Allergies Allergy is a kind of response our bodies have to tiny particles in our surroundings called allergens. The abnormal response our bodies have to allergens is an overreaction. When the allergens come in contact with our skin and mucous membrane (lining of our nose, mouth and breathing tubes; the surface of our eyes) they cause a rapid chain of reactions. As a result you may experience one or more of the following symptoms: runny nose; watery and itchy eyes; itchy ears, nose, and throat; sneezing; stuffy nose and ears; hives; and allergic shiners (dark circles under your eyes). Some people will mistake early signs of "colds" for symptoms of allergy when they have runny nose, watery eyes or itchy throat. These symptoms can occur in both allergy and head colds; however, muscle ache, joint pain, fever and chill, which occur sometimes with colds and flu, are not symptoms of allergy. Untreated allergies frequently cause chronic tiredness (fatigue), and may increase your chances of sinusitis and asthma flare. Many allergy sufferers may also have asthma, or eczema. Seasonal allergy is usually caused by pollens from trees, grass and weeds. It is often called "hay fever". During the seasons when trees, grass and weeds are actively growing, plants produce tiny particles in large numbers that float in the air, especially when the weather is dry. Seasonal allergy can also be caused by mold, which is most active during wet seasons. These allergens can be breathed in through our nose and mouth or get onto our skin and the surfaces of our eyes. Things you can do: a) Don't go outside when it is dry and windy during your allergy season. b) Wash off pollen on your body and hair before bed and clean the clothes you wear outdoors. c) Keep windows and doors shut and turn on your air conditioner with a clean filter. d) Dehumidifier use during wet seasons or in a damp basement can be especially helpful for people allergic to mold. e) Start taking your allergy medicine right before the beginning of your allergy season. Year-round allergy can also be caused by mold if there is a source of constant moisture in your house, such as a slow leak from a plumbing pipe or a poorly ventilated bathroom with lots of condensation. Pet dander can cause year-round allergy because your pet sheds allergencontaining hairs all over your house, so you are exposed to them constantly. Bathing your pet regularly to cut down dander does not remove the allergens trapped in carpet and upholstery. Another allergen that can be trapped in carpet and soft furniture is dust mites, which are very tiny bugs almost invisible to our eyes. If you live or work in a dusty environment and your body is sensitive to dust mites, you can have a year-round allergy. . Things you can do: a) Repair leaks and remove excess water promptly. b) Use mold/mildew remover or diluted bleach to clean off mold found in bathrooms, shower curtains, windows, and damp walls regularly. c) Vacuum carpet and upholstery frequently and wipe off dust from all hard surfaces weekly. d) Cover mattress and pillow with plastic covers and damp wipe the surface daily. e) Washing all bedding (blankets, mattress pads and comforters) in hot water (130° F) weekly, and removing curtains and rugs can help control dander and dust mites. e) Spray carpet and upholstery with 3% tannic acid solution (Acarosan® and Allergy Control Solution® are available in US) to reduce dust mites. g) Air filtering can reduce allergen count. Homes that have their air conditioners on constantly have lower mite counts. HEPA filters can remove up to 99% of allergens. h) If your allergy to your pet(s) is severe or you have frequent asthma flares, the best course of action is to give the pet(s) away. It is important to avoid things that can aggravate your allergy. These include: air pollution, tobacco smoke, wood smoke, aerosol spray and irritating fumes. Allergen avoidance and air quality improvements are the most effective management of allergy. Nevertheless, we often need to use medical treatments to control our allergies. Topical medicine Nasal steroid sprays reduce the swelling and reaction of nasal tissue to allergens. This type of medicine works gradually (days to weeks) to decrease or eliminate allergy symptoms. People who have mainly ear and nose symptoms may be able to control their allergy with a nasal steroid spray alone. Cromolyn nasal spray and eye drops work by blocking the early reactions of the mucous membrane of your nose and eyes to the allergens. This medicine has virtually no adverse side effects. However, it can only work if you apply it to your nose or eyes before you are exposed to the allergens, and you must reapply every 4 to 6 hours. It has no effect on the symptoms you have already developed. Nasal decongestants work by shrinking the blood vessels in your nose temporarily so your nose is less stuffy. These should not be used for more than 3 days in a row; otherwise your nose can become constantly stopped-up and not respond to any medication for several days. Allergy eye drops (other than Cromolyn) contain antihistamines and/or decongestants. Decongestants shrink red and irritated eye blood vessels. These should not be used if you think you may have an eye infection. They can make the infection worse. Oral medications Antihistamines reduce the intensity or even block your reaction to allergens. Common nonprescription antihistamines cause more drowsiness and dry mouth than the newer, long-acting antihistamines. Antihistamines may cause modest blood pressure increase; however, an allergy flare may cause even greater increase in blood pressure. Decongestants can temporarily relieve nasal stuffiness. They don't change how much your body reacts to the allergens and will not help eye symptoms or hives. They often causes increased heart rate and blood pressure and may not be safe to use for some people with heart problems. Allergy shots Allergy shots are used when your allergy is not controlled by other medicines. The shots contain small amounts of allergens given on a regular schedule for months to years. The shots train your body to become tolerant to the presence of the allergens. Sometimes the allergy comes back when you stopped the shots. When you move away, you may face a different set of allergens and have to start all over. Allergy shots should only be done if the allergens you are sensitive to are known and confirmed by testing, and if you can't otherwise avoid the allergens.