An allergen is a material which is capable of provoking an allergic reaction. Common allergens include foods such as peanuts, tree nuts, milk, soy, eggs and shellfish, trees, grasses, pollen, dust, molds, detergents, pets and pet products, venom from stinging insects, metals, and medicines, including antibiotics. However, anything can cause an allergy. By definition, allergic responses occur after at least the second exposure to the causative agent. If the allergy is not life threatening, is not significantly worsening a known medical condition (such as asthma), or occurs infrequently with minimal distress, it may not be necessary to identify the specific allergen.
Seasonal allergies may cause sneezing, clear running nose and eyes, itching of the eyes, skin and roof of the mouth, and worsening of eczema. Skin contact with allergens cause hives. Hives are raised clear welts on the skin that are surrounded by reddened bases. They are very itchy and will spread to different areas of the body, often clearing over hours. Food allergies may cause abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea and bloody stools.
Life-threatening allergic symptoms include wheezing, swelling of the lips and mouth, changes in alertness and vomiting and diarrhea.
The best treatment for allergies is avoidance of known allergens. However, this may not always be possible. Seasonal nasal and eye allergy symptoms are often treated with oral or topical antihistamines.
Anyone with a potentially life-threatening allergy should have an epinephrine pen. Know how to use your epinephrine pen and never hesitate to use it for wheezing, swelling of the throat, or hives associated with skin flushing, abdominal symptoms or confusion. Notify emergency services immediately if life-threatening symptoms develop even if epinephrine is self-administered.
Dog & Cat Allergies
Cat and dog allergen - the allergy causing material from cats and dogs- is not cat or dog hair, but a protein present in the dander and saliva of cats and dogs. The allergens become airborne as microscopic particles, which, when inhaled into the nose or lungs, can produce allergic symptoms. Although individual pets may produce more or less allergen, there is no relationship between the pet's hair length and allergen production, and no such thing as a non-allergenic breed.
Pet allergen is present in largest amounts in homes with pets, but has also been found in homes where pets have never been present and in offices or public spaces where animals are not allowed. Pet allergen is particularly sticky and is carried on clothing. It is almost impossible to not be exposed to some level of pet allergen. Of course, levels of exposure will be much higher where pets are present, and these levels are more likely to cause allergy symptoms.
Soft furnishings - carpets, upholstered furniture and mattresses - will hold pet allergen
even after a pet has been removed from the home or banished from the bedroom. This allergen then becomes airborne after the soft material is disturbed. It can take as long as 20 weeks for pet allergen in carpets to decrease to levels found in homes without pets, and years for cat allergen in mattresses to do so. Removal of the bedroom carpet and encasing of the mattress will eliminate the continued exposure to these reservoirs of allergen, as well as reduce exposure to dust mite allergy. If the carpet can not be removed, it should be thoroughly vacuumed and then sprayed with a solution to help denature the remaining allergen.
When carpet containing allergens is vacuumed, the tiny allergen particles pass through the standard bags of many vacuum cleaners and are blown out the exhaust into the air. Use a vacuum shown to have high allergen containment. Furnace filters help to trap the allergen. HEPA filters can actually trap and help remove allergens. Finally, allergens also adhere to vertical surfaces such as walls, which should be cleaned.
Studies have demonstrated that washing cats with water removes much of their surface allergen. However, it is not clear if this reduction persists long enough to reduce symptoms. Recent studies have shown that wiping pets with detergent emollients does not significantly alter pet allergen levels.
Asthma is a non-infectious, reversible narrowing of the lower airways. In asthma, the airways become very sensitive to certain triggers, which cause airway narrowing by two mechanisms: constriction of the muscles lining the airways, and inflammation of the airway tissues.
Asthma is a very common disease, affecting over 5 million children in the U.S. Most people with asthma have a mild form of the disease, and many children with asthma will outgrow it. However, anyone with asthma, even those with very mild disease, can develop a serious attack. As a result, appropriate treatment of asthma is paramount. Proper control of asthma can help prevent the development of irreversible airway disease as adults, and reduce disease mortality. With proper therapy, the patient may have to bear the burden of medications, but will not suffer from breathing difficulty.
Some of the common triggers for asthma are colds, weather changes, exercise, reflux and allergies. Most patients react to only one or a few of these triggers.
Symptoms of asthma include wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and prolonged coughing particularly at night. Patients will look uncomfortable, breath rapidly, flare their nostrils, suck in their chests while breathing, and have difficulty completing sentences. The presence of these signs and symptoms indicates that treatment is necessary. Wheezing or coughing more than two days per week, that occurs more than one night per week, that impairs the child's ability to participate in sporting events and attend school and other activities is the hallmark of poorly controlled asthma.
Patients with poorly controlled asthma require daily therapy to reduce airway reactivity and decrease the need for rescue therapy due to acute attacks. With proper education, millions of people with asthma can lead full, active lives with little disruption of work, school, family and social activities.