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Dealing with Allergies: A Few Ounces of Prevention

Over 50 million Americans have allergies. Allergy symptoms include watery eyes, runny nose, skin rashes and even wheezing and shortness of breath when allergies are serious. Allergy symptoms are caused when we breathe in small particles that travel through the air - such as dust, molds, pollens, pet dander and secondhand smoke.  There is no cure for allergies, but there are ways to deal with them so that they do not cause more serious problems with breathing.

  • Know what causes your allergy symptoms. Start by seeing your doctor and talking with him/her about when and where you have allergy symptoms. Some people have problems only outside and only during certain seasons of the year.  Others may have allergy symptoms year round, indoors and out. Your doctor can help find out what your specific allergies are through skin testing or blood tests and can prescribe medications to help you breathe better.  If you are allergic to pets, keep them outside or at least out of the bedroom.
  • Reduce or avoid allergens. For example, if you know that you are allergic to spring pollens, you can limit your time outside or wear a mask. If you are allergic to mold, check under sinks and in damp areas of the house to make sure that there are no water leaks where mold can grow.  Using air conditioner and heater filters and changing them every three months helps to control indoor dust and irritants. Indoor allergens such as dust mites like warm moist areas and tend to live in bedding, stuffed animals, carpets and curtains. The bedroom is where we spend the most time, so wash bedding weekly in hot water (above 130º F). Remove carpet and curtains if possible.  Dust with furniture polish or cloths designed to attract dust rather than stir it up into the air. Vacuum cleaners with HEPA filters can also help.
  • Ask your doctor if medications can help. Your doctor may prescribe medications to help reduce allergy symptoms.
  • Antihistamines: These come as pills and liquids or nasal sprays. Some are available over the counter while others are available only by prescription. These medications work by stopping histamine, which causes your nose to get stuffy, and your eyes to water and itch when you come in contact with something you are allergic to.
  • Nasal steroids:  These are sprayed into the nose to decrease the stuffiness caused by allergies. They are prescription medications.
  • Leukotriene modifiers:  This is a prescription medication for adults and for children as young as 2 years of age. It blocks leukotrienes that cause allergy symptoms.

It is important for you to let your doctor know if you are taking any over-the-counter or herbal remedies for your allergy symptoms.

  • Prevent upper respiratory infections.  People with allergies are at higher risk for illness. When allergies cause the nose to become stuffy and the sinuses to fill with mucous, it makes a great place for an infection to start. Here are some ways to reduce your chances of getting sick:
  • Get plenty of rest and practice a healthy diet.
  • Avoid things that make your allergies worse.
  • Make sure that your nose and sinuses are clear of mucous.  Antihistamines and leukotriene modifiers help stop mucous.  Nasal steroids can help open your nose and sinuses.
  • Wash your hands often to help prevent infection.
  • Call your doctor when you have a fever, cough that won’t go away, headaches, chest tightness, wheezing or shortness of breath.

Keeping your allergies in check will help you feel better and stay well.

Reviewed: May 26, 2005
Revised: June 2008

© 2014 American Association for Respiratory Care