Houston ENT and Allergy Blog

Environmental Allergies: Symptoms, Causes, Testing, and Treatment 

By:
Hassan A Ahmad, MD
November 23, 2020

 

Environmental allergies involve an overreaction of your immune system to things existing in your everyday work, home, and outdoor surroundings. Here you'll learn more about what they are, what causes them, and your different treatment options.

What Are Environmental Allergies?

Environmental allergies trigger a response from your immune system to something in your surroundings that's not usually harmful. Environmental allergy symptoms can vary from individual to individual.

They're a bit different than your typical food allergies since they're not a reaction to a food you ingested. In essence, they're a response to a trigger you come across in your surroundings or they can also be a trigger to something you inhale during your daily activities.

There are five primary types of environmental allergies. These are:

  • Molds
  • Trees
  • Dust mites
  • Weeds
  • Grasses

These five environmental allergy types account for around 1.5 million days of school missed each year and around 28 million lost productivity days for adults.

Worldwide, there's been a 100% rise in the prevalence of allergic rhinitis or "hay fever" in each of the last 30 years in developed countries.

 

What Are the Common Symptoms of Environmental Allergies?

Environmental allergy symptoms can be similar to having a cold, but the same thing doesn't cause them. A cold is caused by a virus, whereas allergies are a reaction caused by a response from your immune system to a specific substance in your surroundings.

Some environmental allergy symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Sneezing
  • Itching
  • Runny nose
  • Fatigue
  • Wheezing
  • Headaches

If you're suffering from asthma, you could experience severe symptoms or even life-threatening symptoms. With seasonal allergies, the symptoms you experience may become worse during certain times of the year.


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What Are the Causes of Environmental Allergies? 

Allergies begin when your immune system accidently mistakes a substance that is normally harmless for a dangerous invader. Then your immune system begins producing antibodies that stay on alert for this certain allergen. When you become exposed to this allergen again, the antibodies release numerous immune system chemicals like histamine which triggers symptoms.

Some common triggers or causes of environmental allergies are:

  1. Certain foods, especially tree nuts, peanuts, soy, wheat, shellfish, fish, milk, and eggs.
  2. Airborne allergens like animal dander, pollen, mold, and dust mites.
  3. Certain medications, especially penicillin-based antibiotics or penicillin.
  4. Insect stings, like from a wasp or bee.
  5. Latex or another substance you touch that causes allergic skin reactions.

 

Environmental Allergy Risk factors 

You may be more likely of developing an allergy if you:

  • Are a child
  • Have a family history of allergies or asthma like hives, hay fever, or eczema
  • Have asthma or another type of allergic disorder

 

What Are the Tests for Environmental Allergies? 

Environmental allergies testing may include:

  1. Skin Testing: This is also referred to as a scratch test where your skin is exposed to tiny amounts of allergens (allergy-causing substances) and the test picks up environmental allergy triggers like pets, pollen, mold and dust mites.
  2. Blood Testing: Your blood is tested to measure how many immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies it has that are specific to specific allergens. While blood testing isn't as precise as skin testing, the doctor might use it in combination with skin testing in order to diagnose and treat your allergy.

 

What Are the Treatment Options for Environmental Allergies? 

 Allergies affect your quality of life and when you treat the underlying allergy, it helps to:

  • Improve your symptoms
  • Reduce your need for medication to control your symptoms
  • Reduce your chances of developing new sensitivities

Treatment options for environmental allergies are:

