Article - If you suffer from sneezing and itchy skin, you're not alone

If you suffer from sneezing and itchy skin, you're not alone

Do you suffer from sneezing and itchy skin? Are there some things you can’t eat? If so, you’re not alone – more and more New Zealanders are finding themselves living with allergies and with related conditions like asthma and eczema.

Around 1 in 10 young children have food allergies, nearly 1 in 3 have eczema by 12 months of age, and groups like Allergy NZ say we are now in the midst of an allergy epidemic.

“In a very short time, half a generation or less, we’ve seen an explosion in the incidence or prevalence of allergies,” says Allergy NZ CEO Mark Dixon. “In that short time something’s happened – something is happening.”

But what exactly is happening? That’s not an easy question to answer, and there are multiple theories about what’s causing the problem.

The hygiene hypothesis

One explanation you may have heard about is the hygiene hypothesis – this suggests that a lack of exposure to certain microbes in early childhood has a knock-on effect on the development of the immune system.

We can think of allergic reactions as our immune systems overreacting to the presence of certain substances – and according to the hygiene hypothesis, this could be because the development of the immune system has been hampered by factors including urban living (rather than rural living), and modern sanitary practices.

But the hygiene hypothesis may only partially explain what’s going on, and the situation is made more complicated when it comes to conditions like eczema because of the role played by our genes.

Eczema – scratching the surface

We used to think that eczema was an allergic condition itself, but research now suggests it comes about as a result of genetic factors. The effect it has on the skin, however, means that people with eczema are more susceptible to developing allergies.

Allergy NZ’s Penny Jorgensen explains that the skin can be thought of “a bit like bricks and mortar”, and that in the case of eczema, “there is a problem with the mortar”.

In effect, the skin leaks and loses moisture – letting little cracks develop in the skin. These cracks in the body’s natural barrier allow allergens like pollen, dust mites and nasty chemicals in, causing much of the inflammation and itchiness that we are familiar with.

Dealing with eczema is tough enough if you’re an adult, but it can be even more trying for our young ones and the families caring for them – just ask Mark Dixon, who remembers the sleepless nights after his son developed eczema at about the age of two.

“As you know with little people, they don’t have a full range of expression at that age so the only way that he could express his pain or his discomfort at the time was through crying,” he says.

But while there is no cure for eczema (most people tend to grow out of it with time), there are things you can do to ease its symptoms in the interim.

These include making sure skin is kept well moisturised – moisturising several times a day or more if possible – and avoiding skin products that contain irritants like fragrances, soap and detergents.

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Comments | 4

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    […] If you suffer from sneezing and itchy skin, you’re not alone […]
    By Using moisturisers regularly on eczema reduces inf on Tue September 23, 2014
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    I'm trying to come to the bottom of a persisting rash on my torso that I've had for 4 weeks I can get a rash with too much salicylates but it's localized to one area. The rash now has has flared up in the usual place but is also spotted around my chest, back and stomach, nothing on legs or arms or under arms. I'm beginning to suspect it could be a change in our laundry soap, Ecco Store eucalyptus fragrance which may have started using around 6-8 weeks ago.
    Wondering if this sounds like a laundry soap issue? Fed up with itchy red rash and spots.
    By Wendy on Sun August 24, 2014
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    Hi Linda, yes over the years we've had many people let us know that their skin rashes and eczema have cleared up after switching to our products. If possible it's best to avoid laundry detergents with nasties like enzymes, optical brighteners and synthetic perfumes and dyes. In fact I'd recommend fragrance free for really sensitive people because even the natural essential oils in ecostore products can trigger a reaction in a small number of people.
    By Melanie Rands on Thu May 29, 2014
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    I have found that New Zealand's hash laundry detergents and the short wash and rinse cycles of our washing machines mean that there is a residue of laundry soap left on the clothes. Overtime this builds up on the skin, sensitising it and causing allergies. I suffered rashes, itchy hot skin and skin problems until I changed to a sensitive skin laundry detergent and added an extra rinse cycle (or two) after the machines had finished their original wash cycle.
    My skin cleared up.
    By Linda on Fri May 23, 2014

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