Brief Overview of Allergies
An allergy is when your body reacts to an exposure to any substance – called an allergen — which it considers foreign. The immune system leads the allergic reaction and the way that your body reacts to an allergen. It can vary from a mild response with a runny nose and itchy eyes to a severe reaction that can be life-threatening.
There are a number of different kinds of allergies. The types of allergies include:
- Others like hay fever, mold, pollen or dust
Many of the allergens that cause these reactions live inside your home and can cause year-round symptoms. When you have indoor allergies, it is important to manage your environment to lessen your risk of having an allergic attack.
There are a number of activities you can change around your house to limit your exposure to allergens.
- Dust mites: These are tiny little bugs that reside in house dust. People who are sensitive to dust mites tend to have runny noses and itchy eyes, but some may have asthma-like symptoms. Ways to manage dust mites include:
- Wash bedding weekly in hot water (at least 130º F) to kill the dust mites.
- Use allergen-proof covers for your mattresses and pillows to keep dust mites from getting out of the mattress or pillows.
- Purchase washable stuffed animals that you can wash regularly.
- Dust with a damp or oiled cloth regularly to remove excess dust.
- Vacuum regularly; use a cyclonic vacuum or one with a HEPA filter.
- If possible, remove carpet and other dust-trap items in your home like non-washable curtains and horizontal blinds.
- Pollen: Although pollen is everywhere, it is possible to lower the levels of it in your home.
- Roll your windows up when driving.
- Close your home windows and doors.
- Using air-conditioning; fans circulate dust, pollen and other allergens around in the air.
- Don’t dry clothing outside on the line; use the clothes dryer.
- Limit the time that outdoor pets spend in the house and in your bedroom.
- Change your clothes when you come in from outside; take a shower and wash your hair to remove pollen from outside.
- If possible, stay indoors between 5 AM to 10 AM because that is when pollen levels are highest.
- Also stay indoors as much as possible when the day is hot, dry and windy because pollen counts are higher as well.
- Mold Allergies:
- Wear a mask if you have to rake leaves or mow the grass.
- Avoid going outside after rainstorms or when the published mold count is high.
- Have your home tested for mold.
- Fix leaky plumbing to limit standing water.
- Clean mold off of hard surfaces using vinegar, hydrogen peroxide or soap and water.
- Limit the amount of indoor humidity (less than 50 percent) by venting moisture generating sources.
- Use dehumidifiers inside the home especially in areas where mold may collect.
- Cockroach Allergies:
- Keep food covered; store food in airtight containers.
- Clean dirty dishes quickly and clean spilled food immediately.
- Get rid of piles of papers and boxes; this is where cockroaches hide.
- Don’t leave out pet food except when feeding your pet.
- Use traps, boric acid, or poison baits to kill roaches.
- Other Lifestyle Changes:
- Don’t let anyone smoking indoors.
- Use an exhaust fan over the stove to remove cooking fumes.
- Store firewood outside.
Changes When Traveling
There are a few things you should consider when traveling if you want to avoid allergens.
- Hotel Stays
- Look for allergy or asthma-friendly rooms in the hotels you check into.
- Try to find a hotel that is completely smoke-free. If your room smells like someone has smoked in it, ask to be moved immediately.
- Ask for a room that is away from the swimming pool if you have mold allergies.
- Check on the hotel pet policy and try to find one that does not allow pets.
- Planes, Trains & Automobiles
- All American airlines have no smoking policies; however, other countries may not. Ask to sit as far away as the smoking section as possible and adjust your air blower to blow back towards the smoking section.
- Consider carrying nasal saline because the air on airplanes is very dry.
- When driving, travel during low traffic periods.
- Use the air conditioner on recirculate to keep outside pollution outside.
- Turn the AC on 10 minutes before you plan to leave to remove dust mites and mold from the upholstery.
- Plan Ahead
- Check the pollen counts of your intended destination
- Pack a dust-proof pillowcase to use at your location.
- Pack your allergy medications in their original packages and put them in your carry-on.
Brief Treatment Overview
Even if you take all of these environmental precautions, you may still need to take some medications to manage your allergy symptoms.
- Medications: There are numerous medications – both over-the-counter and prescription — that can be used to treat your allergy problems.
- Combination medications
- Mast cell inhibitors
- Leukotriene inhibitors
- Allergy Therapy: For some people, allergy shots are a way to lessen or eliminate the need for allergy medications. With this treatment, your body is gradually exposed to the specific allergen or allergens that you are sensitive to and over time, your reaction to an exposure may not be as severe.
- A small amount of the allergen is injected into the skin of the arm once or twice a week for a few months. The shots then are scheduled every 2-4 weeks for a few months.
- The frequency of shots is then gradually decreased to monthly over the next 3-5 years.
Take Control of Your Allergies
Allergies can be very annoying and occasionally life-threatening. However, it is possible to alter your environment and activities to lower the likelihood of having an allergic reaction. Managing your environment requires some diligence and effort, but it can be worth it.