An allergy is an abnormal immune response to a non-harmful trigger called an allergen. Studies have shown that up to 50 million people in the US suffer from some form of allergies. When exposed to allergens, a person who is allergic to that allergen can have varying symptoms. More common symptoms may include sneezing, watery, itchy, red eyes; a runny nose; post-nasal drainage; a scratchy throat or cough.
There are two factors that determine if a person will have allergies: their genetic background, and their exposure to allergens. Allergies run in families. If one parent has allergies, there is roughly a 25 percent chance that their child will develop allergies. If both parents have allergies, the probability increases to 50 percent chance that each child will have allergies.
Anything that enters the body has the potential of producing an allergic response. The most common allergens are pollens, from grasses, trees, and weeds, mold spores, dust mites, cockroaches, insect venom, animal dander, and foods. Tobacco smoke, perfume, hair spray and components of air pollution are typically not allergens, but exposure can aggravate allergy symptoms.
Those who suffer from allergies are more likely to experience chronic sinus infections, chronic cough, ear infections, asthma and bronchitis, eczema, sleep disorders, and migraine headaches.
20 percent of the US population of children is affected by allergies. It is the most common chronic disease in children and can range in severity from irritating to life-threatening. Common symptoms for children affected by allergies are nasal congestion, chronic mouth breathing, ear infections, chronic cough, wheezing, runny nose, and itchy eyes.
Although many patients are genetically predisposed to allergies, no two people have the same symptoms or the same allergens, even if genetically related. Exposure to any allergen can create an allergy. The most common environmental allergens are house dust, cockroaches, dust mites, cats, dogs, molds, trees, grasses, weeds, and ragweed.
Each spring, summer, and fall, tiny particles are released from trees, weeds, and grasses known as pollen. Pollen is circulated through the air to fertilize other plants, but also enters the throat and noses of humans, triggering a seasonal allergic reaction, which people know as hay fever. Airborne pollen is one of the most annoying and common allergens, and its cause’s roughly 35 million people to suffer from upper respiratory allergy symptoms each year. All of these allergens can be treated by different types of medications and immunotherapy injections, as well as a specific plan of care created by your board-certified allergist.
There are more than 50,000 species of trees in the world, with 600-700 native to North America, with roughly 65 of these species being known to cause allergies. Some people are aware of their seasonal sensitivity, but may not know what the specific cause is (i.e. tree pollen, grass pollen, or molds). Allergy testing is important to identify specific types of allergens that are triggering your symptoms.
Occasionally those with allergic reactions to tree pollens may also cross react to certain raw fruits such as apples, plums, and pears, which results in itchiness of the mouth and throat. This phenomenon is known as oral allergy syndrome. These foods may be less allergenic when cooked.
Tree pollen generally shows little cross reaction between species. A person must develop an allergy to each type of tree pollen in order for symptoms to occur. For example, if you are sensitive to pine trees, it does not mean that you will be sensitive to oak trees. There are two exceptions, the family of trees that contain oak, beeches, and birches and the family that belongs to cedars and junipers. If a person is allergic to one of these trees, there is an increased chance you will have symptoms from one or more members of the same family.
Tree pollen counts tend to be higher on days when it is warm, dry, and windy. Pollen counts tend to be highest in the early morning, late afternoon, and early evening from April through June.
To help decrease your symptoms during tree pollen season, the following are some allergen avoidance tips:
- Minimize outdoor activity during the morning hours of 5:00-10:00 a.m. when pollen levels are highest
- Keep car windows closed while driving
- Avoid lawn mowing and leaf raking which stir up pollens
- Keep windows closed at home to prevent airborne pollens from coming indoors.
Grass pollinates from May through July. When these pollens are inhaled by those who suffer from seasonal allergic rhinitis, the body experiences an over-reaction of the immune system, causing sneezing, congestion, runny nose, watery eyes, and itching of the eyes, nose, and throat. Those that suffer from asthma may experience chest congestion, cough, and difficulty in breathing.
Some of the most common allergy-causing grass pollens in Michigan include Timothy, Bermuda, Orchard, and sweet vernal. Grass that is found in a manicured lawn or golf course typically does not produce much pollen. These allergy inducing grasses are typically found growing in medians, empty lots, and the side of the road. Grass pollens are light and can travel for miles through the air.
As with other pollen producing plants, rain and temperatures play a roll in the amount of pollen produced each year. Dry, windy days are perfect conditions for high pollen counts. Pollen is released during early to mid-morning hours. Our board-certified allergist/immunologist can provide testing to show which grasses you are allergic to and offer appropriate treatment options.
