Allergies are the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, more than 50 million Americans suffer from allergies each year and spend more than $18 billion on treatment.
You suffer from an allergy when your immune system reacts to a substance that doesn’t cause a reaction in most people.
The job of the immune system is to find foreign substances, such as viruses and bacteria, and get rid of them. In people with allergies, the immune system mistakenly identifies a harmless element like pollen or peanuts as a dangerous intruder and begins to produce chemicals to fight against it. This in turn causes the symptoms of an allergic reaction.
Many things can trigger an allergic reaction, which can range from mild and annoying to sudden and life-threatening.
Here are the 10 most common allergy triggers.
Exposure to pollen, a fine powder produced by trees, grasses and weeds, can trigger an allergic reaction in the body. In fact, pollen is one of the most common causes of allergies in the U.S.
The tiny particles are released from trees, weeds and grasses to fertilize parts of other plants. But as the pollen hitch rides on currents of air, sometimes they enter your nasal passage or throat, triggering a type of seasonal allergic reaction.
This type of allergy is known as hay fever or rose fever (depending on the season in which the symptoms occur).
Hay fever symptoms include sneezing, a runny nose, a scratchy throat, coughing, nasal congestion and itchy, watery eyes.
You can minimize the discomfort of hay or rose fever by staying indoors as much as possible on hot, windy days when pollen counts are high. Also, keep your doors and windows closed and use an air conditioner to lower indoor humidity and reduce the amount of airborne pollen that finds its way indoors.
2. Animal Dander
Many families around the world have pets. In the U.S. alone, the American Pet Products Association estimates that 65 percent of households have a pet.
Owning a pet has many benefits, but it can be a common allergy trigger for you or your family members.
The proteins present in a pet’s dander (skin flakes), saliva and urine can cause an allergic reaction. It can also aggravate asthma symptoms in some people. Moreover, pet hair or fur can collect pollen, mold spores and other outdoor allergens, thus bringing those common triggers into your home.
Some symptoms of a pet dander allergy are sneezing, a runny nose, itchy or watery eyes, nasal congestion, an itchy nose, coughing, facial pressure and pain due to inflammation of the sinuses, difficulty breathing and chest tightness or pain.
For those with this allergy, it’s important to take steps to reduce the amount of pet dander in the home. You can do this by regularly bathing your pet, vacuuming the floor and furniture, changing and washing your bedding, and keeping your pet off of furniture and out of your bedroom.
Mold is a class of fungus that grows in damp places. It can grow almost anywhere that is warm, damp and humid environments like basements or bathrooms as well as in grass or mulch.
This fungus reproduces via spores and these spores can be present in the air, too. When the spores make their way into your nasal cavity, they trigger an allergic reaction. Some symptoms of a mold allergy are sneezing, itching, a runny nose, eye irritation, a cough, congestion, post-nasal drip and asthma attack.
Those living in a house with poor ventilation and high humidity are more likely to have problems with mold. To help prevent the growth of mold:
- Ventilate damp areas to reduce the moisture level. For example, use an exhaust fan in the bathroom while showering.
- Regularly clean damp areas in the bathroom, kitchen and around the house to prevent mold spores from developing.
- Use a dehumidifier in areas that feel humid or smell musty. Always clean the dehumidifier’s filters and coils regularly.
- Eliminate sources of excess moisture like leaky pipes or roof shingles.
- Keep drainage areas around your home clear.
- Get rid of moldy leaves or damp firewood in the yard.
4. House Dust Mites
House dust mites are microscopic organisms that live in house dust. They feed on the dead skin cells that people shed regularly. Dust mites can survive in all climates and at most altitudes.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, about 20 million people in the U.S. are allergic to dust mites.
A dust mite allergy can cause a wide range of signs and symptoms, including a runny or itchy nose, post-nasal drip, itchy skin, congestion, sinus pressure, watery eyes, a scratchy throat, coughing, swollen eyes, trouble sleeping, chest pain or tightness, difficulty breathing and shortness of breath.
To prevent allergic reactions to dust mites:
- Use allergen-proof bed covers on the mattress, box spring and pillows to prevent the allergens from getting into the beds.
- Wash all your beddings (sheets, pillowcases, blankets and bed covers) in hot water at least once a week. Dry them in a hot dryer or in natural sunlight during the summer months.
- Keep your house as free as possible of items that collect dust, such as stuffed animals, curtains and carpets.
- Vacuum your home on a regular basis.
