While around 17 million South Africans suffer from seasonal hay fever every year, there are some unusual allergies that could surface at any time. We take a closer look at six unusual allergies that could affect you at any time.
What is an allergy?
Whether you have a common or unusual allergy, the body reacts in a similar way. According to the Allergy Foundation South Africa, “Allergies occur in people who are more sensitive than ‘normal’ people to innocent substances in their environment. These environmental factors that cause the symptoms are called allergens and many things in the environment can be allergens: some indoors, some outdoors and some taken in as foods or medicines.”
How are allergies triggered?
Allergens differ from patient to patient. There is no ‘one size fits all’ list of allergens. Your symptoms may be caused by your specific allergy triggers. To find out what triggers your unique symptoms, your doctor needs to find out where and when the symptoms are worst, and then do skin or blood tests to look for ‘the allergy antibody’ called IgE.
“Even if you’ve never suffered from an allergy before, it’s entirely possible to become allergic later in life. Although we don’t have substantial data in South Africa, it’s clear that allergy rates are climbing and are likely to continue to rise in the future, therefore it’s best to know your allergy status and to carry emergency medication with you.
Unusual allergies to watch out for
“You should never ignore the symptoms of an allergic reaction. If left untreated, it can quickly worsen, especially in the case of anaphylaxis, where emergency treatment is required,” advises Nicole Jennings, a spokesperson at Pharma Dynamics, one of South Africa’s leading providers of allergy treatments. “And even though scientists are still grappling with the why or how people become allergic to certain allergens, thankfully there are ways to treat them.”
The company recently conducted a nationwide poll of 1 772 allergy sufferers to find out to what degree South Africans are affected by unusual allergies, and came up with some surprising numbers.
While a whopping 17 million South Africans (around 30% of the population) suffer from hay fever every spring, some unusual allergies include;
- 36% experience eczema type symptoms when wearing jewellery
- 25% are allergic to certain fruits
- 21% break out in a rash when spending time in the sun (different to sunburn)
- 15% are allergic to alcohol
- 7% experience either hives, swelling of the mouth and throat or wheezing after eating chocolate
- 6% complain of headaches, heart palpitations or skin problems when drinking coffee
“Fruit such as strawberries, kiwi, peach, apple, bananas and citrus are known to cause allergies, which can prove fatal in severe cases,” says Nicole. “Most often, symptoms include skin reactions, swelling of the oral cavity, asthma or rhinitis.
Similar signs of alarm are also common in those who are allergic to alcohol. While some may be allergic to alcohol itself, others may be sensitive to certain allergens in alcoholic drinks, such as wheat, barley, yeast, grapes etc. However, if you are allergic to alcohol, fruit or any other type of food, rather steer clear of these allergens.
Coffee and chocolate allergies
“Two sinful, but everyday indulgences, coffee and chocolate, could trigger allergy symptoms in some, but it’s important to note the distinction between allergies and sensitivities,” remarks Nicole. “While both are problematic, a sensitivity to something isn’t life-threatening, while an allergy can be.
Symptoms of a sensitivity could include stomach cramps, feeling bloated or jittery, anxious and could even elevate your heartbeat and blood pressure, especially if you’re sensitive to coffee, while an allergy can cause more serious symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, trouble swallowing, shortness of breath, wheezing, a sudden drop in blood pressure and dizziness.”
Signs of a severe allergic reaction
“Anaphylactic reactions usually happen fast. Symptoms often become the most serious within three to 30 minutes of exposure to the allergy trigger,” say doctors at WebMD. “Quicker reactions are usually more severe.”
Studies have also shown that most anaphylactic reactions have symptoms in two or more areas of the body and you should take the following symptoms seriously:
- Trouble breathing or noisy breathing
- Coughing or wheezing
- Sneezing and Congestion
- Tightness in the lungs
- Chest pain
- Low blood pressure
- A weak, rapid pulse
- Dizziness and fainting
- Pale or flushed skin
- Hives or itchy skin
- Swelling of the throat, face lips or tongue
- Abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.
By Health Editor, Belinda Dos Santos