Updated 11 May 2017

Will moving to the coast cure your allergies?

The idea of moving to Cape Town, the Garden Route or Durban may float your boat, but will it help with your allergies?

Millions of people worldwide are affected by allergies. An allergy causes sickness and/or discomfort after coming into contact with a substance (allergen) that is harmless to most other people.

Allergy or sensitivity?

Some allergies, like hay fever, can be seasonal, which means that they only occur during certain times of the year.

Allergies are caused by:

  • Things you touch (e.g. latex)
  • Things you inhale (e.g. pollen)
  • Things you eat (e.g. shellfish)

Read: When allergies turn deadly

People often say they are allergic to something when, in fact, they only have a sensitivity to an "allergen". The difference is that in the case of a true allergy there is an immune system reaction that can range from mild to life-threatening (i.e. anaphylactic shock). Sensitivity usually refers to an adverse reaction to something one has eaten, leading to digestive problems.

How to avoid triggering your allergies

In most instances, once the allergen is identified, it is relatively easy to avoid the cause of your reaction. If, for example, you are allergic to pet dander, you can limit your contact with animals; and if you know that you’re allergic to a specific kind of food, you can avoid all dishes that contain the offending item.  

Read: Global warming = worse allergies?

The idea of moving to Cape Town, the Garden Route or Durban may float your boat, but will it help with your allergies?

Moving to the coast is unfortunately not going to have much effect on food allergies. Avoiding foods that trigger your allergies has everything to do with being vigilant and not so much with your environment.

Ocean breezes blow allergens away

But when it comes to respiratory or skin allergies, being beside the seaside can definitely be beneficial.

If you’re prone to hay fever and live near the ocean, you will almost certainly find relief as the ocean breezes tend to blow allergens away.

Pollen levels are generally higher in the early morning and in the evening, so plan mid-day or afternoon outings if you have seasonal allergies – while guarding against sunburn.   

Recent studies on the effect of non-drug interventions on hay fever and dust mite allergies indicate that salt water can help control hay fever by washing away pollen grains that cause nasal allergies that result in hay fever and chronic rhinitis. 

Salt water can aid and restore the normal clearance of mucus, which is very important for the normal functioning of the nose.

Read: Seawater spray may cure colds

People who live by and swim in the sea tend to have healthier respiratory systems, because seawater mimics the body’s own fluids in the lining of the airways, and doesn’t irritate them.  

If you live inland, just a few weeks by the seaside during the summer can do wonders for your allergies and is something the whole family can enjoy.

Skin allergies

Because of its concentrated levels of minerals, water from the Dead Sea in Israel is reported to have strong healing powers and many people from all over the world go there to seek relief from skin problems like psoriasis. 

A 2005 study published in the International Journal of Dermatology came to the conclusion that the favourable effects of bathing in the Dead Sea are most likely related to its high magnesium content.

Vitamin D deficiency (VDD) affects almost half the world's population, and a 2012 study suggests that we may need more vitamin D than currently recommended to prevent chronic disease. Exposing your skin to the sun by the seaside helps you get your requirement of vitamin D. Vitamin D from the sun helps build strong bones, increases endorphins and improves your immunity, which is likely to help with allergies.

Read: Allergies on the rise among children

Apart from swimming in the sea or immersing the affected parts of the body in seawater, sea salt may be used topically. Some people find that mixing a fairly strong solution of about 1 teaspoon of sea salt per 500 ml of water, then soaking the affected skin for about 10 minutes in the solution extremely effective. Alternatively, a pre-prepared mixture of sea salt and water may be applied in the shower and rinsed off afterwards.

Although it is an attractive proposition, moving to the seaside is not a panacea and will not magically cure all your allergies. There is however good evidence that sea water and sea breezes may be a great help in alleviating a number of respiratory and skin allergies.

Read more:

Diagnosing allergies

Stress, anxiety worsen allergies

Allergies dampen sex lives


Dr Adrian Morris Allergy Clinic: Hay fever.

Grow Youthful: Ailment: Eczema, Remedy: Sea Water.

Mail Online: A dip in the British briny? It may add years to your life!

SKINDRONE: Sea Salt a Possible Cure for Seborrheic Dermatitis – The Connection.

MNT: Hay Fever: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatments. Hay fever season is here.


Ask the Expert

Allergy expert

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.

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