Dr. M.J. Bazos MD,
What are allergies and what causes them?
You have an allergy when your body
overreacts to things that don’t cause problems for most people. These
things are called allergens. Sometimes the term “hay fever” or
“rose fever” is used to describe an allergic reaction to allergens
in the air. Your body’s overreaction to an allergen is what causes allergy
symptoms (see the box to the
Common symptoms of
- Runny nose
- Watery eyes
- Itchy nose, eyes and roof of mouth
- Sneezing, stuffy nose
- Pressure in the nose and cheeks
- Ear fullness and popping
- Dark circles under the eyes
can I avoid problems?
It is not easy to
avoid most allergens. To avoid suffering with a runny nose and sneezing, try to
figure out what allergens cause problems for you. Then stay away from them as
much as possible. Here are some tips on how to avoid common
- Pollen from trees, grass and weeds. Shower or
bathe before bedtime to wash off pollen in your hair and on your skin. Avoid
going outside during the time of year when your allergies cause the most
problems, especially on dry, windy days. Keep windows and doors shut at home and
in your car, and use an air conditioner.
- Special air filters, such as HEPA and
electrostatic filters, can help reduce allergens in the air.
- Mold. Remove houseplants. Frequently clean shower
curtains, bathroom windows, damp walls, areas with dry rot and indoor trash
cans. In areas where mold has built up, use a mixture of water and chlorine
bleach to kill it. Don’t carpet bathrooms or other damp rooms. Use
mold-proof paint instead of wallpaper.
- Reduce the humidity in your home to 50% or less.
- Pet dander. If your allergies to dander (skin and
hair from animals) are severe, you may need to give your pets away, or at least
keep them outside.
medicines can I take to help relieve my symptoms?
If avoiding allergens doesn’t
help enough, you may need to try allergy medicines. Some common types are
- Antihistamines help reduce sneezing, runny
nose and itchiness. Antihistamines that you can buy without a prescription
relieve symptoms just as well as prescription medicines do. However, they tend
to cause tiredness and dry mouth. Prescription antihistamines are less likely to
cause tiredness or dry mouth. Before you take an allergy or cold medicine, check
the label for a drug called phenylpropanolamine, or PPA. If a medicine
contains PPA, don’t take it.
- Decongestants help temporarily relieve a
stuffy nose. They come as pills, nose sprays and nose drops. Decongestant
tablets or liquids are best used only for a short time (1 to 2 weeks). Nose
sprays and drops shouldn’t be used for more than 3 days because your body
can become dependent on them. This causes your nose to feel even more stopped-up
when you stop using them. You can buy decongestants without a prescription.
However, decongestants can raise blood pressure in some people, so it’s a
good idea to talk to your family doctor before using them.
- Cromolyn sodium is a nasal spray that
helps prevent your body from reacting to inhaled allergens. Cromolyn sodium is
more helpful if you use it before you’re exposed to allergens. This
medicine may take up to 2 to 4 weeks to start working. It is available without a
- Nasal steroid sprays reduce the
inflammatory reaction of your nasal tissues to inhaled allergens. Your doctor
may prescribe a steroid spray to relieve the swelling in your nose so that you
feel less stopped-up. This medicine may take a couple of weeks to start
- Eye drops. Eye drops can help itchy,
watery eyes. You can buy these drops without a prescription. Your doctor might
suggest eye drops that contain an antihistamine-decongestant combination. These
drops are available in over-the-counter and prescription forms. Be sure to read
the directions before using any medication. Many of these eye drops should not
be used for longer than a few days.