What are Environmental Allergens?
Environmental allergens are the substances in our environment to which you become allergic. Allergens can be pollens, which are released into the air by trees, grasses and weeds. Allergens can also be pet dander (skin cells and proteins that all mammals normally shed) and pet saliva. Dust mites (microscopic mites that live in carpet, bedding and upholstery) and cockroaches can make allergic substances as well. Finally, mold can also be an environmental allergen.
Why do I have allergies?
The predisposition or risk to develop allergies is inherited from your parent(s). If you are at risk for developing allergies and are exposed to certain allergenic substances, you may become allergic. Developing allergies to substances in your environment takes time. For allergens that are present all year round, such as pet dander and dust mites, allergies can develop over a period as short as a few months. For allergens that are only present for short periods of time, such as pollens and molds, allergies often take several years to develop. Science has not yet determined why some people who are at risk develop allergies and other people who are at risk do not.
How do I know if I am allergic to allergens in my environment?
The classic nasal symptoms of environmental allergies include sneezing, itching, runny nose, and stuffy nose. Allergies can also affect the eyes by causing redness, itching, watering or swelling. Some patients react to physical contact with allergens in the environment by developing hives or a rash. Your doctor can then confirm the diagnosis of allergy by allergy testing.
How are allergies treated?
Allergies can be treated in several ways:
1) AVOIDANCE is the best method to prevent your allergic symptoms, but is not always possible. Once you know to which allergens you have allergies, you can better attempt avoidance.
2) MEDICATIONS – Your doctor may prescribe one or more medications for your allergy symptoms. Antihistamines come in oral and topical forms. These medications work best in controlling or eliminating sneezing, itchy eyes & nose, or runny nose but NOT the best choice for stuffy nose. Topical Nasal Medications or Nasal Sprays work by shrinking the swelling in your nose and treating the allergic process occurring in your nose. This in turn decreases the ability of that tissue to react upon allergen exposure. Along with nasal rinse, it is an excellent choice for mitigating nasal congestion. Nasal Saline Washes and Irrigation are not technically medications. Washing your nose with salt water (saline) is effective for clearing out congestion, washing away pollens and other allergens sitting on your nasal tissue, and reducing post nasal drainage. Most of our patients find this treatment very helpful.
3) IMMUNOTHERAPY is also known as allergy shots. Immunotherapy is generally for patients whose allergies are difficult to control with available medications or patients who do not tolerate medications. If you find that your allergy symptoms have become disabling or medications are no longer providing adequate relief, immunotherapy should be considered. The decision to start immunotherapy should be discussed with your doctor. If you have more questions or concerns about immunotherapy, please ask your doctor.