Hypoallergenic – Your Solution Against Allergens
In today’s world we see the term “hypoallergenic” being used more commonly than ever before. Be it cosmetics or bedding or body wash products, everywhere the “hypoallergenic” mantra is being chanted. In fact, this term is also frequently used when it comes to getting a new pet. Certain dogs are considered hypoallergenic and are recommended for people with fur allergies. Many people buy products with the “hypoallergenic” label whether they need it or not. They think of this as another cool feature or rather a must-have aspect in a product that applies for everyone.
So what does the term hypoallergenic mean and why has it even gained so much prominence? Before we delve into the depths of this, let us first understand what an allergy is and the reasons behind it. Many of us know that allergy is a condition where people sneeze or cough or in severe cases end up with breathing difficulties. In some cases where people use certain cosmetics, they end up with dry, itchy skin and rashes. In others, inhaling certain substances cause hives and block respiratory passages. People lose their voices due to allergies and a few unfortunate cases end up in fatality.
An allergy is an adverse reaction that the body produces when its immune system responds in a hypersensitive manner. The objective of human immune system is to protect the body from harmful agents or foreign bodies that enter the body. The immune system generates antibodies to fight those harmful substances that have entered the body and help destroy and eliminate the foreign substances. When the immune system becomes hypersensitive, it starts an adverse reaction chain as the body gets in contact with commonly found substances. Those include pollen, pet dander, certain ingredients in cosmetics like bees wax, lanolin etc. Many people react to the dust mites on their bedding and upholstery and have a host of allergic reactions. An agent or a substance that triggers the allergic reaction is called an allergen. The sources for allergies can be very many. Allergies that stem from certain ingredients in drugs cause drug allergies. When allergens are present in food, they cause food allergies such as nut allergies, egg allergy etc. When they are present in bedding like the dust mites, they cause allergies. Likewise, some people react to outdoors during spring when there is fresh pollen and dandelion out there. Trees like oak and cedar produce allergies in some people when they walk near them. When certain people apply nail polishes the acetone could cause an allergic reaction in them. Cosmetics, especially certain ingredients in them, cause allergic reactions and consumers end up with contact dermatitis.
The process of developing an allergy is not an immediate course of action for the immune system, when the body gets in contact with the allergen for the very first time. The system slowly develops sensitivity for allergens over a period of time and exposure before becoming hypersensitive to the presence of those allergens. For example, it may take several years for the body to become overly sensitive to pollens or dust mites found in the bedding. Once the immune system has time to recognize it as an allergen it begins the process of generating antibodies to counter attack them. The process, which could take days or years, during which the immune system develops sensitivity is called sensitization. Sometimes when the sensitization process is incomplete people may not have complete allergic reaction to allergens. It could result in a very mild form of allergy. When the allergen enters the body by way of contact or inhalation or ingestion, the immune system generates antibodies (called immunoglobin) along with chemicals called histamine. Histamine makes the muscles tight around air passages in the body and causes the nasal lining to produce mucus. This is the reason people experience congestion, blocked nose or runny nose in the process of an allergic reaction. Complicated conditions and severe adverse conditions include Anaphylaxis. This condition requires immediate medical attention and should be considered a medical emergency. Some of the symptoms include but are not limited to are hives throughout the body, drop in blood pressure causing heart rate irregularity, fainting, swollen tissue. Shortness of breath and wheezing etc. There are multiple diagnostic tests doctors can perform to find out the sources of allergy in an individual. Doctors conduct blood test, skin patch test and skin prick test to find out what the person is allergic to and to what degree. They can offer treatment plans accordingly.
While it is not possible to say who may develop an allergic reaction, it is feasible to say the following conditions pose risks – having asthma or a family history of it, belonging to the age group of a child, inadequate exposure to sunlight etc. However, all over the world, we are seeing an increase in the number of people who are allergic to different substances. There seem to be numerous kinds of allergies that humans have begun to develop and allergies that were few and far between a long time ago, are now rampant in communities. While no one has been able to pinpoint all the reasons as to why we have so many people coming down with allergies and why many new kinds of allergies keep popping up, it would suffice to say that our change in lifestyle and food habits along with increasing number of genetically modified food products and prevalence of chemicals all over have a major contribution to all the ailments and human body disorders. It is an unfortunate situation, but we are only going deeper in to it.
With all the above stated discussion, we can see how allergies are not only more prevalent, but also becoming more prominent all over the world. People cannot address the source but are desperate for remedies. We look for ways and means to eradicate the allergies and if not at the very least control it where possible. And this is the reason the popular term “hypoallergenic” has captured a significant spot in all the marketing labels. This term was first used in the early 1950s in a cosmetic marketing campaign – the beauty products claimed to contain ingredients that cause fewer allergic reactions. So effectively the term hypoallergenic (hypo means below normal) means the manufacturer claims that their products cause fewer allergic reactions than the other ones out there in the market. It is not a claim for being allergy proof. By the same token, hypoallergenic breed of dogs trigger lesser allergies in people prone to allergies. Typically, a fur bearing animal that sheds a lot could trigger a host of allergic reaction. Specific type of coat an animal has or by way of absence of fur or perhaps even genetically, they might be devoid of proteins that cause such adverse reactions on human bodies.
People who use cosmetics are increasingly aware of what products to use based on the hypoallergenic label description on the product. Likewise, for people that are prone to allergies, it is very important to check on the label for bedding and related products for hypoallergenic compatibility as allergens like dust mites on bedding cause a wide range of bothersome reactions. The symptoms for dust mite allergy include blocked nose, runny nose, swollen/itchy eyes, itchy nasal passages and in some cases cough.
