Allergy and asthma triggers can turn your backyard from a summer oasis into a place of misery if you don’t take precautions, experts say. More than 50 million Americans have allergies and asthma, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Here, the college identifies potential causes of allergy and asthma that could lurk in your backyard:
Insect stings can cause a life-threatening allergic reaction. People who know they have an insect allergy should always carry their prescribed epinephrine. To avoid insect sting, always wear shoes in the yard; keep food covered; don’t sip from open soft drinks; steer clear of sweet-smelling perfumes, deodorants and hairspray; and don’t wear brightly colored clothes.
Grass and tree pollens aren’t the only outdoor allergens that can trigger allergy and asthma symptoms. They can also be caused by outdoor molds that grow on rotting logs, in compost piles and on grasses and grains. Summer heat can promote mold growth. If over-the-counter remedies don’t relieve symptoms, you may need to get allergy shots, the allergists said.
Some people are allergic to certain sunscreens. If you notice a rash or itchy skin after applying sunscreen, you might be allergic to the chemicals in the product. Choose natural sunscreens that don’t have the chemicals benzophenone, octocrylene and PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid), which can irritate skin.
About 4 percent of Americans have a food allergy, and they need to be careful at backyard barbecues. They may be unknowingly exposed to food allergens in salads and sauces. Another potential threat is cross-contamination, which occurs when the same utensils are used for grilling and serving side dishes, and when condiments are shared. People with food allergies should bring an allergy-free dish for themselves, use condiment packets and carry two doses of prescribed epinephrine.
Smoke from barbecues and open fires can trigger an asthma attack. Sit upwind of the smoke and avoid getting too close.
The bite of the lone star tick, which is found in southern and central regions of the United States, can cause an allergic reaction after you eat red meat. If you notice hives, nausea, asthma and other allergy symptoms three to six hours after eating red meat, you may have what is called a meat-induced alpha-gal allergic reaction. If the symptoms are serious, seek emergency medical care. Follow up with proper allergy testing and a treatment plan.
Common Allergy Triggers
Your Overactive Immune System
Many things can trigger an allergic reaction. It happens when your body’s defenses attack something that’s usually harmless, such as pollen, animal dander, or food. The reaction can range from mild and annoying to sudden and life-threatening. About 1 in 5 Americans have allergies.
It comes from plants such as grasses, trees, and weeds and can trigger hay fever or seasonal allergies. You might sneeze and have a runny or stuffy nose and itchy, watery eyes. Treat these with over-the-counter products, prescription drugs, and allergy shots. To prevent symptoms, stay inside on windy days when pollen counts are high, close windows, and run the air conditioning.
You love your pet, but if you’re allergic, you react to proteins in his saliva or in his skin’s oil glands. It might take 2 years for that to start. Luckily, you may still be able to live with him. Make your bedroom a pet-free zone, opt for bare floors and washable rugs instead of carpets, and bathe him regularly. A HEPA filter and allergy shots may help, too.
These tiny bugs live in bedding, mattresses, upholstery, carpets, and curtains. They feed on dead skin cells from people and pets, as well as on pollen, bacteria, and fungi. They thrive in high humidity. To cut down on problems, use hypoallergenic pillows, cover mattresses, pillows, and box springs, and wash sheets weekly in hot water. Keep the house free of dust-collecting items such as stuffed animals, curtains, and carpet.
These could cause swelling and redness that may last a week or more. You might feel sick to your stomach and tired and have a low fever. In rare cases, insect bites trigger a reaction that can be life-threatening, called anaphylaxis. If you’re severely allergic, you’ll need medicine called epinephrine right away. Your doctor may recommend allergy shots to prevent reactions.
It needs moisture to grow. You can find it in damp places such as basements or bathrooms, as well as in grass or mulch. Since breathing in mold spores can set off an allergic reaction, avoid activities that could trigger symptoms, such as raking leaves. Get air moving in moist areas of your home.
