Dr. MJ Bazos MD,
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 is used to
describe an allergic reaction to allergens in the air. Your body’s
overreaction to the allergen(s) is what causes symptoms (see below).
• Itchy nose, eyes and roof of
• Pressure in the nose and
• Ear fullness and
• Dark circles under the
What are the most common
Common allergens in the air
are pollen, mold, animal dander and dust. Many other things, such as those
listed above, can make your symptoms worse. Pollen comes from trees, grass and
weeds. Allergies 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 to weed pollen. Pollen from flowering plants
usually doesn’t cause problems in people with allergies because the pollen
is too heavy to float in the air. These plants rely on insects to carry their
pollen. Mold 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 rainy weather. Pet dander is made up of bits of
skin and hair from animals. Both are allergens. You can be exposed to dander
when handling an animal or from house dust that contains
Dust contains many allergens,
including dust mites. Dust mites are
living creatures found in bedding, mattresses, carpeting
upholstered furniture. They like places
where it’s warm and humid. They
on dead skin cells and other things found in house
Things that make allergies
How can I avoid
Pollens. Shower or
bathe before bedtime to wash off the pollen and other allergens that may have
collected in your hair and on your skin. Avoid going outside, especially on dry,
windy days. Keeping the windows and doors shut can be helpful, as can using an
air conditioner both at home and in your
Mold.You 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. Don’t carpet
bathrooms or other damp rooms and use mold-proof paint instead of wallpaper.
Throw away old books, shoes and bedding, which can be a source for mold.
Reducing the humidity in your home to 50% or less can also
Pet dander.You may need to
give your pets away or at least keep them outside because they bring pollen as
well as animal dander in with them. Cat or dog dander is often in house dust and
takes 4 weeks or more to die down, so a short-term trial of removing your pet
from your home may not help you find out if this is a problem for
Dust.You can reduce dust mites
by removing the places in which they like to live and breed, such as carpets,
drapes and feather pillows, and by making your home less inviting by lowering
the humidity and frequently dusting with a damp cloth. See the box on page 3 for
specific tips. Pay special attention to keeping your bedroom clean. This is
where you spend much of your time at home. Wear a mask when you clean. Even
better, have someone else in your family clean for you or hire someone to
Tips on reducing
- Remove drapes, feather pillows, upholstered
furniture, nonwashable comforters and soft toys.
- Replace carpets with linoleum or wood. Polished
floors are best.
- Mop the floor often with a damp mop & wipe
surfaces with damp cloth.
- Vacuum regularly with a machine that has a
high-efficiency particulate air 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
- Keep clutter to a minimum.
- Lower the humidity in your
antihistamins used to treat
Antihistamines help reduce
the sneezing, runny nose and itchiness of allergies. They’re more useful
if you use them before you’re exposed to allergens. You can buy some
antihistamines without a prescription. Ingredients include brompheniramine,
chlorpheniramine and triprolidine. These relieve symptoms just as well as
prescription medicines do, but they tend to have more side effects than
prescription medicines. For example, you may notice drowsiness and dryness in
your mouth after taking them. This
improves after one to two weeks of regular use. Some newer antihistamines, such
as astemizole (brand name: Hismanal), loratadine (brand name: Claritin),
fexfenadine (brand name: Allegra) and cefirzine (brand name: Zyrtec) are less
likely to cause tiredness or dry mouth, but they cost more and require a
prescription. Another prescription antihistamine is available as a nasal spray
(brand name: Astelin).
decongestants may be
Decongestants help relieve the
stopped-up nose of allergies. They come as pills, nose sprays and nose drops.
It’s best not to use nose sprays and drops for more than 3 days because
you can become dependent on them very easily. This causes you to feel even more
stopped-up when you try to quit using them than you did before you started. You
can buy decongestants without a doctor’s prescription. Ingredients include
ephedrine, phenylephrine, phenylpropanolamine and pseudoephedrine. Decongestants
can raise your blood pressure, so it’s a good idea to talk to your family
doctor before using them. Many medicines are available that combine both
What is cromolyn
Cromolyn sodium (brand name:
Nasalcrom) is a nasal spray that helps reduce the symptoms of allergies. It
helps prevent the body’s reaction to allergens. It may not start to work
until up to 2 to 4 weeks after you begin using it. Your doctor may suggest
cromolyn for you if your allergies are severe or if other medicines aren’t
working. Cromolyn is also available without a
How can inhaled
Inhaled steroids reduce
the reaction of the nasal tissues to
allergens. This helps relieve the
swelling in your nose so that you feel
stopped-up. They come in nasal sprays
that your doctor may prescribe.
won’t notice their benefits for up to 2 weeks after starting
Inhaled steroids include
beclomethasone (brand names:
Vancenase), dexamethasone (brand
name: Decadron), flunisolide (brand
Nasalide), fluticasone (brand name: Flonase) and
(brand name: Nasacort).
Inhaled steroids aren’t as likely to have side effects as steroid pills,
but you shouldn’t use the sprays or drops more than your doctor suggests.
Your doctor may prescribe steroid pills for you to use for a short time if your
symptoms are severe or if other medicines aren’t working for
What are allergy
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 coming into
contact with them. It takes a few months to years to finish treatment, and you
may need to have treatments throughout your life.