Employee & Community Health

Give me five: Facts and tips about allergies

6/29/2017 by Joy Fladager Muth, APRN, CNP

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The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology estimates that roughly 50 million Americans suffer with allergies. With summer underway, here are some simple facts and tips that may help bring relief. 

Five facts about allergic rhinitis

  1. Allergic rhinitis is a common condition that causes symptoms such as sneezing; stuffy, runny or itchy nose; watery or itchy eyes; or itching on the roof of the mouth. 
  2. It can be seasonal or active throughout the year (perennial).
  3. Seasonal symptoms occur in spring, summer and/or early fall. They usually are caused by sensitivity to pollens from trees, grasses, weeds and/or mold spores. 
  4. Perennial symptoms occur year-round. They typically are brought on by sensitivity to house dust mites, animal dander, cockroaches and/or mold spores. 
  5. Treatment options include: Eliminating or reducing your exposure to the things that trigger your symptoms, medication and/or immunotherapy (allergy shots). 

Five indicators of poorly controlled allergies

  1. The allergic "salute": Frequent swiping at the tip of an itchy or runny nose. This often leads to a crease over the bridge of your nose. 
  2. "Raccoon" eyes: Dark circles under the eyes typically are caused by frequently rubbing itchy eyes. 
  3. Chronic stuffy nose: The tissues inside your nose swell and make extra mucous that sometimes can lead to open-mouth breathing or snoring. 
  4. Wheezing: Occurs when you have to breathe through narrowed airways. It's often associated with asthma, but also can be a sign of severe, uncontrolled allergies. 
  5. Fatigue/insomnia: Allergies can take their toll and really decrease energy levels. Itchy skin and eyes, a stuffy head, post-nasal drip, cough or wheezing, and other allergy symptoms can make it tough to sleep. 

Five hiding spots for allergens in your home

  1. Your pillow: One of the most common indoor allergens is dust mites. They're microscopic, so you don't see them in your pillows, bedding and mattress. You can reduce the presence of mites by washing your bedding and pillows every week in hot water (at least 130° F.) and tumble dry on hot. You also can cover your pillow and mattress with anti-allergen covers. 
  2. Your window fan: Window fans bring in air from outside, which can include allergens such as pollen, ragweed and even molds that float in the air. Try to keep windows closed and the air conditioner on during pollen season. 
  3. Your stuffed animals: Those microscopic dust mites in your pillow also can be found in stuffed animals and may cause symptoms that are just as bad as real animals. If you're sentimental about your teddy bear (or have children who are), you don't have to toss it. Just make sure to wash it once a week in hot water (at least 130° F.) along with your pillow and bedding. 
  4. Your plants: Mold likes to live in damp places and can be found inside, even in the soil of potted plants. Outdoor molds tend to be dormant during the winter months, but the spores from indoor molds can travel through the air in any season and cause symptoms year-round. Unfortunately, the only way to ward off mold spores is by getting rid of the moisture. There are plants that thrive in drier soil and may be better options for your home. 
  5. Your vacuum: An inexpensive vacuum may keep your floors clean, but if it lacks a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter, it may be worth investing in a new one. Vacuuming kicks up dust particles that have been accumulating in your carpet, curtains or couches. A HEPA filter prevents allergens from re-entering the air. 

Five ways to create an allergy-free home

  1. Keep tables, counters and side tables free of dust. Make sure to wipe away dust that accumulates on ceiling fans, vents, baseboards, door jambs, blinds and air duct vents. 
  2. Keep humidity in your home low by minimizing damp areas, such as your bathroom and basement. Mold sports like to live in damp places. Plugging in a dehumidifier has been known to dry out damp basements and get mold under control. 
  3. Regularly vacuum curtains, carpets and fabrics on couches and chairs. Pollens and dust mites can attach to them, but regular vacuuming, washing and steam or dry-cleaning can remove allergens from these surfaces. 
  4. Vacuum carpets, rugs and floors weekly. Invest in a vacuum with a HEPA filter to most-effectively suck up plant pollen, dust mites and pet dander from your floors. 
  5. Don't bring allergens into your home. Remove your outdoor shoes and store them outside before coming into your home. Keep windows and doors closed on days when the pollen count is high. If you have pets, leave a damp towel at the door to wipe over their coat and feet before they enter your home. 

Many over-the-counter medications can help control your allergy symptoms. If you've tried them and made efforts to minimize allergy exposure in your home, but still struggle with symptoms, consider making an appointment with your primary care provider to learn more about improving allergy symptom control. Don't let allergies get in the way of a fun and enjoyable summer!

Joy Fladager Muth, APRN, CNP, is a primary care pediatric nurse practitioners with Employee and Community Health's (ECH) Division of Community Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine (CPAM). She serves as team lead for the ECH Asthma Management Program (AMP) and is one of four pediatric providers who are Integrated Community Specialists (ICS). In her ICS role, Joy provides expert asthma care and consulting services for ECH pediatric patients with asthma, in collaboration with Mayo's Pediatric Pulmonology and Pediatric Allergy specialty providers.