The year 2019 has seen one of the worst summers. The scorching heatwave that prevailed throughout the country is proof of that. In the coastal regions, a heatwave can be accompanied by high levels of humidity. Usually, high humidity and high temperatures co-occur with allergies.
An allergy is when the immune system overreacts to substances in the environment that are usually harmless to people. These substances are called allergens and are found in dust mites, pollens, molds etc. When the allergen encounters an allergic person, it triggers an allergic response causing discomfort and symptoms.
Climate change has led to long summers accompanied by high humidity. Humidity is the vaporized water contained in the air. The current temperature along with the amount of vaporized water is known as relative humidity.
As a result of prolonged high humidity levels, there is a rise in the number of people developing allergies.
There was a time when sneezing and coughing were considered as diseases and earned visits to the doctor. Nowadays, it is common to see people with allergies saying things like, “Oh, it is just the allergy”, “You know how it is. Almost everyone has a runny nose, coughing or sneezing problem in the morning.”, “The runny nose will go away once the weather gets better”.
Usually, these allergies are linked to the seasons, but the underlying cause is the humidity during these seasons. Our attention is always directed towards the hot summers or the cold winters; so we do not pay much attention to the allergy symptoms. We counter it by popping some pills or waiting the season out. Too much or too little humidity, both cause allergies.
Dust mites grow at humidity levels of 70% to 80%. These are microscopic insect-like creatures that live mainly in bedding, upholstered furniture, curtains and carpets. They feed on dead human cells that are found in dust. They cause allergies like conjunctivitis, blocked or runny nose, sneezing, and contraction of the airways (eg: asthma). A humidity level below 50% kills dust mites.
Molds are microscopic plants that can be present all year round in damp and warm places of the home (high-humid conditions). They reproduce by sending tiny spores into the air. Inhaling these spores trigger allergic reactions and cause asthma. Treatment can help ease symptoms, but the condition can’t be cured.
The moisture content in the air can also cause an allergic reaction in the form of skin rashes or eczema as the sweat glands are blocked due to excessive sweating.
High humidity levels aggravate respiratory diseases like asthma in patients with the pre-existing condition. For others, it may cause Allergy-induced asthma, which affects the lungs and airways (asthma symptoms- breathing difficulties). High humidity also causes allergic rhinitis (hay fever) that shows symptoms like sneezing, coughing, itchy or watery eyes, wheezing etc.
Low humidity, on the other hand, causes skin-related allergies like dry skin or scaly skin. This is because the water vapour in the air, dries up fast, stripping the skin of its moisture, causing it to become dry and flaky. It also dries up nasal passages triggering sinus symptoms.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), indoor humidity levels should be kept below 60 per cent and relative humidity ideally between 30 and 50 per cent.
There are a few simple ways to find out if indoor humidity is higher than the ideal level. Moisture build-up in closets, presence of mold in your home, fogged windows, silverfish in your house or any moisture on the walls are indications of high indoor humidity levels. You can also use a hygrometer to measure the humidity.
Humidifiers and dehumidifiers are available in the market to help maintain the humidity levels. Using air-conditioners, exhaust fans, replacing carpets, hanging clothes to dry outside the house, good drainage, etc are other less expensive options that can be given a try too.
These allergies can turn into chronic diseases if left untreated and it is always better to prevent it before the onset of it. In case of developing the allergy symptoms, it is in the person’s best interest to visit an allergist/immunologist to treat the condition.