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Commonly called hay fever, allergies to pollen, dust mites, pet dander, and other environmental toxins, are also known as allergic rhinitis and affect more than 50 million people in the U.S. Symptoms are triggered when your immune system overreacts to the allergen and produces an antibody called IgE (immunoglobulin E) to try to counteract it. The antibodies cause your cells to release histamine and other chemicals into your bloodstream. While typically not life-threatening, environmental allergies can make you feel miserable, interrupt your daily activities, and can lead to secondary respiratory infections.
According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, the body’s reaction to pollen and other environmental substances is what causes common symptoms including:
- Runny nose
- Sinus pressure
- Itchy or red, watery eyes
- Itchy nose or roof of the mouth
- Sore throat
- Nasal congestion
- Blue-colored skin under the eyes
Left untreated, allergic rhinitis can escalate to more serious conditions such as eczema or asthma.
Outdoor allergens are typically seasonal based on when a plant is blooming. Common triggers include:
- Tree pollen
- Certain flowers
Indoor allergens can include:
- Pet dander
- Dust mites
Your physician may recommend a skin prick test to definitively identify any environmental allergies. This type of test involves putting a small amount of the allergen on your forearm or back and then pricking your skin to introduce it beneath your skin. If a raised bump, hives or other reaction occurs, it’s likely that you are allergic to that substance.
A blood test may also be used to measure the amount of the antibody IgE (immunoglobulin E) your immune system produces to try to fight the “harmful” substance.
As with all allergies, avoidance of the allergen is the most effective treatment. But because that’s not always realistic, medications and allergy shots can help control your symptoms. Over-the-counter antihistamines and a topical nasal glucocorticoid spray can help reduce nasal congestion, sneezing, itchy eyes, and other symptoms.
For some people, immunotherapy in the form of a series of injections containing gradually increasing amounts of the allergen can actually lower your body’s sensitivity to it over time. Allergy shots are provided in two phases: a build-up phase and a maintenance phase. The maintenance phase consists of monthly injections for three to five years, which will provide long-term relief after shots are stopped. The build-up phase can be done by weekly injections for roughly 18 to 20 weeks or by clustering shots and doing two to three shots a day twice a week for four to five weeks.
Avoiding your allergy triggers is key. These tips can help make your life with allergies more pleasant.
- Avoid early-morning (5 - 10 a.m.) activities outdoors when pollen activity is at its highest.
- Hire someone to mow your lawn, rake leaves, trim weeds, and do other yard clean up. If you must do it yourself, wear a mask to reduce your exposure to pollen.
- Keep your car windows rolled up and use your air conditioner instead.
- Before heading out for an activity, check your local pollen count on the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology website.
- Get rid of carpets in favor of wood, tile, or other hard-surface flooring.
- Use an air conditioner in the summer instead of opening windows to reduce pollen exposure and keep humidity low, which can help prevent mold and dust mites. If you don’t have an air conditioner, consider a dehumidifier and don’t sleep with bedroom windows open.
- Don’t hang clothes or linens out to dry where they can collect pollen. Dry them in a dryer instead.
- Cover your pillow and mattress with dust-mite-proof covers and dust your home, particularly your bedroom, often.
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