Allergies reflect an overreaction of the immune system to substances that usually cause no reaction in most individuals.  These substances can trigger sneezing, wheezing, coughing, and itching. Allergies are not only bothersome, but many have been linked to a variety of common and serious chronic respiratory illnesses (such as sinusitis and asthma).  Additionally, allergic reaction can be severe and even fatal.  However, with proper management and education, allergic diseases can be controlled, and people with allergies can lead normal and productive lives.
What causes allergies?  The substances that cause allergic disease in people are known as allergens.  Antigens, or protein particles like pollen, food, or dander, enter our bodies through a variety of ways.  If the antigen causes an allergic reaction, that particle is considered an allergen – an antigen that triggers an allergic reaction.  These allergens can get into our body in several ways: 

  • Inhaled into the nose and the lungs.  
  • Examples are airborne pollens of certain trees, grasses, and weeds; house dust, which includes dust mite particles, mold spores, and cat and dog dander; and latex dust.
  • Ingested by mouth
  • Frequent culprits include shrimp, peanuts, and other nuts.

  • For example, medications delivered by needle, like penicillin or other injectable drugs, and venom from insect stings and bites.

    Absorbed through the skin
  • Poison plants, such as poison ivy, sumac, and oak, and latex are examples.
    What makes some pollen cause allergies, and not others? 
  • Plant pollens that are carried by the wind cause most allergies of the nose, eyes, and lungs. These plants (including certain weeds, trees, and grasses) are natural pollinators produced at various times of the year when their small, inconspicuous flowers discharge literally billions of pollen particles.
    Because the particles can be carried significant distances, it is important for you not only to understand local environmental conditions, but also conditions over the broader area of the state or region in which you live.  Unlike the wind-pollinated plants, conspicuous wild flowers or flowers used in most residential gardens are pollinated by bees, wasps, and other insects and, therefore, are not widely capable of producing allergic disease.
    What is the role of heredity in allergy?
  • Like baldness, height and eye color, the capacity to become allergic is an inherited characteristic. Yet, although you may be born with the genetic capability to become allergic, you are not automatically allergic to specific allergens.  Several factors must be present for allergic sensitivity to be developed:

    The specific genes acquired from parents;
  • The exposure to one or more allergens to which you have a genetically programmed response;
  • the degree and length of exposure.
    A baby born with the tendency to become allergic to cow’s milk, for example, may show allergic symptoms several months after birth.  A genetic capability to become allergic to cat dander may take three to four years of cat exposure before the person shows symptoms.  These people may also become allergic to other environmental substances with age.On the other hand, poison ivy allergy (contact dermatitis) is an example of an allergy in which hereditary background does not play a part.  The person with poison ivy allergy first has to be exposed to the oil from the plant.  This usually occurs during youth, when a rash does not always appear.  However, the first exposure may sensitize a person, or cause the person to become allergic.  And when subsequent exposure takes place, a contact dermatitis rash appears, which can be quite sever.  Many plants are capable of producing this type of rash.  Substances other than plants, such as dyes, metals, and chemicals in deodorants and cosmetics, can also cause a similar dermatitis.
    How can I prevent allergy symptoms?
  • The best way to prevent allergy symptoms and minimize your need for allergy medicine is to avoid your allergens as much as possible and to eliminate the source of allergens from your home and other environments.  For important tips on preventing and managing allergy symptoms, talk to your doctor.
Inflammation of the nasal mucous membrane is called rhinitis.  The symptoms include sneezing and runny and/or itchy nose caused by irritation and congestion in the nose.  There are two types: allergic rhinitis and non-allergic rhinitis.
Allergic Rhinitis

 occurs when the body’s immune system over-responds to specific, non-infectious particles, such as plant pollens, molds, dust mites, animal hair, industrial chemicals (including tobacco smoke), foods, medicines, and insect venom.  During an allergic attack, antibodies, primarily immunoglobulin E (IgE), attach to mast cells (cells that release histamine) in the lungs, skin, and mucous membranes.  Once IgE connects with the mast cells, a number of chemicals are released. One of the chemicals, histamine, opens the blood vessels and causes skin redness and swollen mem-branes.  When this occurs in the nose, sneezing and congestion are the result.

Seasonal allergic rhinitis
, or hay fever, occurs in late summer, early fall, or spring. Hypersensitivity to ragweed, not hay, is the primary cause of seasonal allergic rhinitis in 75 percent of all Americans who have this seasonal disorder.  People with sensitivity to tree pollen have symptoms in late March or early April; an allergic reaction to weeds and mold spores occurs in October and November.

Perennial allergic rhinitis
 occurs year-round and can result from sensitivity to pet hair, house dust particles, and mold.  Some studies suggest that air pollution, such as automobile engine emissions, can aggravate allergic rhinitis.  Although bacteria is not the cause of allergic rhinitis, one medical study found a significant number of the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus in the nasal passages of people with year-round allergic rhinitis, concluding that the allergic condition may lead to higher bacterial levels, thereby creating a condition that worsens the allergies.

