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Allergies: by Claudia Louch

Do you find yourself itching and sneezing excessively during allergy season? Does your family have a history of hay fever and asthma? Does your skin seem to get red and irritated even if someone just touches your arm for a minute? Does the thought of having a cat or dog as a pet have your eyes running and your nose itching? Do you suffer from extremely dry, scaly, cracked skin during the winter months?

If you answer "yes" to these and similar questions, there's a good chance that you, like 15 to 20% of the population, are atopic, or hypersensitive to allergens, such as pollen, ragweed, dust mites, molds, and animal dander. Atopic people are typically susceptible to itch if relatively harmless substances come in contact with their skin. Many born with a hereditary predisposition to this hypersensitivity often suffer from hay fever, asthma, and/or eczema. A number of them may have family members who are afflicted with the same conditions.

There are differing degrees of severity in those who fall into the atopic category.

Those who experience atopy can acquire the condition at birth or develop it later in life. Yet, no matter when it starts, atopy usually will manifest itself as recurring bouts with headaches, hives, hay fever, asthma, and atopic dermatitis or non-contagious skin rashes. These rashes are common, especially during the cooler, dryer months, with symptoms ranging from redness to burning to excessive itch.

Therefore, it becomes important to control the symptoms and minimize the suffering and potential for secondary infections.

Helpful tips:

• Test through an appropriate blood test and a qualified practitioner what your body is reacting to

• Utilize a natural moisturizer regularly, throughout the year, to help keep skin more supple.

• Wear natural fabrics, such as cotton, to avoid irritating the skin. Stay away from rough wool, however, for it can aggravate the problem.

• Keep the home, especially the bedroom, free from potential allergens and irritants. Be sure to vacuum frequently.

• Launder bedding often to reduce dust and dust mites. Purchase bedding or pillows that are hypoallergenic or made especially for allergy sufferers. Stay away from down (feather) bedding products.

• Take showers instead of baths, which tend to dry skin more. Use lukewarm, rather than hot, water. Moisturize your skin completely after every shower.

• If you wear jewelry, remove it at night to avoid rashes and irritation from chains, bracelets, or rings rubbing on skin.

• Use only mild and natural skin cleansers and laundry detergents. Avoid having harsh chemicals come in contact with the skin.

• Seek advice from a professional skin specialist and/or allergist how to diagnose and treat your condition.