What Are Environmental Allergies

What are environmental allergies?

Environmental allergies are common allergic reactions to inhaled or ingested substances. They may occur at any time of the year, but most commonly affect children during their winter months. These allergens include pollen, dust mites, mold spores and other airborne irritants. Allergic reactions can range from mild (such as sneezing) to life threatening (asthma). Symptoms vary widely depending on which allergen is involved. Common symptoms include runny nose, itchy eyes, wheezing and coughing.

Symptoms of seasonal allergies

Allergy symptoms usually begin within minutes of exposure to the offending substance. Most often these involve sneezing, coughs and watery eyes. Other possible signs may include hives or swelling around the mouth or throat.

Some individuals experience difficulty breathing; others develop chest pain or shortness of breath.

The severity of allergy symptoms depends upon several factors including the amount of allergen present, how long the person has been exposed to it and whether they have asthma. Children with seasonal allergies may suffer from:

runny nose, congestion and itchy eyes when exposed to pollen.

wheezing and coughing after being exposed to dust mite allergens.

shortness of breath after inhalation of mold spores.

Allergic reactions can be immediate or they may develop over time. Most reactions occur within two hours of exposure, although some may take days to develop.

Children with asthma are most susceptible to serious allergic reactions. They may exhibit a combination of the symptoms listed above along with chest pain, shortness of breath, wheezing or coughing. Allergic asthma is more common among children during springtime.

Children who are allergic to one substance are likely to be allergic to others as well. For instance, if a child has tree pollen allergy symptoms such as itchy eyes and a runny nose, he or she is also likely to have similar reactions to grasses or weed pollen.

Treatment of seasonal allergies

The best way to treat allergic reactions is to avoid exposure to the allergen. People with seasonal allergies may take medications that block the effects of allergic mediators on the blood vessels. These drugs, known as antihistamines, are available in a prescription or non-prescription form.

They may also take over-the-counter (OTC) anti-inflammatory drugs to alleviate nasal congestion and a decongestant to alleviate runny nose and itchy eyes.

People who are sensitive to molds may benefit from OTC or prescription-strength anti-fungal drugs. In addition, they may try to reduce indoor moisture levels by using a humidifier and keeping indoor humidity at 45 percent or below.

Preventing allergic reactions in the home may involve simple actions such as closing windows and turning off heating or air conditioning units when pollen counts are high. Washing bed sheets, blankets and pillows frequently also reduces dust mite exposure.

Other steps that can help reduce moisture and mold growth include:

Keeping crawl spaces and basements dry.

Installing drain tile to prevent groundwater from entering the home.

Removing moisture from the basement or other areas of the house with a high moisture content.

Installing ventilation fans if cooking or washing machine are located in the basement.

Vacuuming and wet mopping all floors, especially carpets, once a week.

Repairing leaky roofs and fixtures.

Keeping grass and weeds around the house cut short.

Seeking medical treatment for asthma

People with asthma can develop allergic asthma from exposure to allergens such as mold or dust mites. These people will need a daily maintenance medication and quick-relief medication to take during times of high allergen exposure. In addition to taking asthma medications, these people may need to limit their exposure by:

Taking indoor measures such as air cleaning with an electronic air cleaner or humidifier.

Taking outdoor measures such as keeping lawns cut short and removing undesirable trees and plants.

Adopting a low-dust lifestyle. This means not doing dusting or sweeping and using synthetic fabrics instead of cotton fabrics.

People with severe allergic asthma may need to take long-term medication even when exposure to the allergen is low or non-existent. These medicines are known as maintenance drugs and can help reduce the frequency and severity of asthma attacks. In addition to taking long-term medication, these people may need to use quick-relief medication more than twice a week or have severe asthma symptoms that don’t respond to OTC or prescription drugs.

Sources & references used in this article:

Vitamin D levels and food and environmental allergies in the United States: results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2005-2006 by S Sharief, S Jariwala, J Kumar, P Muntner… – Journal of Allergy and …, 2011 – Elsevier

Food and environmental allergies by MM Huffman – Primary Care: Clinics in Office Practice, 2015 – primarycare.theclinics.com

Environmental allergies and respiratory morbidities in cystic fibrosis by JM Collaco, CB Morrow, DM Green… – Pediatric …, 2013 – Wiley Online Library