People who experience recurring bouts of allergic rhinitis should observe their symptoms on a continuous basis.  If facial pain or a greenish-yellow nasal discharge occurs, your doctor can provide appropriate sinusitis treatment.

Non-Allergic Rhinitis 
does not depend on the presence of IgE and is not due to an allergic reaction.  The symptoms can be triggered by cigarette smoke and other pollutants, as well as strong odors, alcoholic beverages, and cold temperatures.  Other causes may include blockages in the nose, a deviated septum, infections, and overuse of medications, such as decongestants.

Recent studies by otolaryngologist – head and neck surgeons have better defined the association between rhinitis and sinusitis.  They have concluded that sinusitis is often preceded by rhinitis and rarely occurs without concurrent rhinitis.  The symptoms, nasal obstruction/discharge and loss of smell, occurs in both disorders.  Most importantly, computed tomography (CT scan) findings have established that the mucosal linings of the nose and sinuses are simultaneously involved in the common cold (previously, thought to affect only the nasal passages).  Otolaryngologists, acknowledging the inter-relationship between the nasal and sinus passages, now refer to sinusitis as rhinosinusitis.

The catalyst relating the tow disorders is thought to involve nasal sinus overflow obstruction, followed by bacterial colonization and infection leading to acute, recurrent, or chronic sinusitis.  Likewise, chronic inflammation due to allergies can lead to obstruction and subsequent sinusitis.

Other medical research has supported the close relationship between allergic rhinitis and sinusitis.  In a retrospective study on sinus abnormalities in 1,120 people (from 2 to 87 years of age), thickening of the sinus mucosa was more commonly found in people with sinusitis during July, August, September, and December, months in which pollen, mold, and viral epidemics are prominent.  A review of people (4 to 83 years of age) who had surgery to treat their chronic sinus conditions revealed that those with seasonal allergies and nasal polyps are more likely to experience a recurrence of their sinusitis.

What is an allergic reaction?

An allergic reaction is your immune systems way of defensively responding to foreign substances in the body. The body produces antibodies to fight off the intruding substance(s) (the allergen(s)), which in turn produces a chemical known as histamine. When the body produces an excess amount of histamine the allergy or asthma symptoms surface. Symptoms of an allergic reaction can include itchy and/or watery eyes, sneezing, wheezing, and coughing.


What is an allergen?

The term allergen refers to any substance that can trigger an allergic response. Common indoor allergens include pollen, mold, animal dander, and house dust mite waste. Common outdoor allergens include weeds, grasses, plant and tree pollens, ragweed and mold.


What are dust allergens?

House dust is a mixture of many substances. Its content varies from home to home. A speck of dust may contain fabric fibers, human skin particles, animal dander, microscopic creatures called dust mites, parts of cockroaches, mold spores, food particles and other debris. Of these, the house dust mite is the most common culprit to cause an allergy and asthma reaction.

What is a dust mite?


Dust mites are microscopic arachnids that you cannot see without using a microscope. They feed on skin flakes and thrive in warm, humid or damp conditions. They can be found in mattresses, pillows, carpets, upholstered furniture, bedcovers, clothes, stuffed toys, and fabric or other fabric-covered items.

How do I know if I have dust mites?

Dust mites are invisible to the naked eye. Even in the cleanest of homes, mites can inhabit mattresses, pillows, blankets, quilts, carpets and fabric-covered furniture. They thrive in warm, humid or damp conditions and live on a diet of skin scales which we shed daily.

What triggers allergies?

Dust… Mold… Pollen… Particles shed by your pets. You’ll find plenty of allergens in your home, but the most important are allergens from the dust mite and its fecal pellets.

Up to 30% of all people have allergic symptoms, with the majority being triggered by the house dust mite. Also, skin tests have shown that up to 80% of asthmatics react to the house dust mite.

What are common allergy symptoms?

The most common symptoms include: Sneezing… Itchy eyes… Itchy palate… Runny, blocked or itchy nose… Night-time cough… Wheezing… These symptoms may occur year-round and can occur inside or outside the home.

The symptoms listed above are common and vary depending on the person and the particular allergen. Keep in mind that each person has his or her own threshold to the amount of allergen they can tolerate before symptoms start to occur. A person can also develop an allergy later in life or stop having an allergy as they age.

What common allergy myths are false?

Dust mite allergies are not caused by the dust mite themselves but to the fecal matter. By just eliminating the dust mite you will not prevent your allergy symptoms from occurring. You must treat the allergen with neutralizing agents or water that is hotter than 130° Fahrenheit.

People who suffer from pet allergies are not allergic to the animals fur as most believe. Their allergic reactions are actually caused from the proteins found in the animal’s dander, urine, and saliva. Reactions to pet allergens can occur immediately or build up and surface up to 12 hours after a person’s initial exposure. Also, allergens from animals can cause asthma and an allergy symptom for several months after the animal has been removed from the home.


How do I know the difference between allergies and the common cold?

Allergies cause you to sneeze repeatedly, cause your eyes and nose to be itchy, and continue on for long periods of time. Colds usually have body aches and cough associated with them and go away in about a week.