The number of people who suffer from allergies has greatly increased in the past 40 years and nowadays about 30 per cent of the Spanish population suffers from them, according to figures from the Spanish Society of Clinical Allergology and Immunology (SEAIC).
Eduardo González Zorzano, an expert from the Medical Department of Cinfa Laboratories, says that "nobody is born allergic, but anyone can develop an allergy to a substance, if they are repeatedly or regularly exposed to it for a long period of time. For example, mites, animal hair or scurf, some foods (such as cows' milk, eggs, shellfish, nuts), drugs like penicillin, nickel, latex, or insect venom such as that from bee or wasp stings can all cause allergies."
In Spain, the most common allergy is to pollen. Hay fever affects about eight million people, and is mainly caused by the pollen of certain plants or trees. Grasses, olive trees, cypress, salsola, plane trees and parietaria are among those which most frequently cause allergies and it is in towns and heavily-populated areas that the number of sufferers is growing, because of greater contamination and the planting of highly allergenic species in urban spaces.
For most people, plants such as those mentioned above are inoffensive, but for those with allergies, their bodies consider the pollen from them to be an invasory agent.
"To protect itself, the body releases substances such as histamine, which produces classic symptoms such as sneezing, runny or itchy nose and watery eyes, but pollen can also cause more serious symptoms such as allergic asthma, rashes or oedema of the glottis," explains Eduardo González.
To tackle this problem, firstly the agent which is causing the allergy needs to be identified and then medical treatment is needed to control the symptoms, either guided by a specialist or through vaccines to try to prevent them appearing.
Most importantly, though, Eduardo says people should try to avoid contact with the allergen. Putting anti-pollen filters on air conditioning units and not drying clothes outside in spring are just two simple habits which will improve the quality of life of people who suffer from hay fever. "Prevention is the key," he insists.
These are some guidelines to prevent allergy to pollen:
1. Best of all, stay at home. On days when the pollen level is high, and especially when there is a strong wind, it is advisable to remain indoors as much as possible.
2. Avoid going out at certain hours. The highest concentrations of pollen tend to occur between 5 and 10am and 7 and 10pm, so do not participate in outdoor activities during those times, and keep your windows closed.
3. Protect yourself in the car. Keep the windows closed to stop pollen grains entering the vehicle.
4. Air filters help. You can place anti-pollen filters in air conditioning units, at home and in the car. Don't forget to change them frequently, so they remain effective.
5. Wear sunglasses. When you go out, wear sunglasses to stop the pollen coming into contact with your eyes.
6. Clothing is like a magnet for pollen. The pollen grains can become trapped in the fabric, so it is a good idea to shower and change your clothes as soon as you get home. Don't dry clothes outside, especially in early spring.
7. Don't stir up the pollen. In other words, avoid activities which could disturb the pollen, such as cutting the grass or sweeping the terrace. People who are allergic to grass pollen should never lie down on the lawn, either.
8. Take precautions in your garden, if you have one. Avoid plants which pollinate via the air. For example, Arizonian plants should be avoided in the garden of anyone who is allergic to pollen.
9. Don't drop your guard at night. If you're going to spend the night outside, don't sleep anywhere near sources of pollen to which you are allergic.
10. Take medical advice. If you are taking medication specifically for allergies, such as antihistamines, you should do so under medical supervision, on a regular basis and only take the recommended dose. Remember that you should never drink alcohol if you are taking this type of medication. If you have any questions, ask your chemist.