What causes allergies?
You have an allergy when your
body overreacts to things that
don't cause problems for most people. These things are called
allergens. Your body's overreaction to the allergens is what
causes symptoms (see the box below for a list of symptoms). For
example, sometimes the term "hay fever" is used to describe your
body's allergic reaction to seasonal allergens in the air, such
as grass or pollen. Keeping a record of your allergy symptoms
over a period of time can help you and your
which allergens cause you to overreact.
Your doctor may want to do an allergy skin test to help
determine exactly what is causing your allergy. An allergy skin
test puts tiny amounts of allergens onto your skin to see which
ones you react to. Once you know which allergens you are
allergic to, you and your doctor can decide the best treatment.
Your doctor may also decide to do a blood test, such as the
radio allergosorbent test (called RAST).
are the most common allergens?
Pollen from trees, grass and
that occur in the spring (late April and May) are often due to
tree pollen. Allergies that occur in the summer (late May to
mid-July) are often due to grass and weed pollen. Allergies that
occur in the fall (late August to the first frost) are often due
is common where water tends to collect, such as shower curtains,
window moldings and damp basements. It can also be found in
rotting logs, hay, mulches, commercial peat moss, compost piles
and leaf litter. This allergy is usually worse during humid and
Animal dander. Proteins
found in the skin, saliva, and urine of furry pets such as cats
and dogs are allergens. You can be exposed to dander when
handling an animal or from house dust that contains dander.
allergens, including dust mites, are in dust.
Dust mites are tiny living creatures found in
bedding, mattresses, carpeting and upholstered
furniture. They live on dead skin cells and
other things found in house dust.
Common Allergy Symptoms:
Runny nose |
Watery eyes |
Itchy nose, eyes and roof of
Stuffy nose |
Pressure in the nose and cheeks
Ear fullness and popping |
Dark circles under the eyes |
Things that can make your allergy
Aerosol sprays |
Air pollution |
Cold temperatures |
Irritating fumes |
Tobacco smoke |
Wood smoke |
How can I avoid allergens?
or bathe before bedtime to wash off pollen
and other allergens in your hair and on your
skin. Avoid going outside, especially on
dry, windy days. Keep windows and doors
shut, and use an air conditioner at home and
in your car.
can reduce the amount of mold in your home
by removing houseplants and by frequently
cleaning shower curtains, bathroom windows,
damp walls, areas with dry rot and indoor
trash cans. Use a mix of water and chlorine
bleach to kill mold. Open doors and windows
and use fans to increase air movement and
help prevent mold. Don't carpet bathrooms or other damp rooms
and use mold-proof
paint instead of
wallpaper. Reducing the humidity in your
home to 50% or less can also help. You can
control your home air quality by using a
dehumidifier, keeping the temperature set at
70 degrees, and cleaning or replacing
small-particle filters in your central air
Pet dander. If
your allergies are severe, you may need to
give your pets away or at least keep them
outside. Cat or dog dander often collects in
house dust and takes 4 weeks or more to die
However, there are ways to reduce the
amounts of pet dander in your home. Using
allergen-resistant bedding, bathing your pet
frequently, and using an air filter can help
reduce pet dander. Ask your veterinarian for
other ways to reduce pet dander in your
Dust and dust mites. To
reduce dust mites in your home, remove
drapes, feather pillows, upholstered
furniture, non-washable comforters and soft
toys. Replace carpets with linoleum or wood.
Polished floors are best. Mop the floor
often with a damp mop and wipe surfaces with
a damp cloth. Vacuum regularly with a
machine that has a high-efficiency
particulate air (HEPA) filter. Vacuum soft
furniture and curtains as well as floors.
Install an air cleaner with a
high-efficiency particulate or electrostatic
filter. Wash carpets and upholstery with
special cleaners, such as benzyl benzoate or
tannic acid spray. Wash all bedding in hot
water (hotter than 130°F) every 7 to 10
days. Don't use mattress pads. Cover
mattress and pillows with plastic covers.
Lower the humidity in your home using a
What medicines can I take to help relieve my
reduce the sneezing, runny nose and
itchiness of allergies. They're more useful
if you use them before you're exposed to
Some antihistamines can cause drowsiness and
dry mouth. Others are less likely to cause
these side effects, but some of these
require a prescription. Ask your
which kind is best for you.
such as such as pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine help
temporarily relieve the stuffy nose of
allergies. Decongestants are found in many
medicines and come as pills, nose sprays and
nose drops. They are best used only for a
short time. Nose sprays and drops shouldn't
be used for more than 3 days because you can
become dependent on them. This causes you to
feel even more stopped-up when you try to
quit using them.
You can buy decongestants without a
prescription. However, decongestants can
raise your blood pressure, so it's a good
idea to talk to your family
using them, especially if you have high
Cromolyn sodium is
a nasal spray that helps prevent the
reaction to allergens. Cromolyn sodium is
more helpful if you use it before you're
exposed to allergens. This medicine may take
2 to 4 weeks to start working. It is
available without a prescription.
Nasal steroid sprays reduce
the reaction of the nasal tissues to inhaled
allergens. This helps relieve the swelling
in your nose so that you feel less
stopped-up. Nasal steroid sprays are
available with a prescription from your
doctor. You won't notice their benefits for
up to 2 weeks after starting them.
Your doctor may prescribe steroid pills for
a short time or give you a steroid shot if
your symptoms are severe or if other
medicines aren't working for you.
If your other medicines are not helping enough
with your itchy, watery eyes, your
may prescribe eye drops for you.
What are allergy shots?
Allergy shots (also called immunotherapy)
contain small amounts of allergens. They're
given on a regular schedule so that your
body gets used to the allergens and no
longer overreacts to them.
Allergy shots are only used when the
allergens you're sensitive to can be
identified and when you can't avoid them. It
takes a few months to years to finish
treatment, and you may need to have
treatments throughout your life.