What is dust mite allergy? Dust mites are tiny microscopic creatures that are commonly found in house dust. These tiny bugs eat dead skin cells that are shed by people and they live in warm and humid environments. Henceforth, at homes, the perfect settlement for these bothersome microorganisms is bed, pillow, carpet etc. The substance that causes allergies in dust mite infestation is the protein found in the debris like feces and decaying bodies of dust mites. The allergic reaction ranges from minor sneezing, itchy eyes etc. to wheezing and chest tightness/pain. Apart from the dust mites, bedding also is a possible home to several other allergens like dander, mold and dust. There are favorite spots on the bedding where the different allergens thrive. Dust mites choose comforters, pillows where there are lots of contacts with human skin cells that are shed. Mold chooses a dark and possible damp places in the bed. Dander is happy to settle down pretty much anywhere on the bed.
Considering that humans on an average spend about 8 hours in bed, keeping the bedding unit prone to allergies is like inviting unwanted guest. So, investing in hypoallergenic bedding would help with addressing the annoyance caused by the allergies.
Waterproof mattress protector
Mattresses offer the required comfort at the end of a long day. Good comfortable mattress means a peaceful night of sleep and a well-rested individual. Mattresses are also the ones that we need to preserve and maintain for many years, unlike other bedding accessories that we can replace as often as we want. Hence, it is very important to secure them and extend their life span for the longest possible duration. Mattress protectors are part of bedding accessories that provide the needed protection. They are relatively thin and are usually available in two different types: the kind that completely encases the mattress and the type that fits atop the mattress like a fitted sheet.
Mattress protector offers a waterproof surface for the mattress. You may find that the manufacturer may not cover your expensive mattress under warranty if the mattress is found to be stained or damaged. No matter how careful you might be, you cannot be certain that you can keep your mattress devoid of spills and stains if left unprotected. Many of the mattress protectors are hypoallergenic and they offer an effective barrier from the accumulation of dust mites and other allergens. Many manufacturers also offer mattress protectors that protect from bothersome and blood sucking bed bugs. Special materials and fabrics help breathability of the fabric and also offer temperature control.
Mattress pads offer additional layer of comfort on top of the mattress. They are thin cushiony pads that offer a good solution to old mattress problems. The mattress pad is placed in between the mattress protector or mattress and the bedding. While most new mattresses may not need them, they add an additional layer of comfort to older mattresses and hence don’t need to replace them. Sometimes they are used if the existing mattress is too hard or firm to lie on or you need the extra cushiony surface for medical reasons. Hypoallergenic and water proof mattress pads could be used in lieu of a mattress protector. In case your mattress protector is noisy (some on them have a plastic coating on them) then these pads offer good level of noise absorption and help suppress the crumpling noise of mattress protector. Some mattress pads in combination with mattress protectors offer effective filtration of up to one micron and provide a great barrier for allergens.
Hypoallergenic Pillows and pillow cases
The materials used for stuffing pillows play an important role in determining how it may or may not trigger allergies. For example, if there are down feathers in the filling of the pillows they will be expensive and fluffier. However, dust mites and dander can easily gather in between the spaces in down material. However, memory foam or polyester/cotton fiber would provide a better barrier against allergens. Also goose down can trigger allergic reactions – the down itself may not be the reason but the processing of the down could leave behind some dust materials that could become potential allergens for some people. So down alternative pillows are gaining popularity in the recent days.
Using a hypoallergenic pillow protector on top of a pillow and using a pillow case made of hypoallergenic material on top provides a good shield against allergens.
Fluffing pillows often, and turning mattresses over to flip to the other side help control the permanent settling and accumulation of allergens. Changing pillow cases few times a week also helps mitigate allergies – as parts of the face like eyes that come in immediate contact with pillows/pillow cases are the first ones that see the instant reaction to allergies like swollen, itchy and watery eyes.
Hypoallergenic bed sheets and comforters
Unlike pillows and mattresses that can be covered with hypoallergenic layers on top, bed sheets by themselves cannot be covered by other protective coverings. Hence, they have to be made of hypoallergenic materials to help address the allergy issues.
One of the ways to control allergies would be to use bedding with natural fibers. Sometimes when bedding material contains synthetic fibers the chemical involved in their processing cause allergic reaction. Materials like organic cotton and silk are naturally hypoallergenic and offer tough resistance to allergens. When you use a product like loosely woven cotton it inhibits mold growth as the fabric breathes. Egyptian cotton sheets offer an excellent choice for bedding. Also, in general, bedsheets with higher thread count offer excellent protection to prevent allergens from spreading. The tight weave on the fabric make it tough for the allergens to move about freely.
Hypo allergenic bamboo sheets are available in the market which use a combination of rayon derived from bamboo and microfiber. This makes them very plush and are also long standing than cotton sheets.
Washing sheets in hot water deters mold growth. The water temperature for wash should be at least 130 degrees to 140 degrees to kill dust mites. Follow it up with a drying process at a high temperature.
Just like down alternative pillows, down alternative comforters are becoming common to reduce potential allergens from down processing. As comforters offer a safe haven to dust mites, care should be taken to protect them with hypoallergenic duvet covers or buy comforters with hypoallergenic material. Comforters available with 100% cotton shell and 100% hypoallergenic polyester filling provide the best of both worlds – a skin friendly cotton material on the outside and allergy repellent polyester filling on the inside.
In summary, while we cannot eliminate all the allergens or their existence in our home, we have several ways in which we can arm ourselves with hypoallergenic materials in our daily routine to combat allergies and bring the allergies under control.