What Are Airborne Allergens and How Do You Prevent Them?

Updated
Updated

Allergies are the sixth most common cause of chronic illness in the United States. From the trademark itchy eyes and runny nose to more alarming reactions like chest pain and difficulty breathing, airborne allergens are no fun.

If your allergies are acting up, it’s time to look at what allergens are around. Unfortunately, airborne allergens lurk both inside (like dust mites) and outside (like pollen). But identifying what’s triggering your symptoms is the first step to reducing your exposure.

Common Indoor Airborne Allergens

For allergy sufferers who experience symptoms year-round, indoor allergens are likely the cause. Listed here are some of the most frequent symptom-causing allergens.

Dust Mites

Household dust is a blend of lint, cotton, dander, food, and more. And dust mites, a common cause of indoor allergies, love dust. Dust mites thrive in warm, humid environments and can often be found in bedding, upholstered furniture, drapes, and carpeting.

These microscopic organisms can’t be seen with the naked eye. But if you’re allergic to them, you can feel the effects of congestion, rash, and more.

Indoor Mold

Mold, one of the most common indoor allergens in the US, can grow anywhere if it has the right conditions. You can find mold and mildew in bathrooms, basements, areas with water leaks, and in warm, damp parts of your home. Other areas include:

  • Mattresses
  • Closets
  • Furniture
  • Old foam rubber pillows
  • Indoor plants

Because mold is so prevalent and hard to find, it’s difficult to avoid.

Pet Allergens

Animals naturally produce dander. And when they shed their skin, that dander goes all over your home. It’s that dander, along with your pet’s saliva and urine, that causes animal allergy symptoms. When a cat licks itself and then rubs against your leg, it’s the cat’s saliva that causes your reaction.

Dogs, cats, guinea pigs, mice, and rats can produce indoor airborne allergens.

Time of Year for Indoor Allergens

Indoor allergens can find you any time of the year. But your symptoms are most likely to act up in the winter when more people spend time indoors and turn up the heat. Forced-air heaters kick up pet dander and dust and dry out the air. This process stirs up your allergies and inflames nasal passages, making you more prone to irritation.

To complicate matters, the common cold runs rampant in winter. Cold symptoms closely resemble winter allergy symptoms. Remember that aches and fever generally aren’t a symptom of allergies and itchy, watery eyes aren’t usually cold symptoms.

Common Outdoor Airborne Allergens

Outdoor airborne allergies can sometimes be easier to identify, especially if your allergies flare when certain plants bloom. Here are some of the most common outdoor airborne allergies.

Pollen

Pollen is one of the main causes of spring allergies. During spring, summer, and fall, plants like trees, weeds, and grasses release pollen grains. These grains move through the air, fertilizing plants – and landing in your eyes and throats, resulting in seasonal allergy symptoms.

When pollen counts in the air are high, it’s hard to avoid a reaction because so many plants produce pollen during each season. These plants include grasses like Timothy grass, Kentucky bluegrass, orchard grass, and trees like oak, elm, and ash.

Outdoor Mold

Like its indoor counterpart, outdoor mold releases spores that can be kicked up by the wind and end up causing allergic reactions. These molds include Alternaria, Cladosporium, and Hormodendrum.

Time of Year for Outdoor Allergens

Outdoor allergy season can start in the early spring and last through the fall, but it ultimately depends on when trees and grass pollinate in your area. This time fluctuates based on temperatures, rainfall, and geographic region. In some cases, mild winters can lead to an early allergy season, while particularly rainy springs can boost plant growth (and increase outdoor mold).

Symptoms of Airborne Allergens

Airborne allergens are uncomfortable, frustrating, and familiar for many people. When airborne allergens make their way into the nose, tissues release histamine and other biochemicals, which contract the cells that line the blood vessels. This response causes fluid to escape, resulting in a runny nose and congestion. But for many allergy sufferers, that’s just the beginning.

