What are allergies?
An allergy is your body’s immune system reacting, or over reacting, to a substance it sees as foreign. Your body sees these substances as harmful even though they’re not, so makes antibodies against them, thinking it’s protecting you. Each time you’re exposed to the allergen, your immune system responds by releasing chemicals like histamine which is what causes your symptoms. There are many substances that can cause allergies including pollen, pet dander, dust mites, mold, insects, food and medicines.
What are allergy symptoms?
Symptoms can range from mild to life threatening. Common symptoms include nasal congestion and runny nose, sneezing and itchy, watery eyes. Sometimes you develop itchy skin or hives. More severe symptoms may include chest tightness and wheezing or swelling of your mouth and throat. Anaphylaxis is a life threatening reaction causing shock.
What puts me at risk for allergies?
Having family members with allergies puts you at increased risk of allergies. Although adults can develop allergies, you’re more likely to develop them as a child. If you have asthma, you’re more likely to have allergies. Also if you have one allergy, you are more likely to develop other allergies. It is possible to outgrow allergies, but they can also return.
How do I find out what I’m allergic to?
Tracking your symptoms to identify triggers helps to detect what you’re allergic to. An allergist can also perform skin and/or blood tests to identify the cause.
How should I treat my allergies?
One of the most important forms of treatment is to avoid allergy triggers. Using a HEPA filter on the vacuum, closing windows during pollen season and taking measures to reduce dust in the house can help. If you are allergic to the pets you own, at least keeping your bedroom pet-free may reduce your symptoms. Saline nasal rinses can improve congestion. Medications help control symptoms and include oral medication, nasal sprays and eye drops. Immunotherapy (allergy shots) helps your body learn to not over react to your allergy triggers. Anaphylaxis should be treated in the Emergency Department, but patients with severe allergies often carry an epinephrine shot to help control symptoms on the way to the hospital.
What about mold allergies?
Molds can cause allergy symptoms, but it is rarely severe, and it’s treated the same as other allergies. In general, it is not necessary to test for the specific type of mold. Mold grows where there is increased moisture, so using vents in the kitchen and bathroom and keeping the humidity in the house under 50% will help prevent mold from growing in the first place. If you discover mold, the CDC recommends using a “common sense” approach to cleaning it. Wear a face mask and gloves while using soap and water or a bleach solution to clean it. Look for the source of the increased moisture, like a leaky pipe, so it can be repaired. If your clean up is large like a flooded carpet or wall boards then getting professional help might be easiest. Molds can cause infection, but it’s more likely in patients with chronic lung disease or decreased immune systems.