Environment and diet found at fault for child atopy
This inherited condition is known as atopy, which causes various degrees of dry skin. The word atopy is derived from atopic dermatitis, which is associated with genetic allergies and chronic skin conditions related to eczema. What is most problematic about the condition is that it leads to intolerable itchiness.
The Health Insurance Review said the number of atopy patients increased 7 percent to 1.2 million in 2004 alone.
According to Dr. Noh Geun-woong of Seoul Allergy Clinic, atopy is more of a syndrome than a disease, reflecting the increasingly urban and polluted environment that humans live in.
Some parents move to less polluted areas in the countryside or even emigrate to less polluted countries, such as New Zealand or Canada. Kim Ja-kyung, the mother of a six-year-old boy who has suffered from atopy since he was born, spoke at a National Assembly hearing last year to raise awareness about atopy. She said seh moved from Mapo to Songpa districts in Seoul and then to Bundang district in Seongnam. Although it was costly, she said, moving helped ease her son’s condition. Yet her son still suffers from symptoms of atopy, and Ms. Kim is in the process of emigrating to Winnipeg, Canada, where she said her son had almost no symptoms when they stayed there for several months.
Twenty to 30 years ago, atopy was considered an insignificant skin condition. The fevers associated with the condition disappear when children grow up, but recently the conditions have become more severe in line with the rise in the number of patients, and treatment is decreasingly effective.
Atopy is the result of an excessive response by the body to an allergic reaction, with the severity depending on the individual. “The allergens are mostly proteins in foods, but basically all kinds of foods can cause an allergic reaction, because most foods ― even grains and fruits ― contain protein,” Dr. Noh said.
Few people know this, however, and many parents try to feed their children only raw grains and vegetables, which helps little and can even be dangerous. In one case, a mother who tried to do so wound up leaving her baby malnurished; the child developed rickets.
“Before planning a diet and limiting the intake of certain types of foods, patients must be tested thoroughly to find out what kinds of allergens cause a reaction,” Dr. Noh said.
Recently, doctors have noticed a link between atopy and “sick house syndrome.” The syndrome is a catch-all term for the symptoms and illnesses ― such as headaches, nausea, indisposition, allergies and atopy ― caused by living in polluted buildings, particularly new buildings and houses. Adhesive agents in the floors, paint and wallpaper of the building often contain formaldehyde, wood preservatives and insecticides.
Though buildings are often the main culprit, nothing can be ruled out. New clothes and toys could easily cause atopic symptoms. New clothes often contain chemicals that can irritate skin. (Old clothes have been washed and worn, and are thus softer and easier on one’s skin.) Atopy sufferers can protect themselves by using less detergent in the laundry; the less, the better. Clothes should also be put through extra rinse cycles.
Atopy symptoms also respond to temperature and humidity. Room temperatures should be maintained at 20 to 22 degrees centigrade (68 to 71.6 degrees Fahrenheit) and humidity at 55 to 65 percent.
A humidifier is a necessity for atopy patients. Allergens and pollutants are often located inside the house and those with atopy should air out rooms at least once every three hours. Plants with large leaves act as natural humidifiers in houses and can purify the air. However, plants with flowers can discharge pollen and aggravate atopy conditions.
Even dust is irritating to children with atopy. Atopy patients are sensitive to fine dust, which means floors need to be vacuumed and damp-mopped. Dusters should not be used, as they stir up clouds.
The most recent discovery is that food additives used in mass-manufactured foods, such as cookies and sweets, can aggravate symptoms. In March, KBS aired a program that tested 22 children with atopy after they ate foods containing seven food additives, including a coloring agent, bleaching agent, antiseptic solution (sodium benzoate) and MSG (monosodium glutamate). Twenty-one children reacted to at least one of the food additives.
After the program aired, the Korea Food and Drug Administration said it would start an investigation over whether these products and food additives affect atopy patients.
How to alleviate atopy symptoms
* Use a small amount of detergent in doing laundry and run extra rinse cycles.
* Vacuum and damp-mop floors every day.
* Ventilate rooms at least every three hours.
* Keep the temperature around 20 to 22 degrees centigrade and humidity at 55 percent to 65 percent.
* Do not use carpets ― when someone walks over a carpet, mites and dust are stirred into the air.
* Avoid dusting.
* Keep your fingernails clipped short. Scratching can leave cuts, which can lead to infections.
* Children should play outside from time to time, as it improves their immune system. Ultraviolet rays can worsen symptoms.
* Children should wear hats often.
* After playing outside, children should shower to wash off their sweat.
* Shower briefly. Apply lotion frequently and while the skin is still wet. Avoid scrubbing, because it will make skin drier.
Source: Seoul Allergic Clinic
by Limb Jae-un