When you think of allergies, you might think of pollen in the springtime or a bad reaction to dairy; however, there are equally irritating allergens found in homes across America. Millions of Americans suffer from indoor allergies every year. If you know what to look for, you might find dust mites, pet dander, cockroaches, mold, or other allergens in the home. No one wants to be sneezing and itchy in their own home, which makes it that much more important to identify and address indoor allergens before they can affect your quality of life.
Symptoms for indoor allergies are much like those for outdoor allergies. Some common allergy symptoms include repetitive sneezing, itchy ears, itchy nose, eyes and throat, stuffed nose, and clear, dripping runny nose. These symptoms are typically due to a histamine response. Histamines are chemicals in your body that help you get rid of foreign pathogens or substances that are irritating your body. Histamines want to get these allergens out of your body and off your skin, so they will trigger itching, sneezing, or even watery eyes in an attempt to clear away the allergen.
Once you have had an allergic reaction, you’ll need to identify the allergen. Here are a couple of indoor allergens that may be the cause of your runny nose:
1) Dust Mites
Whether you want it to or not, your home probably already has dust mites. House dust mites measure to about one-quarter of a millimeter on average and they work their way into the grooves and folds of our bedding and other fabrics to consume tiny flakes of human skin that people shed daily. They live in carpeting, upholstery furniture, and especially bedding. House dust mites thrive in areas with low altitude and high humidity which makes the Hampton Roads area and much of the east coast a prime breeding ground for these tiny creatures.
Dust mites are among some of the most common indoor allergens. Dead mites and dust mite waste can both trigger a histamine response and cause you trouble. Although it is impossible to eradicate all dust mites in the home, you can make several environmental changes in order to cut down on the population and reduce mite waste. Since dust mites enjoy a humid climate, dehumidifiers or air conditioning can help. Remove carpeting wherever you can and regularly vacuum rugs and carpets. Since you spend a great amount of time sleeping in your bedroom, it is important to manage levels of dust mites there. Regularly wash your bedding at least once a week in hot water and encase your mattress and box springs in air-tight covers.
2) Pet Allergens
Despite popular belief and pet-seller propaganda, there are no “hypoallergenic” pets. People can be allergic to any furry animal, including cats, dogs, ferrets, sugar gliders, guinea pigs, hamsters, and more. Additionally, people are not allergic to an animal’s hair, but rather allergens found in their saliva, dander (dead skin cells), or urine. It’s very easy to tell whether or not you have a pet allergy, simply by removing the pet from your environment. If your symptoms improve, it indicates that your furry friend might be the cause of your allergies.
When it comes to cutting down on pet allergy symptoms, modifying your environment can certainly help. Consider keeping animals outdoors or at the very least away from your sleeping area and other places where you spend a great deal of time. Ask a non-allergic roommate or family member to keep your pet’s cage or living area clean to cut down on dander or saliva exposure.
Often found in urban areas or military and student housing, cockroaches are another creature that could contribute to your indoor allergies. Cockroaches bother people in two ways. Firstly, a living cockroach leaves an invisible “slime” trail around when it walks to communicate with other cockroaches, when the slime dries it can enter the air. Secondly, dead cockroaches have the same protein of the slime in their bodies, and as they decay, their bodies crumble and become dust which leads to irritated allergies.
These creatures can live in many different environments which makes them hard to remove without the help of trained professionals. The tough part is that killing the cockroaches won’t necessarily affect your allergies as long as they remain in your home after death.
Although certain types of mold can be extremely harmful to you and your health, indoor mold isn’t as common an allergen as you’d think. Especially in areas like Virginia, you’re probably exposed to more mold every time you walk out your front door than in the home. Although less common, it’s still important to be aware of the potential allergen and protect yourself.
Indoor mold typically requires moisture and humidity, so dehumidifiers and air conditioning are helpful. Make sure you have no leaks in your bathrooms, kitchen, roof, windows, doors, and other areas of the house that could be exposed to water. Humid areas like bathrooms and kitchens should have exhaust fans.
Don’t be discouraged if you can’t figure out what is causing your indoor allergies on your own. House dust mite allergies are a little harder to identify than a cat allergy. Allergists offer skin testing with a wide array of common allergens to help narrow down what could be causing your allergy symptoms. Allergy tests also eliminate the danger of misdiagnosis. It’s not uncommon for people and even doctors to misdiagnose your allergy for something else.
There are three main ways to reduce your allergy symptoms once you’ve uncovered the source of your allergies. The first is environmental control. If you know you are allergic to a pet or animal, take steps to reduce your exposure. If you’re allergic to dust mites, consider washing your bedding and vacuuming more often. Consistent environmental adjustment can be extremely helpful when it comes to reducing your allergy symptoms. In some cases, environmental adjustment isn’t possible. Not everyone wants to get rid of a family pet or wash their sheets constantly, which is completely understandable. That’s where medicine comes in. There is a wide variety of allergy and asthma-related medications available that can help manage your allergy symptoms. This can include inhalers, nasal sprays, pills, and more. Medication won’t remove your allergy, but it can offer you some flexibility and relief from your symptoms. The last approach for treating allergy symptoms is allergy shots. Allergy shots are different from medications because, instead of managing your allergy symptoms, allergy shots are designed to teach your immune system to tolerate allergens.
“Don’t think it is inevitable that you’re going to feel miserable in life if you have allergies,” said Allergist, Ann P. Zilliox, MD of TPMG Allergy and Asthma of Oyster Point in Newport News. Even if you simply have a chronic stuffy nose, you don’t have to stay frustrated or uncomfortable if you don’t want to be.
The internet can often be misleading when it comes to information about allergies, so it’s best to remember to stick to reputable sources. Consider visiting the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAI) when you have the urge to consult Dr. Google. Even better, make an appointment to talk to an allergist about your case. Our TPMG allergist will help you uncover what might be causing your symptoms and develop a plan to manage or treat your allergies. No one has to suffer through frustrating indoor allergies alone, make an appointment with TPMG Allergy and Asthma of Oyster Point today and find out how you can get long-term relief.
About Ann P. Zilliox, MD
Dr. Ann Zilliox completed an undergraduate degree in Biology through University of Missouri, Kansas City, Missouri. She earned a medical degree from St. Louis University School of Medicine, St. Louis University Hospitals in 1983. Dr. Zilliox completed a residency in Pediatrics at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital and fellowship in Allergy and Clinical Immunology through St. Louis University Hospitals.