Andile Tshuma, Chronicle Correspondent
THE Zimbabwe Medical Association (ZIMA) has urged Zimbabweans to know their allergies and improve awareness of allergies in the country.

The country joined the world in commemorating World Allergy Week which falls on June 28 to July 4.

The World Allergy Organisation came up with the World Allergy Week as a way of creating awareness about allergies and ensuring that people with allergies are better understood, with better management of their allergies.

The tendency to develop allergies is often hereditary, which means it can be passed down through genes from parents to their kids.

However, people can still develop allergies with no history of allergies in the family.

ZIMA President Dr Francis Chiwora yesterday said it was important to create awareness about allergies and to ensure that all people know substances they were allergic to.

 “People must know their allergies to avoid a life of discomfort. Knowing one’s allergies may also reduce the risk of potentially fatal allergic reactions to substances.  Allergies are abnormal immune system reactions to substances that are typically harmless to most people,” he said.

“When a person is allergic to something, the immune system mistakenly believes that this substance is harming the body. It is important to know that virtually every one of us is allergic to something, which can be one substance or another. Some people may be aware of their allergies, while some people may suspect and other may be totally unaware of their allergies.”

Dr Chiwora said common allergies are to foods such as milk, eggs, pork, peanuts, sea foods while some people may be allergic to insect bites such as bees, wasps and others.

He said allergic reactions may come out through coughing, sneezing, puffy eyes, vomiting, diarrhoea, skin rashes, itches, asthma attacks and breathlessness.

Dr Chiwora said allergic reactions range from minor to mild, serious to very severe cases which can be fatal.

“The best way to manage an allergy is know your allergy. Organisations such as the Medic Allergy Foundation help people to know their allergies and give wristbands and other wearable materials that can help other people know your allergy.

“If you know your allergy, ensure that other people around you also know about your allergy so that they are in a position to help you when you suffer from an allergic reaction and for them not to expose you to those substances. There are many over the counter antihistamine medications available to deal with allergies, while some more severe reactions may require hospitalisation and prescriptions,” said Dr Chiwora.

People with severe allergies such as those to food, medicine, or insect venom can be at risk for a sudden, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis.

There’s no cure for allergies, but symptoms can be managed.

“The best way to cope with them is to avoid the allergens. That means that parents must educate their kids early and often, not only about the allergy itself, but also about the reactions they can have if they consume or come into contact with the allergen. Telling all caregivers such as childcare staff, teachers, family members, parents of child’s friends, about a child’s allergy is also important,” said Dr Chiwora.

He said if avoiding environmental allergens isn’t possible or doesn’t help, doctors might prescribe medicines, including antihistamines, eye drops, and nasal sprays. Many of these are sold over the counter.

It is not easy managing allergies but it is possible to lead an enjoyable life if the people around are supportive and understand the condition.