Allergies in Asia

Cleaning for allergens

It all starts with a night out with your family. Things are going well until your youngest child starts to complain that their throat itches and skin feels itchy. Then within a matter of minutes their lips and eyes have puffed up, they are having trouble breathing, and you see hives breaking out all over their skin. This can be a scary situation for any parent, especially when you need to rush to the hospital for care only to find out your child is allergic to eggs or peanuts.

Life certainly just got a lot harder, especially if you live in Asia where some common ingredients like eggs, peanuts, shellfish, and even soy are used in abundance. But, it’s not just food allergies that we have to worry about, in fact, there’s a long list of things that can cause allergies including medication, insects, the environment, and more. According to the World Allergy Organization, “The prevalence of allergic diseases worldwide is rising dramatically in both developed and developing countries.” And, it’s not just kids being affected with different organizations such as the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America noting that 40% of adults suffer from some form of allergy.

While the vast majority of cases will inevitably be mild, leading to a quick doctor visit if a patient is worried enough, there is still a risk of serious allergic reactions that can be life-threatening. In this article, we take a look at what exactly allergic reactions are, the common causes and cures, and how your health insurance can play a key role in ensuring you receive the best care for any allergic reaction.  

 

What exactly is an allergic reaction?

Chances are high that you have had an allergic reaction before, you likely may not have known it or may have associated it with something else. At a high level, an allergic reaction is when your body reacts to a foreign substance commonly referred to as an “allergen”. When an allergen enters your body, either by being inhaled or ingested, or even comes in contact with your skin, your immune system will react by producing antigens in order to protect you. This reaction to usually harmless items is what doctors refer to as a hypersensitivity reaction, or an allergic reaction.

When we do see an allergic reaction, most of the time it is usually minor with symptoms that can often include one or many of the below symptoms including:

  • Hives on the neck or face
  • Light to moderate itching
  • Runny or congested nose
  • Rash on the skin, especially where something you are allergic to touched you
  • Red eyes
  • Slight discomfort

With some cases, allergic reactions can be more severe and include symptoms such as:

  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Difficulty breathing, or breath coming with a wheezing sound
  • Tight chest
  • Moderate to extreme discomfort
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Swelling of eyes, lips, or tongue
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Heart palpitations
  • Loss of consciousness  

When it comes to the more severe symptoms of an allergic reaction, like trouble breathing and swelling of throat/eyes/mouth, this is commonly referred to as anaphylactic shock and it is essential that you seek medical care at an emergency room ASAP. Many people that have an established allergy will often carry an EpiPen with them. EpiPens are a device that inject epinephrine (pure adrenaline) directly into the body in order to help open airways and keep them open long enough for that person to get to a hospital.

 

What causes allergic reactions?

The list of things that can cause an allergic reaction is incredibly long, primarily because there are so many different types of allergens out there. In Asia there are a number of common allergens that cause allergic reactions in people including:

  • Insect bites and stings.
  • Foods like milk, nuts, and shellfish.
  • Medication like penicillin, aspirin, or common barbiturates used to dull pain after surgery.
  • Mold like black mold, commonly found in humid climates and buildings that are not well ventilated.  
  • Seasonal allergies to pollen in the air.
  • Animal dander.

In a recent article published by the SCMP, there were 3 potential factors uncovered by recent studies as to not only why the number of people with allergies is increasing, but also the main causes behind these allergies.

  1. Our environments are too clean – A common thought is that one of the reasons kids develop allergies is that they simply aren’t exposed to the microbes and germs in the environment as often. Think about young children these days, many parents keep them from playing in the dirt which scientists believe exposes their immune systems to potential allergens at an earlier age, giving them a chance to build up immunity.
  2. We have less exposure to vitamin D – One study found that the further people live away from the equator, the higher chance they will develop a food allergy, it also found that many children with food allergies also have low levels of vitamin D. This is, of course, a theory, but it could very well be plausible.
  3. Our diet during our early and formative years – Traditionally, some health experts have recommended delaying a child’s exposure to common food allergens at an early age (as in less than one to two years). Now, it would appear that studies have found that actually feeding your child things like milk, nuts, and eggs from an early age can help reduce the chance of developing an allergy later in life.

 

What cures it?

Unfortunately, for the most part, there is not a whole lot that can be done to “cure” an allergy. Some people will outgrow an allergy, but others are usually recommended to avoid the source of the allergy. This is especially true for allergies to food and environment where a reaction has been severe. Mild reactions will usually be treated with antihistamines or some lower powered corticosteroids

If an allergy is severe enough, many people will be instructed to carry an EpiPen with them in order to help ensure that should you have a reaction you will be able to get to a hospital in time. They may also be prescribed powerful corticosteroids that are meant to be taken over a period of time, or administered via an IV drip to help get the body recover from a reaction.   

 

How does health insurance factor into allergies?

Health insurance can play an important part in the care for and recovery from allergic reactions, primarily because if you do have a reaction, you are likely going to need to see a doctor. Unlike other health concerns, it can often take time to identify exactly what you are allergic to, which means the need for multiple visits to the doctor along with a likely visit with specialists. In cities like Hong Kong, Singapore, and indeed much of Asia, you are likely going to need to look for care from the private sector, which can be incredibly expensive, especially if you need multiple visits.

Beyond that, you may need to acquire an EpiPen or similar device. In the US it has been reported that the price of these pens has increased by nearly 600% since 2007. Other countries have seen price increases of these devices, which while you hope will never have to be used, do expire and need replacing every year or so. This makes EpiPens a considerable investment regardless of your location.  

It is largely because of these costs that it is important to secure a health insurance plan. Many plans will cover allergic reactions and the resultant care along with medication, which can help ensure that you are not left with a large medical bill should you have an allergic reaction. To learn more about our plans available, visit our website today.

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