Sneezing

Sneezing, especially accompanied by a runny or stuffy nose, is a common allergy symptom.

Coughing

Coughing is usually associated with having a cold, but it can also be an allergy symptom when it accompanies post-nasal drip and the overproduction of mucus.

Itchy Eyes, Throat, and Nose

Itchy eyes, throat, and nose are all common allergy symptoms. Some people even experience an itchy tongue during allergy season.

Conjunctivitis and Watery Eyes

Conjunctivitis, or pink eye, and watery eyes are also forms of irritation caused by airborne allergies.

Dark Undereye Circles

Increased blood flow near the sinuses can cause dark undereye circles, which are often called “allergic shiners.”

How to Prevent Airborne Allergic Reactions

The good news is with the right know-how, dedication, and medication, you can reduce, and even prevent, your airborne allergy symptoms.

Indoor Allergies

  • Keep Your Space Clean: Dust mite allergic reactions can happen even in clean homes, but it’s good do a regular deep clean to eliminate dust, pollen, and pet dander.
  • Use a Humidifier: Dry air removes the protective layer of mucus in your sinuses, increasing irritation. To prevent this, try using a humidifier to keep your home at about 40% humidity.
  • Use an Air Filter: Air filters trap allergens like dust, pollen, and pet dander before they get a chance to cause a reaction.
  • Use a HEPA Vacuum Cleaner: A HEPA vacuum cleaner keeps your furniture, curtains, drapes, floors, and walls free from allergens.
  • Change Your Flooring: If possible, get rid of wall-to-wall carpeting and replace it with hardwood or tile floors. Eliminating carpet decreases the number of places where mold, pollen, dust, and dander can lurk.
  • Cover Your Heating and A/C Bases: Heating and air conditioning ducts suck up indoor pollutants and distribute them throughout your home. Change your system’s filters often and cover your vents with filtering material.
  • Wash Your Hands: Keeping your hands clean helps prevent spreading allergens from your fingertips to your eyes whenever you touch your face.

Outdoor Allergies

  • Stay Inside: Pay attention to pollen counts and stay inside when numbers are high. When you must venture out, do so later in the day when counts are lower.
  • Wash Your Clothes Frequently: Washing your clothes eliminates pollen and other allergens that have stuck to you. Avoid hanging clothes outdoors during months when pollen can gather on them.
  • Close Your Windows: Keep your windows closed so allergens don’t blow in and irritate you, including in the car.

Medications

Antihistamines

Antihistamines are available over-the-counter and offer short-term relief from airborne allergies. If OTC medications don’t reduce your symptoms, ask your doctor if prescription-strength antihistamines are right for you.

Nasal Sprays

Nasal sprays may help with congestion and dry nasal passages that sometimes occur with allergies. Some nasal sprays may also contain antihistamines to reduce your allergic reaction.

Sublingual Immunotherapy

A form of immunotherapy, sublingual immunotherapy offers long-term allergy relief. By desensitizing your immune system to your specific allergens, sublingual immunotherapy is a safe and effective way to eliminate your allergy symptoms from home. The two types of sublingual immunotherapy are allergy drops and allergy tablets. Allergy tablets can only treat one allergy at a time, while allergy drops can treat many of them at the same time.

Allergy Shots

Another form of immunotherapy, allergy shots work the same way as allergy drops, but instead of taking the medication orally at home, you’re required to get weekly injections at the allergist’s office.

    It’s Time to Find Allergy Relief

    By determining what common indoor and outdoor allergens are causing your allergy symptoms, you can reduce your exposure and find treatment options that will provide long-term relief.

    If you know you’re experiencing some of the symptoms above, but aren’t sure what’s causing them, we’re here to help. At Wyndly, our allergy doctors can help you determine your airborne allergens and develop a personalized treatment plan to help you live allergy-free. Take our easy 2-minute online assessment now to see if Wyndly is right for you!

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