family medicine practice. In 2010, he received the Canada’s Citizenship Award for his numerous contributions to the community. Bác sĩ Khôi tốt nghiệp ngành khoa học tại University of Toronto và tốt nghiệp y khoa năm 1988. Hiện nay ông đang làm việc tại phòng mạch tư chuyên về sức khỏe gia đình, và đã được vinh dự nhận giải thưởng Canada’s Citizenship Award năm 2010.