The most pesky enemy here in the Northwest is the dust mite. This is a microscopic insect that lives in all mattresses, pillows, padded furniture, carpet, and stuffed animals. Dust mites feed on dander or dead skin that we all shed continually and they extract water from the air. The most effective ways of controlling dust mites are to wash bedding in hot water above 130 degrees at least once every two weeks, keep the indoor humidity below 50%, and to use dust mite proof covers on mattresses and pillows. Dust mite allergies can be diagnosed, medications can be provided to treat symptoms, and specialized therapies can be used to desensitize patients to dust mites.
- Itchy and Watery Eyes
- Persistent Stuffy Nose and/or Ears
- Allergic Rhinitis
- Repeated Sneezing When You Awaken
- Runny Nose
Mold allergies can affect people indoor and outdoor, and they are more common in the Northwest because of the frequent rain. The root cause of mold growth indoors is high humidity or water damage. High humidity can be controlled by leaving bathroom fans on during and after a shower, and using an exhaust fan in the kitchen whenever cooking. A dehumidifier can also be used if the fans are not sufficient in controlling the moisture.
Water damage in a house must be repaired promptly and thoroughly by a licensed contractor to reduce the chances of mold growth. Any visible mold must be removed with the appropriate cleansers. Most allergy symptoms are caused by air borne molds and can be reduced with the use of a HEPA air filter. Mold allergies are readily diagnosed and interventions can range from the use of a hygrometer to measure humidity, dehumidifiers to reduce humidity, and HEPA filtration to remove air borne molds. Therapies to desensitize are recommended for long term treatment.
- Chronic Cough
- Runny Nose
- Nasal Congestion
- Itchy, Watery, Red Eyes
- Skin Rashes and Hives
- Sinus Headaches
- Difficulty Breathing
Even the most beloved of animals shed dead skin or dander. Pets such as dogs and cats shed dander regardless of how much hair they have. Even having a small pet like a hamster or rabbit does not diminish the risk of allergy. If you are allergic to your pet, the best option is to remove the pet from the house. Keeping the pet at least out of your bedroom will help; however, dander is microscopic and is carried through the air.
Having a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Arresting) air filter running continuously in the bedroom and keeping the door closed is the best way to minimize symptoms. Cat dander is especially stubborn because it is sticky and can be a problem for up to six months after the removal of the cat. Bathing a cat twice a week has been shown to help reduce dander in the air. Pet allergies can be diagnosed and patients can be provided with medications or desensitization therapies.
- Red, Itchy, Swollen Eyes
- Reddened Areas on Skin
- Runny Nose and/or Congestion
- Itchy Ears and/or Throat
- Coughing and Wheezing
- Frequent Bronchitis
Food allergies are very common among infants, but after two years of age they become less common. This condition may present as itchiness and/or swelling of lips and tongue, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea and cramping, or hives and eczema. In some individuals, food allergies may be life threatening and result in closure of airways, fainting, and even death. Therefore, severe food allergies should be taken very seriously, and should receive prompt medical attention. Allergies to medications and stinging insects may also be life threatening, and require extreme caution and strict avoidance. Most individuals who are at risk of a life threatening allergic reaction need to carry an injectable form of epinephrine (adrenaline) with them at all times. These allergic reactions can result in death within minutes without treatment. Epinephrine, if injected immediately, can delay progression of an allergic reaction by approximately twenty minutes allowing time for ambulance transfer to a hospital.
- Itching in the Mouth
- Difficulty Swallowing
- Abdominal Pain
- Nausea, Vomiting or Diarrhea
One of the most common forms of allergic conditions is hay fever, which is characterized by sneezing with runny and itchy nose and eyes. Hay fever often has seasonal variation, and is caused by specific allergens such as pollen or mold. Some individuals with this condition have year-round symptoms because they are allergic to an indoor allergen such as pet dander or dust mite. Chronic exposure to an allergen often leads to a different set of symptoms compared to those described above. These symptoms include stuffy nose with mouth breathing and snoring at night-time, mucous production, scratchy or itchy throat, and red, irritated eyes. Chronic hay fever sufferers may also feel fatigued and drowsy during day-time.
- Runny Nose (Clear, thin discharge)
- Postnasal Drip
- Watery, Itchy, Red Eyes
- Itchy Throat, Ear Canal, or Skin
Asthma is perhaps the most important allergic disease because of its impact on the quality of life for patients, and its increasing incidence in the population. In this condition, the airways are hyperactive or twitchy, and become narrow when exposed to different triggers. This leads to wheezing, shortness of breath, and sometimes coughing. The primary cause of asthma is airway inflammation from allergies, but in some individuals we cannot identify the responsible allergen. Asthma patients may be relatively symptom-free most of the time, but may have an asthma attack secondary to a trigger such as viral infection, exercise, or exposure to cold air.
- Coughing, Especially at Night
- Shortness of Breath
- Chest Tightening or Pain
- Signs of Cold or Allergies
*Not everyone suffers from the same symptoms
Allergic Skin Diseases
Hives and eczema are skin manifestations of allergies. Hives represent red raised lesions which are very itchy, and may appear and disappear within hours. Eczema is red, dry, scaly, and also very itchy, and may persist for weeks. These skin conditions may be secondary to food or medication allergy, but sometimes no cause can be found. Occasionally hives, especially those that are recurrent or difficult to treat, are caused by some auto-immune condition.
- Dry or Scaly Skin
Seasonal allergies are caused by pollens which are microscopic particles released in the air by certain trees, grasses, and weeds during their pollination season. Most trees pollinate in the spring, grasses in the summer, and weeds in the fall season. Pollens by themselves are harmless but they are mistaken to be harmful by the immune system of allergy sufferers.
Controlling the indoor environment to reduce pollen exposure can be achieved by keeping the windows in the house closed, and using effective air filtration devices with the air-conditioning system to keep the indoor air free of pollens. Use of a HEPA filter in the bedroom can aid in keeping your bedroom free of pollens. If the indoor pollen exposure is reduced, outdoor exposure is tolerated much better. If environmental control alone is insufficient, medications and allergy immunotherapy, or allergy shots are effective in controlling seasonal allergies.
- Sneezing with Runny or Clogged Nose
- Itchy Eyes, Nose and/or Throat
- Allergic Shiners (dark circles under eyes)
- Watery Eyes
- Post Nasal Drip