  1. Allergy shots with an allergist. You'll have to see your allergist a minimum of once a week for three to six months to get a shot. Each week, your physician will increase the allergen content in the shot until you've reached a maintenance dose. They may suggest you take an antihistamine prior to getting each treatment.
  2. Medications. Depending on your allergy, medicine could help ease symptoms and decrease your immune system reaction. Your physician may recommend OTC or prescription medicine in the form of liquid, pills, eyedrops, or nasal sprays.  Many people with mild to severe environmental allergies prefer using allergy drops instead of taking OTC medicines or avoiding their allergies as a temporary fix.
  3. Allergen avoidance. Your physician will work with you to identify allergy triggers and show you how to avoid them. This is typically the most essential step to reduce symptoms and prevent allergic reactions.
  4. Emergency epinephrine. If you suffer from a severe allergy, you may have to carry around an emergency epinephrine shot with you all the time. This shot is meant for severe allergic reactions that are life-threatening. It can help decrease symptoms until you can obtain emergency treatment. 
  5. Immunotherapy. For allergies not totally relieved by another treatment or for severe allergies, your physician may suggest allergen immunotherapy.  With this treatment, you're provided with a series of purified allergen extract injections, typically given over a several year period. There is also a tablet (sublingual) you place under your tongue until it dissolves. Sublingual immunotherapy drugs are used for treating certain pollen allergies. Immunotherapy, whether allergy drops or allergy shots, is the only allergy treatment that will modify the allergic disease.

 

Why You Need to See an Allergist 

If you feel as if you're becoming sick a lot with head congestion or a cough, you should go see an allergist. Frequently, allergy or asthma symptoms develop slowly over a period of time.

Allergy sufferers might deal with symptoms like nasal congestion, sneezing, wheezing or nasal congestion often. An allergist can help you prevent or at least control these symptoms which will improve the quality of your life.

Controlling your allergies effectively requires skill, patience and planning. An allergist has specialized training that allows them to come up with an effective treatment plan specific to your individual condition. This treatment plan is designed to help you live a normal and symptom-free life as much as possible.

You should make an appointment with an allergist if:

  1. You're experiencing allergies that cause symptoms like nasal congestion, chronic sinus infections or trouble breathing.
  2. Over-the-counter medicines and antihistamines don't control your symptoms or they create unwanted side effects like drowsiness.
  3. You experience allergy symptoms like hay fever a few months out of the year.
  4. Your allergies or asthma interfere with your ability to perform daily activities.
  5. Your allergies or asthma reduce your quality of life.
  6. You have difficulty catching your breath from time to time.
  7. You're often feeling chest tightness or are out of breath frequently.
  8. You often cough or wheeze, particularly after exercise or at night.

 

Home Prevention Tips or Remedies

Preventing allergy exposure can be a highly effective way to manage your symptoms and create an allergy-free house. You might also be able to use home remedies to reduce or manage your symptoms.

Some home remedies might include:

  1. Use an air filter. You can improve your indoor air quality by using air filters because they trap pollutants and allergens before they get into your home. Choose an air purifier with a HEPA filter. HEPA filters, when used properly, capture more allergens than other types of air filters.
  2. Close your windows. This can help decrease how many environmental allergens enter your home, particularly on high pollen count days. You should make it a point to open your bathroom windows especially if you have them. Or turn on the vent in your bathroom. Doing this can help eliminate moisture build up and prevent the growth of mold. 
  3. Allergy-proof your bed. Use allergen-proof mattress covers and pillowcases which help prevent dust mite exposure. Diligently clean your sheets weekly and vacuum to decrease allergen exposure as well. Wash bedding in hot water which helps remove allergens. While you're washing your bedding, vacuum your mattress which could also decrease dust mites and pet dander.
  4. Keep your pets out of your bedroom. Since you spend a lot of your time sleeping in your bedroom, it can help decrease your symptoms to keep your pets out of your bedroom since it means less allergens. 
  5. Regularly bathe your pets to decrease the amount of dander. If they go outdoors, bathe them regularly to help decrease the risk of them tracking pollen and other allergens indoors.

 

Contact Houston ENT & Allergy for a Consultation

If you're suffering from allergy symptoms and would like to be tested and/or receive treatment, contact our office today. We have allergy treatments, such as allergy shots from our allergist, that can reduce your symptoms, improve your quality of life, and maybe even put you into long-term remission. Contact us today to set up your consultation appointment.

Request an appointment with Houston ENT today!

 

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