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Dealing with Allergies: Some Worthwhile Ounces of Prevention

Airborne allergens make about 50 million Americans miserable every year. The most common of these are dust mites, mold, pollen, pet dander and secondhand smoke. If you’re allergic to one or more of these, you already know the bad news — it’s not curable. And sometimes these allergies can lead to more serious respiratory problems. When it comes to getting a handle on allergies, knowledge is power. So, to help you prevent a lot of your misery as well as serious illness, here’s some powerful advice:

  • Know what’s causing your allergies. Start by seeing your doctor and talking about the kinds of symptoms you experience and when you experience them. If you’re coughing and wheezing every time it rains, a high mold count could be the culprit. If you start sneezing whenever you mow the lawn, you could be allergic to ragweed. Your doctor can diagnose your specific allergies and recommend medications to control them.
  • Reduce or avoid exposure. If you are allergic to outdoor allergens, try to stay indoors as much as possible during the times that mold or pollen counts are likely to be high, such as windy days. Early mornings are the best times for outdoor activities for those with allergies. Morning TV weather reports include allergen counts in many cities, so check your local morning newscast. Also, wearing a protective facemask while doing yard work can prevent or minimize exposure of pollens. To control mold exposure, be sure to fix any drainage problems that create standing water near your home. This also applies to indoor plumbing leaks. These should be repaired so that you don’t grow mold in your home as well.
  • We can hear the sound of your heart breaking at the thought of getting rid of your beloved pets, but unless your allergies are life threatening, that might be a last line of defense rather than the first. Using air conditioner and furnace filters designed to trap allergens at point of entry will not only control pet dander and dust mite allergens, but they’ll also help keep outdoor allergens from entering your home from outside. And don’t forget to change these filters as often as indicated. Since indoor allergens tend to linger in soft fabrics, remove as much carpet from your house as possible — in the bedroom at the very least. Dust often (with furniture polish or ionically charged dust cloths designed to attract dust. NEVER, EVER use a feather duster). Invest in a vacuum cleaner with high allergen containment to avoid redistributing allergen particles. Change your sheets at least once a week and don’t forget to keep the area under your bed scrupulously clean.

  • Use your medications as instructed. It sounds obvious, but to get the most relief from your allergy medications, you must take your medications exactly as prescribed. That means repeating doses as indicated, knowing and avoiding drug interactions and diligently following any other instructions given by your doctor. Proper use of your medication will also help minimize any unpleasant side effects.
  • Prevent respiratory infection. Proper diet and adequate rest will keep anyone healthy, but this is particularly important advice for allergy sufferers. Allergies can develop quickly into bacterial infections such as bronchitis since the immune systems of allergy sufferers are already stressed. And good health habits not only boost the immune system, but they also boost most other areas of your life. Also, try to limit your exposure to contagious "bugs" by avoiding contact with cold and flu sufferers and washing your hands often, particularly after trips to the restroom. And remember, humidifiers are useful for producing humidity in your home in dry climates. However, they need to be regularly disinfected only good when you clean them properly and frequently. Otherwise, they’re a breeding ground for bacteria and mold.
  • Pay attention to any signs of infection and see your doctor immediately if you experience asthma symptoms such as chest tightness, increased shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, and mucus production.

It takes dedication to keep your allergies in check, but the benefits are invaluable and enduring. You can’t cure your allergies, but using these ounces of prevention to minimize your allergy triggers might be worth at least half a pound of cure!

Reviewed: May 26, 2005

2024 American Association for Respiratory Care