Almost 50 million people suffer from allergies in North America. Whether you get a runny nose in hayfever season or start sneezing every time you stroke a cat, allergies can be downright annoying.
For most people, allergies are a minor, temporary irritation. But when allergens infiltrate your home, they can quickly become a long-term, 24/7 pain in the ass.
So what are the signs you should be looking out for?
Some people have a severe allergy (usually to food, drugs, latex or insect stings) that can lead to anaphylaxis. This can be life-threatening, so the allergy sufferer may need to carry an epi-pen with them at all times.
Have you ever considered an air purifier to help you or your family deal with allergies?
Generally, though, allergy symptoms are annoying but not life-threatening. The most common symptoms are:
Itchy, watery eyes
Runny, congested or itchy nose
Itchy mouth and lips
Wheezing or coughing
Worsening of existing conditions (like asthma or eczema)
Why you shouldn’t ignore the signs
It can be tempting to just pop an antihistamine every day and carry on with your life. But allergies shouldn’t be ignored. They can make your life a misery, interrupt your sleep and aggravate existing conditions such as asthma.
Allergies can also lead to other issues. You could end up with a sinus infection or eye irritation. And if you’re not getting enough sleep, you could easily become run-down, which lowers your immunity.
When you have an allergy, your immune system mistakes the allergen for something dangerous. It throws a tantrum and releases histamines and other chemicals, which then trigger a reaction.
There are too many allergens to list here. (For a start, it’d get pretty boring—people can be allergic to everything from pollen to paper.) But the most common allergies include:
Food (eg nuts, fish and certain fruits)
Insect stings or bites
In some cases, the allergen is obvious. E.g. if your symptoms stopped when the dog was at the vet, your furry companion is probably to blame. If you suffer at the same time every year, you’re likely allergic to a certain type of grass, tree or flower pollen.
But sometimes, it’s not clear what you’re allergic to. An allergist / immunologist can help you to identify what’s causing the problem and minimize the symptoms.
Is it definitely an allergy?
That coughing could be a dust allergy—but it could also be a sign of asthma. Likewise, a sudden rash might be due to a new body lotion, or it could be something more serious.
It’s not always easy to tell whether you have an allergy or another condition, but here are a few things to looks for:
If you have a fever or muscle aches, it’s probably a cold or other virus rather than an allergy.
If your symptoms hit you around the same time every year, you may well be allergic to pollen or mold.
If they ease off when you take an antihistamine, there’s a good chance you have an allergy.
Skin allergies are hard to tell apart from other forms of dermatitis without getting tested. Likewise, it’s not always clear whether breathing issues are due to an allergy or asthma.
If you suspect you have an allergy and the symptoms last for more than a few days, it’s worth getting checked out for other health conditions, just to be on the safe side.
How to tackle allergies
If you’ve been nodding along as you read this article, what’s the next step?
Well, first off, if your allergy is affecting your breathing or you feel it’s getting out of control, go see a specialist.
Over-the-counter antihistamines can usually help to alleviate allergy symptoms, but you’re also going to want to minimize the triggers. In other words, it’s time to get allergy smart.
Some allergens might be in your home already, like dust or mold. Other allergens travel in from outside, such as pollen. Either way, you can minimize your reaction by reducing the levels of the allergen in your home.
Clean surfaces more often
According to The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, the most common indoor allergen is the dust mite. So keeping on top of your housework can make a big difference. Vacuum and sweep floors regularly—and at least three times a week. Wipe down all surfaces using a multipurpose cleaner or just a damp microfiber cloth. Regular cleaning will also help to reduce other common allergens like pollen and pet dander.
You might want to wear a mask while cleaning (most of us now own a stock of them, no?) to avoid triggering your allergy.
Invest in an air purifier
A good air purifier can remove around 99% of airborne allergens (like pet dander, mold spores, dust and pollen) from your home. They work by passing air through a filter, which traps allergen particles. Some also help to kill viruses and bacteria.
You’ll still need to keep on top of the cleaning (sorry), but the air purifier could make a real difference to your allergy symptoms.
Just make sure the unit is powerful enough for the size of the room by checking its Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR) and frequency of air exchange.
It’s also a good idea to look out for air purifiers that are part of the American Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) Verifide program, which measures clean air delivery rates at a nicely fresh five exchanges per hour.
Mold is a common allergen and can cause issues even if you don’t have any symptoms. Keep on top of the mold in your kitchen and bathroom before it spreads. If you have large patches of black mold, you might need to call in a specialist.
You can also help to stop mold growing by making sure your rooms are well ventilated, and using a dehumidifier to tackle the moisture released from drying clothes and boiling water. Dust mites love moisture too, so keeping the humidity level under 50% can help to stop the little critters from spreading.
Wash your bedding every week. And dry it indoors if you’re allergic to pollen.
Do your symptoms get worse when you get into bed? The culprit could be the feathers in your pillow. Swap to an allergy-friendly, washable pillow and dust-mite-proof pillow cases.
Change your cleaning products
If you start wheezing when you spray a household cleaner, you may want to change brand. Look for products that are advertised as allergy-friendly.
Keep the allergens out
If the thing you’re allergic to comes from inside your home rather than outside, it’s a good idea to keep your home well ventilated, for example by regularly opening windows. However, if you’re allergic to pollen, then keep doors and windows firmly shut during hayfever season.
Ban smoking in your home
Cigarette smoke can aggravate allergy symptoms, so it’s best to avoid having anyone smoking inside.
Keep pets groomed
It’s often animal skin particles that cause an allergic reaction in humans, rather than just fur. However, pets can also carry airborne allergens, such as pollen, in their coat, so it’s a good idea to keep on top of grooming.
Check out our top tips for looking after pets when you have allergies.
The more ornaments you have in your home, the more dust traps you have. Try to pare them back as much as you can. If you do want to display prized possessions, a glass cabinet can help to keep the dust at bay.
Ready to make some changes? Check out the nine simple strategies for keeping allergies at bay and creating a healthy home environment.