Milk, shellfish, eggs, and nuts are among the most common foods that cause allergies. Others include wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish. Within minutes of eating something you’re allergic to, you could have trouble breathing and get hives, vomiting, diarrhea, and swelling around your mouth. If your reaction is severe, you may need a shot of epinephrine and emergency medical care (call 911).
Found in some disposable gloves, condoms, and medical devices, latex can trigger a reaction ranging from itchy, red skin to anaphylaxis with trouble breathing. Symptoms can include a rash or hives, eye irritation, runny or itchy nose, sneezing, and wheezing. If you’re allergic, wear a medical alert bracelet and carry an epinephrine kit.
Penicillin, aspirin, and other drugs can cause hives, itchy eyes, stuffiness, and swelling in your face, mouth, and throat. If you’re allergic to a drug, it’s best to not take it. Your doctor can talk to you about other medicine options or treatments that may allow you to take a medicine if it’s necessary.
A protein in their droppings can be a trigger. Roaches can be tough to get rid of, especially in a warm climate or if you live in an apartment building where they can move back and forth between neighbors. Treat them with bug killer, and keep a clean kitchen. Repair cracks and holes in floors, walls, and windows to keep them out of your home.
As if you needed one, here’s another reason to hate cockroaches: They can cause allergic reactions like sneezing, coughing, and itchy eyes, nose, mouth, and throat. The proteins in cockroach droppings, saliva, and appendages are allergens for some people. And the more cockroaches an area has, the more likely people are to react allergically to them. Some researchers blame cockroaches for increases in asthma rates over the last 30 years.
Cockroaches are hardy, adaptable creatures that thrive in areas where food and water supplies are plentiful. They may be found around dripping faucets and kitchen areas. They do stray, however, to other areas and can commonly be found in children’s bedrooms where food is often eaten. The major cockroach allergens are found in their digestive enzymes, saliva, and body parts. As is the case with dust-mite allergens, these microscopic particles become airborne when disturbed by motion in the room.
Cockroaches are among the oldest of all living species (about 350 million years old). The three species of cockroaches that are commonly found in the United States are Blatella germania (German), Periploneta americana (American), and Blatella orientalis (Oriental). (The genus name for the American cockroach, periploneta, is derived from the Greek word, planetes, which means wanderer.)
Down, Kitty! Animal Dander
Do you notice sneezing, coughing, red, watery eyes, or skin rashes every time a furry pet is near? You may be surprised to find that even a furless mammal can cause the same problems! If that’s true, chances are you’re one of the many people who suffers from a pet dander allergy.
Pet dander is a protein mix secreted in an animal’s skin and saliva, so even a hairless cat or a shaven dog could set off allergies. Reduce your allergies by avoiding pet hair and dander. Try vacuuming more often. Investing in a home air filtration system may also be helpful.
Is Latex Making You Itchy?
Latex is everywhere. It can be found in medical gloves, condoms, adhesive bandages and even medical devices like catheters and anesthesia equipment. Allergic reactions to latex can be serious, even fatal, although this is rare. Other symptoms include itching, stuffy nose, hives, wheezing, and difficulty breathing. The more you’ve been exposed to latex, the more likely you are to develop latex allergies.
Nickel and Gold Breakouts
If earrings make your earlobes itch or your necklace leaves a rash around your neck, you may be allergic to gold or nickel. You may notice redness, rash, dry patches, or swelling. Untreated, these allergies can make the skin dark, leathery, and cracked. Some people with extreme nickel reactions should even avoid nickel-filled foods, such as fish and chocolate.
Trouble Breathing? Could Be Red Food Coloring
If you notice hives, itchy skin, wheezing, vomiting, or diarrhea after eating red, orange, pink, or purple dyed foods, you may have a rare allergy to red food coloring. The cause of the reaction is the pregnant cochineal bug, which lives on prickly pear cactuses from Arizona to South America, and specifically, their carmine pigment. Although rare, allergies to red dye can be extremely serious.
