Darius Mugisha, a resident of Kimisagara, Kigali, moves around with three handkerchiefs. This is to counter the endless sneezing that usually comes with cold weather.
“My misery does not only come with rainy days, but the cold mornings and evenings too,” he says.
Mugisha says that a recent medical examination found that he is a victim of allergy.
What is allergy?
Allergy is a suffering caused when the body is hypersensitive to something eaten or inhaled or applied over the body. It occurs when the body being exposed to certain substance becomes sensitive to it and antibodies are formed against the offending substance or antigen. On subsequent exposure, antibodies in the body (protective protein groups) combine with this antigen and produce reaction which cause suffering to the individual.
Allergy may be manifested in mild forms like sneezing, frequent cold, dry cough and mild itching with few eruptions/ rashes on the skin. Severe attack of asthma or urticaria can be more troublesome while anaphylaxis is a fatal form of allergic state.
Allergy is usually hereditary. Diseases like bronchial asthma and frequent cold run in families. Sometimes it can be due to external causes like worm infestations.
An individual may have only one manifestation of allergy, like recurrent sneezing. But some persons may have multiple manifestations. There can be recurrent cold, cough, asthma, sinusitis and skin rashes.
Medics say that allergic disorders can occur at any age in both genders. Some people are allergic to sunlight and develop blisters or rashes after exposure to sunlight. Common allergy causing substances in the environment are dust, pollens and spores, droppings of insects and pests. Many people are allergic to smoke, exhaust fumes from vehicles, pesticides and petroleum products.
Some women are allergic to cosmetics. Metal and plastic jewelry can also cause allergy. Toilet products, soaps, lotions, room and car fresheners also cause allergy in many people. Drugs particularly pain killers and antibiotics can also cause allergy in sensitive people.
“Sinusitis is caused by repeated invasions of external wind (either heated wind or cold) which impairs the dispersing and descending of lung systems in the nasal passages so that fluids stagnate in the nose and sinuses. The long-term stagnation of fluids leads to phlegm and heat which manifest as a yellow, purulent nasal discharge,” says Dr Joseph Kamugisha, a medic with Rwanda Military Hospital, Kanombe.
Health experts say that children are increasingly becoming allergic to food because they are no longer breast fed as recommended. Because mothers stay long hours away from home, the babies are introduced to feeds early leading to reactions as they are deprived of numerous species of useful bacteria found in milk. Foods like milk, eggs, groundnuts, meats and sea food account for 90% of all allergy reactions.
Gloria Rwiringira, a dermatologist, attributes the rise in skin infections to improper hygiene but he still points out that over use of some and misuse of antibiotics like augementin may cause reactions because in a bid to cure a disease even the useful bacteria that the body needs are eliminated.
She says use of antibiotics in infants is responsible for 40% of all allergic infections.
Chemicals added as preservatives, flavouring agents’ additives in food substances cause allergies in some persons. Some individuals develop allergic reactions to naturally occurring food substances. Protein rich foods like beans, groundnuts, milk and milk products are the common causative substances.
A sickness is diagnosed to be allergic in nature because of its repetitive nature, history of similar or related problems in other family members and demonstration of high eosinophil (white blood cells signifying allergy) counts in the blood or sputum. Skin tests can help to identify the substance/substances causing allergy. In this the potential allergy producing substance is injected subcutaneously and the reaction is watched after 24 to 48 hours.
These tests are expensive, cumbersome and also risky.
According to Dr Rachna Pande, a specialist in internal medicine at Ruhengeri Hospital, even after diagnosis, these conditions are incurable. Anti allergic medicines provide only symptomatic relief. Corticosteroids are used to suppress allergic reactions but in the long term have adverse effects which can make the person sicker.
Desensitisation is a process where small amounts of allergy producing substance is given regularly so that the body gets familiar to it and reaction to it is stopped. But again it is expensive, cumbersome as well as risky.
“An individual should learn to live with, “allergy”. He can judge by observation as to what substances are causing allergy. This applies to substances applied on body or eaten. They can be avoided to avoid allergic problems. In situations involving exposure to dust, it is advisable to cover the nose,” she says.