Who am I? I sneeze. My nose itches so often I've started twitching. My eyes are irritated and I have an annoying tickle in the back of my throat. Enough clues? Yes, you got it - I'm an allergy sufferer. And suffering is part of every single day, writes Wendy Champagne.
With the blossoming of Spring, Australia enters its peak allergy season and allergy sufferers begin experiencing the litany of symptoms that scar their days until next winter, and in some cases all year round.
But how does an individual with a sensitivity to pollen avoid becoming one of the swelling number of asthma sufferers around Australia? And what can they do to improve their lot?
An allergen is any substance that causes an allergic reaction and the most common in this country are pollens, dust mites, moulds, pet hair, some insect bites, certain medications and foods like peanuts, seafood and eggs.
A predisposition to allergies is called atopy - a condition that manifests in a family of illnesses including hay fever, excema and asthma. "Allergy is a trigger," says thoracic specialist, Dr Allan Finnamore, "and its more dominant in kids than adults." Which means that children who develop asthma are much more likely to suffer from allergies than a thirty-year old getting asthma for the first time.
Knowing that allergy contributes to the development of asthma, it may be possible to reduce the risk of developing asthma as well as allergies by reducing the exposure to allergens and other triggers.
One significant trigger the Asthma Foundation of NSW warns all children to avoid is tobacco smoke. Research confirms that cigarette smoke increases asthma symptoms, impedes recovery from asthma and triggers asthma in an otherwise healthy child.
With statistics showing that one in every four Australian children under five has asthma, the need for mothers to understand these "triggers" and how to avoid them has become essential.
Along with the reactions to dust mites and pollens, viral infections, like a childhood flu can become a trigger for asthma, as can cold air, diesel fumes, food preservatives - like sulphites in pickles, wine and commercially dried apricots - some food colourings, aspirin and MSG.
The first line of defence against these triggers is avoidance. Find out what makes you sneeze and then stay as far away from it as possible. But wait before you stampede your cat to the local RSPCA or denude your back garden of anything green or flowering, a simple skin test is available to help narrow down the cause of your problem.
Although there is not much you can do if your particular allergy is caused by air pollution short of moving away from cities or industrial areas at least the knowledge of the cause of your suffering will inform your choice. With the incidence of asthma in NSW school children doubling over a period of ten years; learning to recognise triggers has become critical.
Many mothers of children who have developed asthma over the past few years may have benefited from research proving that a six-month term of breast-feeding is a strong preventative for asthma - a mother's milk contains cytokines, hormones which act like biological trainers helping a baby's intestines to become less reactive.
There is no known cure for asthma and at present about 650 people die every year from an attack. Very often these people just don't make it to the casualty ward in time - their airwaves swell and the muscles around them contract and they simply can't get breath.
Parents need to be aware that wheezing and breathlessness are signs of an impending attack and should be taken very seriously. If you are an allergy and asthma sufferer and you've recently deep-cleaned your house, ripped up your carpets, washed your bedding, thrown away harmful chemicals, moved to the country, given away your cat, put yourself on a strict diet, and you still experience allergic or asthmatic symptoms, then stress could be the culprit.
Studies recently conducted in Finland show that adverse life events and stress significantly increase a person's susceptibility to acute and recurring respiratory tract infections. Allergy triggers are everywhere, but so is relief.
According to Dr Finnamore, "There's a smorgasbord of choice available to help people with symptoms. It's just a matter of working through the variations to find out what works best."
Dr Finnamore Thoracic specialist Sunnybank QLD 07 33947533
Asthma Foundation of NSW
The role of Acute and Chronic Stress in asthma Attacks in Children - Seija sandberg, James Y Paton, Sara Ahola, Donna C McCann, David McGuiness, Clive R Hilary, Hannu Oja. Asthma Australia: 9063233