From “Ouch” to “Oh No!” Insect Bites and Stings
If an insect bite or sting develops into swelling, nausea, itching, hives, fatigue, or a low-grade fever, you may be having a mild allergic reaction. Some insect allergies are more serious and can include the severe allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis, which produces symptoms like swelling of the face, mouth, tongue, throat, and other serious symptoms such as difficulty breathing and low blood pressure.
Allergy Risks in the Medicine Cabinet
Many people have allergic reactions to medications that range from mild to life-threatening. Although some mild reactions may be treated with antihistamines or steroids, most doctors will suggest that you stop taking the medication. Your doctor may find a substitute medication that you are not allergic to. If you’ve had severe medication allergic reactions, consider carrying an EpiPen and have a medical bracelet or some way to notify medical caregivers of your severe allergy.
That Color Is Not Right for You: Cosmetic Allergies
Have you ever experienced burning, stinging, itchy skin or hives after wearing makeup? You may be among the one in four people who have reported a skin reaction from beauty products. These reactions aren’t limited to makeup, either: allergic reactions to cologne, perfume, or shampoo can have similar results.
Foods That Can Kill
Have you ever felt your throat tighten or your tongue swell after eating something? What about dizziness, shortness of breath, or hives? You may have had an allergic reaction to a food. Food allergy affects about 4 percent of adults and slightly more children. Symptoms of food allergies can also include coughing, vomiting, pale or blue skin coloring, shock, and the potentially life-threatening condition known as anaphylaxis. Some common food allergens include eggs, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat, and soy.
Achoo: Dust Mites
Dust mites are common allergens in most of the U.S. These microscopic mites live in pillows, mattresses, and bedroom carpets and feed on dead skin. Throwing out objects like stuffed animals and complex items that are hard to clean helps reduce dust mite allergies. The environment should be washable and easily wiped down. Washing sheets in hot water and placing pillows and mattresses/box springs in dust mite encasements will also help keep dust mite allergies at bay.
If you often find yourself with a runny nose, sneezes, wheezing, itchy throat, and irritated eyes, you may have developed an allergy to mold. Because molds need a lot of moisture to survive and grow, most live in damp or wet areas. Bathrooms and basements are prime areas for molds inside the home, while grass and mulch outside provide good growth conditions. Good ventilation in bathrooms and basements helps dry areas and suppresses mold growth. Cutting grass, raking leaves, and spreading mulch may trigger mold allergy symptoms.
Balsam of Peru
Aside from skin allergies, most allergens come from either foods, medications, or the environment. Balsam of Peru can be all three. It can be found in fragrances (deodorant, baby powder, sunscreen, suntan lotion, shampoo, perfume), flavorings (cinnamon, vanilla, cloves, cardamom, nutmeg), and medicine (hemorrhoid cream, cough lozenges, Tiger Balm, calamine lotion). Reactions to balsam of Peru include redness, soreness, swelling, itching, blisters, inflammation of the mouth, lips, and tongue, and if swallowed, can cause the anal area to itch.
Is Your Fragrance Wreaking Havoc?
Headaches, sneezing, watery eyes, dizziness, hives, and rashes can all be caused by fragrances. However, most of these reactions aren’t technically allergic, but rather indicate a sensitivity to certain fragrances. Of the more than 5,000 fragrances used in everything from perfumes and shampoos to paint and dish soap, eight have been proven to cause allergic skin reactions. The rest of the reactions are more properly referred to as sensitivities, which cause symptoms similar to allergies, but not the rare and dangerous condition known as anaphylactic shock.
How to Get Allergy Relief at Home
Put Out the Welcome Mat
Many allergy triggers, like pollen, move into your home on your shoes. Ask your friends and family to wipe them before they come inside. Choose a rubber mat that’s easy to clean. Better yet, ask visitors to leave their shoes at the door.