To help decrease your symptoms during grass pollen season, the following are some allergen avoidance tips:
- Keep the grass short, but have someone else do the mowing. If avoiding yard work is unavoidable, wear a mask when you mow
- Don’t hang clothes outside to dry, pollen sticks to fabric
- Stay indoors in the early morning hours of 5:00 am-10:00 am, when pollen counts are highest
- Save outdoor activities for later afternoon or after a heavy rain
- Remove clothing worn outside immediately when done and shower right afterwards
- Keep your home and car windows closed to prevent airborne pollens from coming inside
- When riding in the car, use the recycled air button on your air conditioner
Middle of August through the first frost is when ragweed is in season. Pollen that is released from ragweed is airborne and can travel up to 400 miles. Each ragweed plant produces up to one billion pollen grains each season. Shorter days and longer nights are common in mid-August, which help stimulate pollination of ragweed.
After exposure to ragweed, people with allergies will often experience runny nose, sneezing, and swollen, itchy, watery eyes. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI) state that 80% of people with seasonal allergies experience sleep problems, causing fatigue, poor concentration, and low performance at school and work. To discover if you are allergic to ragweed or find a plan of care that works for you, your board-certified allergist/immunologist can help.
The following tips can help allergy suffers reduce their exposure to ragweed:
- Check local pollen counts (http://www.pollen.com/state.asp?id=mi)
- Keep windows closed at night to keep pollen from coming into your home.
- Use air conditioning, which is clean, cool, dry air
- Minimize outdoor activities during peak pollen times, between 10:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.
- Keep car windows up when driving
- Take a shower after spending time outside. Pollen can collect on your hair, skin, and clothing
- Don’t hang sheets or clothing out to dry. Pollen and mold can be trapped in fabrics
- Try and stay indoors when humidity is reported to be high, as well as windy days when dust and pollen are being driven about.
Patients that are allergic to cats are actually allergic to their dander, saliva, or urine. Nevertheless, typical symptoms are not a direct result of coming into contact with these agents. What usually occurs is when the cat grooms itself by licking itself; it deposits saliva on the fur and skin of the animal. The saliva dries and leaves behind an antigen that causes the allergy to cats. These allergens are very light-weight and are easily transported through the air. Once airborne, the antigen can spread to clothes, furniture, carpeting, and other household items. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI), there are no hypoallergenic breeds of animals. The allergen is not dependent on the amount of shedding, or the length of hair. Your board-certified allergist/immunologist can help you come up with a plan of care to treat your symptoms.
Patients that are allergic to dogs are actually allergic to their dander, saliva, or urine. Nevertheless, typical symptoms are not a direct result of coming into contact with these agents. What usually occurs is when the dog grooms itself by licking; it deposits saliva on the fur and skin of the animal. The saliva dries and leaves behind an antigen that causes the allergy to dogs. These allergens are very light-weight and are easily transported through the air. Once airborne, the antigen can spread to clothes, furniture, carpeting, and other household items. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI), there are no hypoallergenic breeds of animals. The allergen is not dependent on the amount of shedding, or the length of hair. Allergies to dogs are easier to manage than to cats, primarily because dogs are bathed more frequently than cats. Your board-certified allergist or immunologist can help you come up with a plan of care to treat your symptoms.
Dust mites are too small to be seen with the naked eye. Most people that are allergic to dust mites are actually allergic to their fecal matter. Mites excrete partially digested food and digestive enzymes as feces, which releases allergens very quickly. Dust mite feces are very similar to pollen in three major ways; the size, amount of allergen carried, and rate of proteins released. Dust mites live in humid places that tend to store water, such as carpets, sofas, mattresses, and clothing. As the humidity decreases, the mites will migrate farther from the surface to try and find moisture, such as moving deeper into your mattress. It can take months for mites to die, even in dry conditions, and their allergen levels to fall. Dust mites are prevalent all year round. Your board-certified allergist can providing testing and tips for avoidance of dust mites.
Cockroaches, especially German cockroaches are a very common pest in crowded cities worldwide. Studies have shown that exposure to cockroaches are a big risk factor for developing allergies and asthma, especially in the inner-city. Cockroaches are a major trigger for asthma symptoms, especially in children. Avoidance can occur by placing baits and traps, extermination, and cleanliness.
Mold can be found outdoors as well as indoors. Mold is essential for the environment and helps in the decaying of other organisms that have died. Mold thrives on darkness, dampness, and drafts, as well as humidity and a lack of ventilation. This is important to remember when attempting to eliminate your exposure to mold. Mold is found year round and can fluctuate in levels depending on its condition. The best way to diagnose a mold allergy is to perform a skin test. Exposure to mold spores can be caused by a variety of things, both indoor and outdoor. The most common outdoor exposures are a shaded yard with little sunlight, dense vegetation, and standing water. Inside the home factors such as carpet in the bathroom, water leaks or flooding into the home, and vegetation (Christmas tree or plants) sitting in water. A person affected by mold can help avoid it by keeping humidity between 30-50% with the use of a dehumidifier.