Allergies - What Are They and How Can You Reduce Your Symptoms?

by Marge Levin

An allergy starts when your body’s immune system mistakenly reacts to a normally harmless substance as if it were a threat, such as dust mites, pet dander, pollen, mold, mildew, latex, food, drugs, insect bites, and a host of other substances, also known as allergens. When this happens, your body’s immune system creates antibodies to protect you against that allergen. The more you are exposed to the allergen, the more your body produces antibodies until you eventually have allergy symptoms.

Allergic reactions depend on your allergy. Symptoms can range from mild to moderate to severe. For many, symptoms include nasal congestion, sneezing, itchy eyes, scratchy throat, hives, headache, and even fatigue.

You are at risk of developing allergies if you:

     - Have a family history of asthma or allergies
     - Already have asthma
     - Already have an allergic condition
     - Are a child

Once you have one allergy you are more likely to develop other allergies, so managing your allergies is in your best interest. Always consult your doctor if you think you have allergies. Your doctor can diagnose your condition and prescribe an appropriate course of action.

Experts generally agree that the best way to prevent allergic reactions is to avoid the substance that triggers the allergic reaction. However, this is not always easy, especially if your allergies are triggered by substances normally found in the home, like dust mites, pet dander or mold. Still, there are steps you can take at home to avoid or at least curtail an allergic reaction, and, therefore, minimize your allergy symptoms.


Know Your Triggers

First and foremost, if you suspect you have an allergy, make an appointment with your doctor. Keep a record of your symptoms so you can discuss them with your doctor, including when symptoms began, when and how often they occur, and what you think might be triggering your reaction (dust, pet, pollen, etc.). Also, keep a list of what medications you are taking, and note any recent illness or medical condition you may have.

It is also important to have a record of your family’s medical history. This may help your doctor determine if genetics might be playing a role in your allergies. You should also talk with your doctor if you’ve already been diagnosed with asthma or an allergy but are having difficulty managing your symptoms. Make a list of the treatments you’ve used, how you’ve responded to these treatments, and any side effects you may have experienced. Your doctor may decide that you need to control your disease differently or may even conclude that you’ve developed a new allergy.


Allergy Proof Your Home

If you are allergic to dust, dust mites, mold, pollen, or pet dander, the following checklist can help you understand how to allergy proof your home with the ultimate goal of reducing your allergy symptoms. Start with the bedroom, particularly the bed, because this is where the most time is spent. Next, focus on the other living areas in your home:

  1. Encase your pillows and mattress with dust mite-proof covers. Also permanently remove (or wash and encase) your comforter. Encasings should have a small pore size and be well constructed to prevent dust mites from escaping. If bed bugs are also a concern, purchase encasings that additionally offer bed bug protection.

  2. Wash your bedding at least once a week in hot water (130°F), or use a laundry detergent that can remove dust mites in any wash temperature. If you would prefer to use your own detergent, then do so with a laundry additive designed to remove dust mites in any wash temperature.

  3. Remove carpets, curtains and upholstered furniture or use low-pile washable carpets, where practical. vacuum any carpets weekly with a HEPA-filtration vacuum cleaner, which will ensure dust, dust mites and other allergens stay within the vacuum.

    In addition to vacuuming, use specially formulated carpet treatments on a regular basis to help neutralize allergens that build up in your carpets and upholstery.

  4. Filter the air in your home by using high-efficiency (MERV) filters in your central heating and A/C system. These filters will trap microscopic airborne allergens and other unhealthy contaminants so they don’t circulate in your home.

    Consider using HEPA filtration air purifiers in the rooms you use most. Most air purifiers (also known as air cleaners) will remove allergens, but might very well remove bacteria, viruses, odors, smoke, fumes, gases, and other contaminants, depending on the air purifier you choose.

  5. Dehumidify where dust mites or mold are a problem. Both of these allergens thrive in high humidity environments, so reducing humidity will help to reduce their growth and your allergy symptoms.

  6. Clean your home with your allergies in mind. In addition to the steps above, choose specially formulated cleaning products that won’t aggravate your allergies. If you are sensitive to fragrances, choose products that are fragrance free. If you have sensitive skin, choose products with ingredients that won’t aggravate delicate skin conditions.

The kitchen, bathroom and basement provide a good environment for mold to grow, so keep surfaces in these rooms clean, dry and leak free. Where dust or mold spores are a concern, wear a facemask to prevent breathing in allergens as you clean. And if you have pet allergies, use pet care products designed to reduce their allergens (and your symptoms).


Stay Educated and In Control

The more you know about your allergies and how to manage them, the better equipped you will be to contribute to your good health. The American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology (www.aaaai.org) encourages patients to be proactive about staying informed, but cautions that it’s equally important to get medically accurate information from reliable sources about allergic diseases and asthma.

To summarize, if you think you have allergies:
  • Consult with a physician whom you trust – your doctor may ultimately refer you to an allergist, ENT or immunologist

  • Be proactive about communicating with your doctor – listen, but also share what you know

  • Keep good records about your allergy symptoms, triggers and treatments, and also know your family’s medical history – communicate this to your doctor and other healthcare providers

  • Allergy proof your home, choosing products that are certain to help you reduce your allergic reactions and minimize your symptoms

  • Stay informed and get medically accurate information from reliable sources