Clean the Air With a HEPA Filter
It can capture 99% of the tiny particles that trigger your allergies. It works best for removing pet dander and pollen, but not as well for dust mites. Look for units tested by the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers that list the clean air delivery rate (CADR). Make sure the number is at least two-thirds of the room’s square feet.
Upgrade Your Furnace Filter
Try pleated paper filters with a MERV (efficiency) rating of 7 to 13. They can be almost as effective as a HEPA filter. Or go for an electrostatic one that uses charged fibers to trap allergens. Change filters every 3 months to keep your furnace working well. A more expensive option is a whole-house HEPA or electrostatic filter unit that’s added to your heating and air-conditioning system.
Electronic Air Cleaners
These machines don’t use filters or fans. Instead, they change the electric charge on polluting particles. Some of these products, though, release ozone, which can sometimes make your allergies worse.
You can move them from room to room, put one on your furnace, or mount it on your ceiling.
Use a Neti Pot
You can ease your allergy symptoms if you clean out the passageways of your nose. Fill the pot with lukewarm salt water made with sterile or distilled water. Or use boiled tap water after it cools down. Tilt your head over the sink, then pour the liquid into one nostril and let it drain out of the other. You can also use a bulb syringe or rinse bottle.
OTC Allergy Medications
They come in pills, eye drops, and nasal sprays. Antihistamine pills give you relief from sneezing, watery eyes, and runny nose. Decongestants work for a stuffy nose. Try antihistamine drops if your eyes are itchy.
Allergy nasal sprays prevent sneezing and runny nose. Decongestant nasal sprays aren’t the same thing. If you use them for more than 3 days, they can make your stuffiness worse.
Humidifiers and Dehumidifiers
Dust mites — tiny creatures that live in your bed, sofa, and carpet — can trigger your allergies. They thrive in warm, moist air, so you can fight back if you keep your indoor humidity low. But too-dry air can irritate your nose and make your symptoms worse. Strike a balance by making the humidity in your home between 30% and 50%. You can monitor it with a device called a hygrometer.
Remake Your Bed
You can avoid some allergy attacks if you keep dust mites out of your mattresses and pillows. Choose pillows and comforters filled with man-made material that’s less likely to trigger symptoms, instead of mite-friendly feathers. And cut back on throw pillows.
Surround your pillows, mattress, and box springs with allergen-proof covers. Prices can range from $20-$150, depending on your bed size.
Upgrade Your Dust Cloth
Trade in your old one, which stirs up allergy-causing particles while you dust, for a microfiber cloth. Unlike a cotton towel or an old T-shirt, it has fibers with an electrostatic charge that attracts and traps dust. It’s OK to put it in the washing machine. You can get microfiber mitts for hard to reach or delicate items, and special wipes for electronics.
Wear a Mask and Gloves
Housework and yard work stir up a lot of allergy triggers, from dust and pet dander to pollen and leaf mold. Keep problems away with an inexpensive safety mask. Use gloves when you work outside, or indoors when you handle household cleaners.
Use a HEPA Vacuum
Vacuuming once a week can help allergy-proof your home, but standard machines can stir dust and allergy triggers into the air. Instead, you can trap them if you use a vacuum with a replaceable HEPA filter or a double bag.
It helps get rid of dust mites in carpets and upholstered furniture. You can rent a steamer at a grocery or home improvement store, or buy your own. Some manufacturers offer cleaning solutions that are specially made to control allergy triggers. Vacuum after you steam clean to get rid of dead mites.
Wipe Out Mold
It loves warm, wet places like the kitchen and bathroom. To get rid of it, you have to clean, disinfect, and dry. Scrub away with soap, water, and a stiff brush. Disinfect with a mold-killing product that has 5% chlorine bleach, or use hydrogen peroxide or vinegar. Check for leaks, and use an exhaust fan to keep it from coming back.