The creepy and crawling cockroaches that many people cannot even bear the sight of are another common trigger of allergic reactions.
A kind of protein in their droppings, saliva and appendages is the troublesome allergen. If there are cockroaches in your home or workplace, you can inhale the protein.
Common symptoms of this type of allergy include coughing, nasal congestion, a skin rash, wheezing and an ear or sinus infection. Cockroaches can also trigger asthma attacks as well as coughing and wheezing in babies and small children.
These creepy insects are notoriously hardy and difficult to get rid of. However, you can prevent an infestation by:
- Not leaving human or pet food sitting out for them to feed on.
- Covering trashcans, washing your dishes and cleaning up food crumbs promptly.
- Sealing cracks in your walls and floors.
- Fixing or cleaning up sources of excess moisture.
- Reducing humidity in your home, as it promotes the growth of cockroaches and other pests.
- Using roach traps or gels to get rid of cockroaches.
You suffer from a food allergy if your immune system reacts abnormally to something you eat or drink. According to the Food Allergy Research and Education organization, some 15 million Americans have food allergies.
When it comes to food allergies, there are some common foods that are known to be the main culprits. These include cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, fish, shellfish, tree nuts (such as cashews or walnuts), wheat and soy.
A food allergy can cause mild or severe symptoms. Mild symptoms may include sneezing, a stuffy or runny nose, watery eyes, swelling, a rash, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. On the other hand, severe symptoms are difficulty breathing, wheezing, hives and dizziness.
To prevent allergic reactions, avoid problematic foods even in small amounts. Also, when purchasing food at a supermarket or ordering food in a restaurant, check the ingredients thoroughly.
7. Insect Stings
Being stung by a bee or wasp is very painful, but the problem becomes severe if you’re allergic to the insect’s venom. Insect-related allergic reactions typically involve yellow jackets, honeybees, paper wasps, hornets and fire ants.
Some symptoms of an insect sting allergy include extensive swelling and redness that may last a week or more, nausea, fatigue and a low-grade fever. In cases of a serious reaction, a person can have additional symptoms like difficulty breathing; hives or rashes; swelling of the face, throat or mouth; a rapid pulse; dizziness; or a sharp drop in blood pressure requiring urgent medical attention.
To prevent a reaction to an insect sting, take measures to avoid getting bitten or stung by the insects. You can also consult your doctor about allergy shots (immunotherapy).
Latex in gloves, condoms and certain medical devices can trigger an allergic reaction.
You suffer from a latex allergy if your immune system identifies latex as a harmful substance and releases certain antibodies to fight the allergen. You can suffer an allergic reaction simply by touching products containing latex, such as gloves, condoms and balloons.
Also, inhaling latex particles, especially from gloves, can cause a reaction.
Some symptoms of a latex allergy include itching, skin redness, hives or rashes, sneezing, a runny nose, watery eyes, a scratchy throat, difficulty breathing, wheezing and coughing. Symptoms may appear within minutes after exposure to latex-containing products.
Those who are allergic to latex should limit or avoid exposure to latex products. Also, the problem can be prevented during dental, medical or surgical procedures by informing your health care providers about your latex allergy before any test or treatment.
Fragrances in products like perfumes, scented candles, laundry detergent and cosmetics can trigger a reaction in some people.
Smells and fragrances in such products are usually synthetic chemicals that do not stimulate antibody production by the immune system. Hence, they are not allergens, but irritants that can cause allergy-like symptoms.
A reaction to a fragrance can cause a range of symptoms, such as sneezing, a runny nose, watery eyes, headaches, inability to concentrate, dizziness, breathing difficulties, wheezing, itchy skin, hives and other rashes. For most people, symptoms ease once the scent is out of range.
The best defense is to stay away from the sources of this problem. Know your possible triggers and avoid them. Whenever you need to test a new scent, be extra careful.
Some people may even develop an allergic reaction to a medication. This happens when your immune system, which fights infection and disease, reacts to the drug.
A reaction to a medication can cause mild to life-threatening symptoms, such as hives or rashes, itchy eyes, congestion and swelling in the mouth and throat.
Certain drugs tend to cause more allergic reactions than others. These drugs include antibiotics (penicillin), aspirin, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs like ibuprofen), anticonvulsants (lamotrigine) and chemotherapy drugs.
If you’ve had a reaction to a medication in the past, it’s best to inform your doctor and avoid the drug altogether. However, if exposed, ask your doctor about treatment with antihistamines or steroids.