Advice Column, Health, Lifestyle, Tween & Teen

Too Much Caffeine When Cramming For Finals Poses Health Risk To Students

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Exam season is upon us and soon hundreds of thousands of students across the country will be pulling caffeine-fuelled all-nighters in an attempt to cram a year’s worth of information into their heads, but a pharmaceutical company warns of caffeine-induced anaphylaxis or allergy.

Mariska van Aswegen, spokesperson of allergy medicine provider, Pharma Dynamics says with final exams looming, the next month or so is going to be particularly stressful for students.

“Whether intentional or not, many students tend to leave studying for finals till the 11th hour resulting in many nocturnal hours spent slumped over a desk in last-minute preparation. This is when stimulants such as coffee and energy drinks become the go-to in order to help students stay awake and alert,” she says.

But too much caffeine can lead to caffeine-induced anaphylaxis or caffeine allergy toxicity, especially in sensitive individuals.

Van Aswegen explains that a caffeine allergy can be deceptive. “The allergic person may experience typical symptoms associated with an allergy which includes sneezing, difficulty breathing, hives an itchy or swollen mouth and tongue, heart palpitations, dizziness or eczema, but these physical cues are often accompanied by psychiatric responses. Depending on how much caffeine is consumed, symptoms of caffeine allergy – also termed by some as a cerebral allergy – can range from mild to severe which include lack of concentration and comprehension, aggression, hyperactivity and disorganised thought processes.

“Students may diagnose their symptoms as a sign of overtiredness making them reach for yet another cuppa or energy drink, which may provide minor relief, but it just continues to jeopardise the body,” cautions van Aswegen.

She says a caffeine allergy is difficult to detect and can take several hours for symptoms to become apparent. Caffeine is also the last thing you associate the response with. Doctors in turn also rarely diagnose caffeine allergy because few know of it and aren’t likely to ask about your caffeine consumption.

Although many people drink coffee, energy drinks and cola, which contain large doses of caffeine, some may not realise that they are actually allergic to it. Symptoms may vary depending on how strong a person’s allergy to caffeine is.

“How you react to caffeine has a lot to do with how much caffeine you are used to drinking. People or students in this case who aren’t used to consuming lots of caffeine on a regular basis can be much more sensitive or allergic to its negative effects. The converse may also be true. According to medical literature, the longer a person is exposed to an allergen, the greater the chances of developing an allergy to the substance.

“Once this happens, those allergic to caffeine can’t adequately metabolise it. Consequently, they experience hypersensitivity or inflammation in certain organs. So, it pays to know your limits with caffeine.”

Her advice to students studying for end-of-year exams is as follows:

  1. Ditch the caffeine for H2O. Water gives the brain the electrical charge it needs for all brain functions including thought and memory processes
  2. Eat a well-balanced diet of fruit and vegetables at least a week prior to and during exam time
  3. Take a five minute break every hour to allow your body to produce more glucose – the fuel you need for studying. Rather opt for snacks such as almonds, blueberries, avocados, fatty fish and yoghurt
  4. Get enough sleep and avoid the all-nighters. Studies show that all-nighters impair reasoning and memory for up to four days. Review the toughest material right before going to bed the night before the test which makes it easier to recall the information later
  5. Avoid distractions such as listening to music, SMSing or tweeting while studying as this will limit your ability to retain information

“By drinking three caffeinated energy drinks a day, students could be ingesting more than 500mg of caffeine or 1.5 times the amount of caffeine that is regarded as safe for adult consumption. Two to three cups of coffee (300mg of caffeine) a day is considered safe and teenagers should limit themselves to no more than 100mg of caffeine a day,” says van Aswegen.

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