When it comes to the world of allergies, there’s a lot to know. What causes them? How can you protect against them? What are your triggers? This list will fill you in on some of the most important tips and tricks to keep you feeling your best all year.
By Lucy Morris
Avoidance measures are the first cornerstone of effective allergy treatment. “This includes things like staying indoors when pollen counts are high, vacuuming carpets and upholstery regularly, washing clothes and curtains often, and wearing a mask when working in the yard,” says Dr. Todd Levin, an allergist with Chattanooga Allergy Clinic. And don’t forget about bathing your furry friends when they spend time outside!
Bring Your Inhaler
If you or your children have asthma, allergies can trigger dangerous flare-ups that might lead to an attack. Make sure there is always a rescue inhaler within reach.
“Pollen counts measure the number of pollen grains landing on a given area during a specified time,” says Dr. Mike Hollie, an allergist with The Allergy & Asthma Group of Galen. “Depending on a person’s degree of exposure and sensitivity to the various pollens, even low counts can trigger symptoms. Of course, the higher the count, the more likely it will be to provoke symptoms in allergic individuals.”
Dust mites are major indoor allergens year-round but tend to be worse in the late summer, fall, and early winter. Microscopic arthropods not visible to the naked eye, dust mites prefer warmer environments (around 68 to 77°) with high levels of humidity. Once the weather starts cooling down, clean your air vents before turning on heat for the first time to avoid spreading dust mites that have collected.
“Epinephrine, also called adrenaline, is a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands. In the synthetic form, it is a lifesaving medication for people at risk of anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction),” says Dr. Susan Raschal, an allergist with Covenant Allergy & Asthma Care. “If you’re at risk for anaphylaxis, make sure that you carry auto-injectable epinephrine, wear a medical alert bracelet, and inform friends and family about your life-threatening allergy so they can help in case of an emergency.”
A food allergy is an abnormal response to a food that is triggered by your body’s immune system. For adults, the most common foods that trigger allergic reactions are fish and shellfish, peanuts, and tree nuts. In children, eggs, milk, peanuts, soy, and wheat can cause problems.
Good Medication Habits
While many people wait until allergy symptoms wreak havoc to start taking medication, Dr. Levin explains that pretreatment is the way to go. “We want patients to begin treatment before the symptoms begin. For instance, if they’re allergic to tree pollen, we’ll have them start their antihistamines two or three weeks before the pollen hits.”
Also called allergic rhinitis, hay fever causes cold-like symptoms (think: runny nose, itchy eyes, congestion, sneezing, and sinus pressure), but it’s not caused by a virus like a cold is. “Usually people with hay fever are allergic to the pollen of grasses, trees, and weeds. An allergic reaction develops when the immune system becomes sensitized and overreacts to something in the environment,” explains Dr. Raschal.
Allergy immunotherapy, commonly referred to as allergy shots, is a treatment method designed to reduce allergy attacks over time. “Immunotherapy involves giving increasing amounts of the offending allergen over a period of time in order to desensitize the patient from their allergies,” explains Dr. Hollie. “Allergy shots are initially given weekly, but once the full-strength maintenance concentration is reached, patients are able to taper the frequency of the injections.”
If you’re struggling with allergies, consider keeping a journal of your symptoms. Do they hit you at the same time each year? This information will be useful to your allergist when it comes to fine-tuning your treatment plan.
Know Your Triggers
Whether it’s a specific type of grass, a pet, or mold, keep track of what appears to be causing your symptoms. Just because you’re allergic to one thing doesn’t mean you’re allergic to everything! Knowing what affects you can make it easier to manage your symptoms before they cause issues.
With fall just around the corner, it’s only a matter of time before the leaves begin to collect. While jumping in a leaf pile can be tempting, do yourself a favor and avoid it. Leaf piles are breeding grounds for mold and pollen. When doing yard work, always wear a mask to keep allergies at bay.
As opposed to the mold growing on the cheese in your refrigerator, this mold grows in wet, dark spaces outdoors and indoors – from under the pile of leaves in your backyard to the dark corners of your basement and bathroom cabinets. Though a year-round allergen, mold spore counts can be especially high in the spring thanks to high levels of rainfall.
No Question Is a Bad Question
When visiting with your allergist, don’t be afraid to ask questions. The more information they have, the easier it is to treat you. Their goal is not only to leave you feeling better, but to ensure you’re informed on underlying causes and treatment methods.
If avoidance isn’t enough to relieve your symptoms, consider adding an over-the-counter (OTC) allergy medication to your treatment regimen. These include antihistamines, steroids, and decongestants. Just be sure to check with an allergist first, as specific medications are better for certain conditions.
Three in 10 people are allergic to pet dander, which is composed of flecks of skin shed by cats, dogs, and birds. People may be more allergic to certain breeds than others, and cat allergies are about twice as common as dog allergies.
Not only is smoking bad for you, studies suggest that smoking can also make allergies worse. According to a recent study, approximately 34% of smokers also have rhinitis, or hay fever.
“Ragweed is a common weed that is present throughout the United States and is abundant in the Southeast,” says Dr. Hollie. “It begins to pollinate in late August, peaks in mid-September, and ends with the first hard frost, usually late October or early November. Ragweed pollen can provoke sneezing, stuffy or runny nose, itchy watery eyes, or worsening of asthma.”
To identify specific triggers, your doctor may need to scratch the surface of your skin with a concentrated liquid form of allergens. Within 15 minutes, the skin will react at locations that indicate an allergy.
While we all love our beautiful state, its location, foliage, and weather patterns create a perfect storm for outdoor allergies. In fact, Tennessee ranks as one of the worst states for outdoor allergies in the country. Fortunately, while Chattanooga ranks especially high for spring allergies, it’s not quite as bad in the fall, so our symptoms may find slight respite.
Consider downloading an allergy app to track allergen and pollen forecasts, remain informed about relief products, and receive useful tips to keep you feeling your best. Two of the most popular options are Allergy Alert and WebMD Allergy.
Visit an Allergist
If your allergies keep you continually stopped up, it’s time to visit an allergist. “The best thing to do is find out what you’re allergic to,” explains Dr. Levin. “We’ll take a patient history, do a physical, and complete an allergy test. We’ll then come up with a treatment plan that takes everything into account.”
Most allergens thrive in a certain type of environment, whether it’s cold, dark, and damp, or hot and dry. Once you identify your primary allergy triggers, learn which weather forecasts require the most forethought.
If you’re having X-rays or other imaging tests done, let your doctors know about your allergies. Having allergies can make you susceptible to having an allergic reaction to some of the substances they use in imaging procedures.
If your allergic rhinitis affects you year-round, you’re probably allergic to indoor triggers. Limit these triggers by keeping your home clean and well-maintained. This includes cleaning vents before turning on heat or air conditioning for the season and repairing leaks and other sources of excessive moisture.
Zest for Life
“If allergies are interfering with your life, research, talk to friends, and see a board-certified allergist,” says Dr. Raschal. He or she will work with you to discover how you can return to the things you love. HS