Pet Beds and Shampoos
You can scale back your symptoms if you keep your contact with pet dander to a minimum. Use a mild shampoo to wash your animal often. If your cat doesn’t like baths, at least wipe his fur with a damp washcloth. You can also buy pet wipes. Use plastic beds that can be wiped down, or wash the bedding in hot water at least once a week.
Buy Washable Toys
Stuffed toys collect dander and dust mites as well as dirt. Check the labels when you buy them to make sure it’s OK to wash them. Toss them in the washing machine with hot water every week. Store them on shelves or in a hanging net, but not on the bed. Wipe down plastic or wooden toys with a damp cloth.
The basic signs
Your child may have allergies if they have runny, itchy, red, or swollen eyes that persist for more than a week or two. The same goes for a runny nose. Are the symptoms chronic? Does your child say that their mouth or throat itches or tingles? Do they scratch their ears? The American Academy of Pediatrics says these may be allergy symptoms, possibly of hay fever or allergic rhinitis, the most common form of allergy among children. Note whether the symptoms recur at the same time of year, each year.
Check skin for allergies
The skin, the body’s largest organ and part of the immune system, will sometimes react in protest to an allergen. Check your child’s skin for eczema, which shows up as dry, red, scaly patches that itch. Watch for hives, which may also signal an allergy. These red welts on the skin can range in size. They can be as small as the tip of a pen or as large as a dinner plate, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
Hay fever or other allergies can affect your child’s breathing. If you hear a noisy wheeze when your child breathes or if you notice rapid breathing or shortness of breath, have your child checked by their pediatrician. A dry, hacking cough with clear mucus is another sign of respiratory allergies. Observe your child at play. If they seem to tire easily or more quickly than other children, this may be a sign of allergies.
Tummy problems and other signs of allergies
Allergies can set off intestinal symptoms in children. If your child often complains of stomach cramps or has repeated attacks of diarrhea, this may hint at an allergy. Other signs of allergies in children can include headache or excessive fatigue.
Allergies can also affect your child’s behavior, producing unusually crabby or restless moods. Consider keeping a symptom log to share with your pediatrician, noting the symptom and what happened right before its onset (e.g., exposure to a pet or eating a certain food).
The allergy gang of eight
According to the Mayo Clinic, these eight foods contribute to 90 percent of food allergies:
- tree nuts, such as almonds, cashews, and walnuts
- fish, such as bass, cod, and flounder
- shellfish, such as crab, lobster, and shrimp
In addition, some children can’t tolerate citrus fruits. The connection between allergy and allergen isn’t always obvious, so you may have to do some investigating to find the link. Traces of peanut can lurk in cereals, and soy can hide in flavorings or thickeners found in processed or frozen foods.
The presence of household pets, even shorthaired animals that don’t shed, can provoke allergy symptoms in children. It’s not the pet itself that causes allergies, but its dander (dead skin cells), saliva, urine, and fur. If your child sneezes and wheezes after playing with or holding a pet, consider having them tested for animal allergies.
Your pediatrician can help you sort out whether your child’s symptoms are allergy related and can assist you in formulating a management plan. Easing skin, respiratory, or intestinal allergy symptoms may require antihistamines or other medication. You can teach your child strategies to avoid or decrease allergic reactions, including passing up certain foods, playing outdoors when pollen counts are low, and washing hands right after touching a pet.
How do dust mites cause allergic symptoms?
The digestive enzymes that are discharged into the mite feces are the most bothersome of the dust-mite allergens. Less potent allergens are found in the mite bodies. The mite’s tiny fecal pellets disintegrate to form a very fine powder that can easily float into the air when disturbed. This commonly occurs during vacuuming, making the bed, turning in bed while sleeping, or walking on the carpet. When an allergic person inhales these particles, asthma or nasal allergy symptoms may occur. There is also evidence that allergic eczema can be aggravated by this exposure.
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