What are allergies exactly?
Allergies are the immune system's response to unfamiliar or unknown agents. When a person comes into contact with one of these agents (known commonly as an allergen) the immune system goes on high alert, reacting as if the agent could cause serious harm. The most common reactions to allergens are runny nose, sneezing, itchy or watery eyes, hives, or coughing and wheezing (these symptoms are commonly known as hay fever). For some people allergens can aggravate asthma, causing a shortness of breath on top of the other symptoms. Allergies are a very common problem, with approximately 40-50 million Americans suffering from them; additionally, they are listed as one of the top 10 causes of chronic illness in the United States.
What are the most common types of allergies?
Although people can be allergic to a wide variety of elements in the environment, the most common allergens are pollen, dust mites, dust, animal dander, and mold.
- Pollen: This allergen comes from trees and plants and usually appears as a fine yellow dust.
- Dust Mites: These allergens are tiny cream colored organisms that live in our homes in carpet, mattresses, rugs, drapes, and other soft dense fibrous material. They are so tiny they can easily move through the air with the slightest of air currents, such as walking, sweeping, or changing the sheets.
- Dust: This allergen is composed of many things that are in our homes such as clothing fibers, dirt, bacteria, pet hair or dander, shed skin cells, and other material that accumulates from everyday living. Dust is nearly impossible to eliminate entirely.
- Pet Dander: Dander is dead skin cells (and the oils in the skin cells) from animals. In general, people seem to have more severe allergic reactions to cats. This is probably due to the saliva from cats, which can also cause allergic reactions in humans. Cats leave saliva-tainted hair and dander behind them, so they carry a double allergen-trigger threat.
- Molds: Similar to dust mites, molds are tiny living parasitic organisms (fungi spores) that move through the air as easily as pollen. They like damp areas such as basements, indoor pool or spa areas, and bathrooms.
The symptoms of these different allergens vary but generally include a combination of sneezing, running or congested nose, water or itchy eyes, hives, and sore or itchy throat.
What to do for airborne allergies?
Reducing common allergic reactions is best done through avoidance of allergens. Of course, complete avoidance is all but impossible; however, by taking a few simple steps you can greatly reduce the amount of allergens you come in contact with.
First, avoid being outdoors during high pollen counts. The local news station or weather websites are excellent resources to check the daily pollen count. Next, keep doors and windows closed so that allergens cannot freely enter your indoor environment.
Additionally, make necessary changes inside your environment to reduce your contact with allergens. To get started, consider the following:
- Air Purifiers - An air purifier can help you maintain healthy clean air in your home; they clean the air of both large and small particles. Air purifiers are recommended by the EPA as a crucial component in your healthy indoor air quality maintenance program. Cleaner, less polluted air will help you to stay allergy-free.
- Allergy Bedding - Allergy bedding is a proven option for stopping dust mites from multiplying and keeping them from burrowing into your bed (and interrupting your good night' s rest). Hypoallergenic bedding also offers general allergy protection, as it is resistant to multiple allergens/indoor pollutants.
- Diminish the Dander - Keeping pets, especially cats, off the bed and in a limited number of places (like not on all the furniture) will provide sanctuaries of relief from the dander they leave behind. Also, frequent hand washing will help to keep the dander from transferring as easily from place to place.
- Steam Cleaners - Steam cleaners also provide allergen relief because they kill germs as they clean. Steam cleaners can destroy dust mites, clean pollen, and eliminate dust. These machines use only water, so they allow you to avoid harsh chemicals that can also aggravate allergies.
- Vacuums - A vacuum with a high-quality filter will assist in removing dander, dust mites, dust, pollen, and other allergens from your home. A high-quality vacuum, especially one with a HEPA filter, is critical to trap the tiny dander, dust, and dirt particles that trigger allergies; regular vacuums just can' t filter and trap these particles the same way.
- Dehumidifiers - A dehumidifier is an excellent way to keep your indoor environment at ideal humidity levels. They work by balancing the humidity in your home by absorbing water from the air and collecting it in water container or having it run out a gravity drain hose. Dehumidifiers combat molds, mildew, and dust mites.
The bottom line of allergies is that by eliminating allergen triggers, you will minimize your chances of a reaction to them. For more specific information on allergy issues or a more in-depth discussion of products mentioned in this article, please see our Allergy & Asthma Knowledge Center.
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