Updated 23 June 2014

Don't let allergies spoil Valentine's Day

Are you planning something special for Valentine's Day? Take care that your romantic ideas don't trigger allergic reactions and a visit to the doctor's surgery.


South Africans are gearing up for Valentine’s Day and many may be planning special treats and romantic outings to impress a new love. But, be careful: your new partner may be one of a growing number of South Africans who suffer from allergic reactions to a multitude of different allergens, and your special night could end in the doctor’s office with a wheezing, vomiting or sneezing partner if you’re not careful.

“A romantic day of flowers, chocolates, dinner, presents and sex is filled with possible allergens,” explains Mariska Fouche, head of public affairs at Pharma Dynamics, a leading allergy medicine provider.

“Up to 40% of adults have allergies of some sort, with reactions ranging from very mild to potentially fatal. If you know the symptoms and the triggers, you can avoid putting a damper on Valentine’s Day, especially with a new partner.”

A run-through of a typical Valentine’s Day scenario is littered with possible allergens:

  • Flowers: a beautiful bunch of flowers can trigger hay fever or rhinitis, which is an immune disorder characterised by an allergic reaction to pollen grains and other substances. Those with perennial hay fever will have streaming eyes, nasal congestion and an itchy throat all year-long.
  • Jewellery: one of the most common skin allergies is a reaction to nickel, which leaves skin red, itchy and dry and could cause blisters that crack, leaving you crusty and scaly. A lot of jewellery as well as coins, zips and eyeglass frames contain nickel. Symptoms – generally a rash - appear within six to 24 hours of exposure. If in doubt, rather choose hypoallergenic jewellery that is made from 18ct gold, sterling silver, platinum and polycarbonate plastic. Those who are sensitive to nickel should also avoid eating nickel-rich foods like fish and chocolate.
  • Dinner: seafood, nuts, chocolate, tomatoes, eggs, berries, soy, wheat and milk could cause angioedema or hives, which is an outbreak of swollen, pale red bumps, patches or welts on the skin. In severe cases, angioedema of the throat, lungs or tongue can block the airways and make breathing difficult.
  • Sex: some people are allergic to the latex in condoms and, in rare cases, even to the proteins in semen (seminal plasma hypersensitivity). Even kissing may not be 100% safe: if you’ve eaten a food your partner is allergic to, the allergens can be passed along in your saliva, causing a severe reaction. An allergy to semen can be minimised over time by small doses to semen so that immunity is slowly built up.
  • Fluffy toys: soft toys could host millions of microscopic dust mites, especially during the hot weather around Valentine’s Day. A dust allergy has very similar symptoms to a pollen allergy: watering eyes, stuffy nose and sneezing. Dust mites also love bedding so make sure you vacuum your mattress and put on clean sheets washed in hot water before ending the night at your place.
  • Pampering makeover: women who want to look their best for Valentine’s Day should always do a patch test before dying their hair or using a new brand of make-up. In some cases, irritant contact dermatitis causes the skin to burn, sting and even blister, especially on the face, lips, eyes, ears or neck. If going to a spa, ensure that your therapist does a patch test. Allergens are also present in perfumes or colognes, so be sure your partner can wear fragrances before splashing out. Spritzing fragrance on your clothes rather than skin can help minimise the chances of an allergic reaction.

Fouche suggests that allergy sufferers be upfront and honest about their ailments and that they always carry their medication, like an antihistamine, with them.

"If you’re on a date and you or your partner experience any symptoms of allergies such as swollen lips, a sudden rash, vomiting, diarrhoea, an itchy mouth or throat, wheezing or – in severe cases – anaphylactic shock, it is critical to seek immediate medical attention."

- (Pharma Dynamics press release)

(Photo of man giving woman roses from Shutterstock)


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Dr Morris is the Principal Allergist at the Cape Town and Johannesburg Allergy Clinics with postgraduate diplomas in Allergology, Dermatology, Paediatrics and Family Medicine dealing with both adult and childhood allergies. obesity and diabetes societies and runs a trial centre for new drugs.

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