Types of Allergies
There are countless types of allergies; each type has its own set of symptoms, which can range from mild to life threatening.
Inhaled allergies fall under two categories: seasonal and perennial. The latter occurs year-round, while seasonal allergies appear during specific times of the year, generally during spring when trees and flowers bloom. In Wisconsin, the spring season can start as early as March when there may still be snow on the ground. During this time, as the weather warms and begins to melt the snow, it creates a perfect breading ground for molds within wet soil and tree bark. Seasonal allergies can also occur in the fall, when ragweed is at its worst. Seasonal allergies are often referred to as hay fever.
There are steps you can take to reduce seasonal allergy symptoms. Avoiding the allergy trigger is first and foremost. Stay indoors when pollen counts are at their peak, especially on dry, windy days. This usually occurs during the early morning and evening hours. Close windows and run the air conditioner.
If you have to go outside, wear sunglasses and consider a dust mask. When driving, keep the windows rolled up and the AC running. Back indoors, change out of the clothing you wore, and shower to rinse away pollen from your skin and hair. Using a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter indoors can help keep the air clean.
Over-the-counter medications can help temporarily relieve seasonal allergy symptoms. Antihistamines and nasal steroidal sprays will help reduce sneezing, itching, watery eyes and runny nose. Popular choices include Claritin, Zyrtec, Allegra, Xyzal and Flonase. Oral decongestants such as Sudafed and nasal decongestant sprays like Afrin help with nasal congestion in the short term. These should be used with caution, especially if you have high blood pressure or a heart condition; they should not be used longer than three days.
Washing the nasal passages with a Neti pot (we recommend Neil Med sinus rinse), using saline made with distilled water, can also prove beneficial. If over- the-counter treatment is ineffective, talk to your doctor about alternative options such as immunotherapy (allergy shots or allergy drops under the tongue) for a longer lasting benefit.
Individuals with mold allergies experience immune system reactions whenever mold spores are inhaled. Symptoms are similar to those that occur with other types of allergies and include a stuffy or runny nose, itchy and/or watery eyes, wheezing, cough and postnasal drip. Some people might develop a rash or hives.
Mold allergies can trigger asthma attacks in those who are susceptible.
Molds are extremely common, both indoors and out. They are a type of fungus that thrives in moist, dark places. Not all molds cause allergic reactions, and not everybody who breathes in mold spores will experience symptoms.
Those whose work exposes them to mold (e.g., farmers, loggers, wine growers), who live in moist or humid environments or who live or work in a building with excess moisture or poor ventilation have a higher risk of developing mold allergies.
Take steps to prevent mold growth when possible. Use a dehumidifier to reduce moisture in the home, and eliminate water sources from moisture-prone areas such as basements. Use an air conditioner with a HEPA filter, and make sure your home is properly ventilated. Be sure to run the ventilation fan when taking a shower or bath. Avoid installing carpet in bathrooms and basements.
Treating mold allergies involves the same medications you would use for dealing with seasonal allergies. Antihistamines, decongestants and nasal sprays can all help relieve symptoms. A prescription drug called Singulair has proven helpful in the treatment of mold allergies.
The symptoms of food allergies can range from mild to life threatening. Mild reactions can be treated with antihistamines, such as Benadryl or Zyrtec. Severe reactions require the use of an epinephrine autoinjector (EpiPen or generic forms).
While any food has the potential to cause an allergic reaction, there are eight foods that account for almost 90 percent of all food allergies:
- Tree nuts.
The symptoms of food allergies can range from mild to life threatening. Mild symptoms include:
- Itchy mouth.
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Stomach pain.
Severe symptoms include:
- Swelling of the lips, tongue and/or throat.
- Shortness of breath.
- Turning blue.
Any one of these severe symptoms or a combination of mild symptoms can be the sign of a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis. In the event of this reaction, epinephrine should be administered and the patient should be taken to the hospital immediately.
Mild reactions can be treated with antihistamines, such as Benadryl or Zyrtec.
While there are drugs available to treat the symptoms of an allergic reaction, the only way to prevent one is through strict avoidance of the problematic foods.
Allergies to dogs and cats are the most common pet allergy, though in our farming communities, people can react to—and we test for–cow, horses and even feathered animals. What you are allergic to is not the animal itself, it is the allergens the animal produces. These allergens are usually found in the animal’s hair, dander, saliva and urine. Some of these allergens can be quite sticky and stubborn, and therefore highly allergy-inducing. For example, cat dander and saliva has been shown to be isolated in peoples’ homes who have never owned a cat—rather, it is carried into such homes by sticking to clothing and shoes that has come into contact with cats outside the home.
Insect Sting Allergies
An allergy to insect stings goes far beyond the pain associated with the stings themselves. Swelling, redness, flushing, hives, itching and the life threatening reaction called anaphylaxis can occur. Anaphylaxis typically includes trouble breathing, vomiting, low blood pressure, fainting and cardiac arrest. An immediate injection of epinephrine (adrenaline) is the only treatment for this reaction.
Honeybees, hornets, wasps, yellow jackets and fire ants are the five known insects to cause an allergic reaction. Anyone who has experienced a reaction to a sting in the past is at risk of experiencing a worse reaction in the future.
Drug allergies are hard to predict. Often, individuals will be fine with a medication and then have a reaction the next time they take it.
Penicillin and antibiotics containing sulfa drugs are the most likely to cause an allergic reaction. The symptoms of a drug reaction can range from a mild skin reaction and itching to more severe wheezing, vomiting or anaphylaxis.
Think you’re penicillin allergic but not sure? Our clinic can help you find out, which could assist your doctors in treating your infections more wisely and prevent the potential of antibiotic resistance in the future.
Call DeFatta ENT & Allergy at (715) 828-2368 for more information or to schedule an appointment.