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How can serious air pollution worsen your allergies?

The Chinese government has been struggling to tackle the deep-seated problem of serious air pollution for decades. However, just from the air quality figures released by the environment ministry last week, one can easily tell that the measures currently implemented are just not enough. In the first two months of 2019, an average concentration of lung-damaging tiny particles known as PM 2.5 rose by 5.2%, reaching 61 micrograms per cubic meter on average. In the key pollution control region of Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei, the levels of PM 2.5 have even jumped to an average of 108 micrograms, almost 11 times higher than the 10mcg recommended as safe by the World Health Organisation.

At the end of the day, what you breathe is what you are. What used to be rare allergic reactions such as hay fever is becoming increasingly prevalent among more developed societies, yet less common in third world countries. More and more scientific studies have confirmed the associations between air pollution and allergic diseases. Today, Pacific Prime China divulges how pollutants in the air can aggravate your allergy symptoms, and what you can do to prevent them effectively.

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What are some common pollutants and allergies?

Common pollutants include carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NO2), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), as well as ozone. They form smog when there is a mix of gases and particulates reacting with sunlight. The particulates found in smog can include smoke, dust, sand, and pollen.

Usually, when exposed to serious pollution, allergies will manifest itself as rhinitis or rhino-sinusitis (inflammation of the mucous membrane lining of the nose or sinuses), which causes symptoms such as runny nose, sneezing, and coughing. Apart from the aforementioned symptoms, a sore throat, phlegm, loss of smell, watery or itchy eyes are also very common allergic reactions.

The relationship between air pollution and allergies

An American study suggests air pollution can actually make allergies more potent, citing two air pollutants connected with climate change, ozone and nitrogen dioxide, as the culprits of more serious allergies. These pollutants create a chain of chemical reactions that can actually change the structures and effects of allergens. For example, a bond between the pollen and nitrogen dioxide exacerbates the body’s immune response to the allergen. The research team warned that more intense global climate change and rising air pollutants may contribute to higher prevalence of allergies.

Common air pollutants, such as ozone, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide, act as irritants that can aggravate allergies. Exposure to these pollutants leads to the body’s enhanced ability to produce the allergy antibody, IgE, whose response is a key trigger of allergic reactions.

In fact, people tend to find their existing medical conditions such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, and seasonal allergies worsen upon arriving in Beijing, which is constantly cloaked by high levels of particulates.

The Chinese authorities have been striving to resolve the worsening air pollution problem

How to protect yourself from air pollution

While there’s not much we can do when it comes to air pollution other than relocating to a new place, it is still best to familiarize yourself with the short-term preventive measures. In this section, we have put together six ways you can minimize your exposure to smog.

Monitor daily air quality and pollen reports

Check local weather reports to keep track of the daily air quality index in your area so that you will know the pollution level on that day. If the color-coded alert reaches the orange level, it means that the air is deemed unhealthy for sensitive groups, including those with respiratory conditions such as asthma.

Stay indoors on polluted days

If the alert has gone past orange and up to the red alert level, people with asthma or severe allergies should stay indoors as much as possible and avoid outdoor activity. And even if they have to go outside, they should keep the activity level low or do it in the morning, before the heat of the day generates more smog and ozone. Also, it might be wise to take preventive medicine for your allergies before you leave your home.

Wear a mask and carry eye drops

If you have to go out on high-pollen or polluted days, remember to wear a mask to cover your mouth and nose, so as to filter our irritants and pollutants that exacerbate allergy and asthma conditions.

Shower after returning from outdoors

Accumulated pollen and other particulates may stick to your clothes and body parts so it is recommended that you take a shower to wash them away upon arriving home.

Ensure adequate filters in heat and air conditioning systems

Outdoor air pollutants can easily get inside so it is crucial that you ascertain your heat and air conditioning systems are installed with a MERV 11 or 12-level filter to screen out particulates. If you really need to open the windows, you should check air quality levels first. And if the pollution level is too high, consider using a circulating fan indoors instead.

Consult the doctor if necessary

If your allergic symptoms last more than a week, it is advised that you see the doctor to check if it’s being caused by a more serious health condition.

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Does insurance cover your allergic reactions?

While normal, minor allergic reactions such as runny nose and watery eyes are not covered, health insurance can protect you against more serious medical conditions that might require hospitalization. If you would like to have a customized insurance plan that covers a particular treatment or sickness, you can check with your insurance agent or broker to see if it’s possible.

We recommend securing health insurance as early as possible so that you can be covered against a whole host of diseases and ailments, and that any conditions you have developed won’t be deemed as pre-existing as long as you stay with your existing insurer.

For any further insurance-related inquiry, do not hesitate to contact Pacific Prime China today. With over 19 years of experience and nine offices across the world, our team of experts has solid experience in selecting, implementing, and managing plans for our clients. Contact us today for impartial insurance advice, an obligation-free quote, and a free plan comparison!