Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Allergy
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Learn The Basics
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
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Find out what people are asking about allergies.
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InteliHealth
2011-12-16
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InteliHealth/Harvard Medical Content
2013-12-16

Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

 

Who needs allergy testing and allergy shots? You don't need allergy testing to diagnose allergies if you realize what causes your symptoms. However, you may benefit from allergy testing if you have trouble identifying the allergen that triggers your symptoms, if you have a hard time controlling your symptoms with allergy medications, or if you have significant side effects from allergy medications.
 
If allergy testing identifies the allergen that triggers your symptoms, you may be a good candidate for allergy shots (immunotherapy). Allergy shots can help you control your allergy symptoms and help reduce or eliminate your need for medications. Allergy shots may also be recommended for people who have had a life-threatening reaction (anaphylaxis) as a way to reduce future risk.

 

Who should see an allergy specialist? You probably don't need to see an allergy specialist if you have good control of your allergy symptoms. Allergy specialists are helpful if your symptoms are hard to control, if you can't identify your allergen, or if you have had a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction in the past.
 
It is likely you will need to see an allergy specialist if you need allergy testing or allergy shots (immunotherapy). Allergy testing may help identify allergens that you should avoid to better control your asthma. Allergy shots can help control allergy symptoms from a variety of triggers.

 

Can you outgrow allergies? Children who are sensitive to milk, soy, eggs, or many other allergic agents often outgrow this sensitivity within several years, if the allergy trigger is meticulously avoided. Allergies to several specific foods (peanuts, other nuts, fish and shellfish) tend to be lifelong. Intolerance to gluten (celiac disease) is also a lifelong condition. If you think you've outgrown an allergy, don't test yourself at home by eating a food you were once allergic to. You could trigger a serious or life-threatening reaction.
 
Seasonal allergies may improve over time, but they may also get worse. Similarly, asthma symptoms may change in severity. A portion of people who have asthma in childhood experience few or no asthma symptoms when they are adults, but most people continue to have at least intermittent symptoms.

 

Can people allergic to animals live with a short-haired pet? Unfortunately, a short-haired pet can still trigger a pet allergy because animal hair or fur isn't the problem. It's the dander or dead skin (or the saliva on the skin) that contains the allergen. The best pets are animals that do not have dander, such as fish.
 
If you have mild allergies to a dog or cat that you already own and you can't bear to part with your pet, it would be ideal to keep it outside. Try to wash your pet once or twice weekly, and have someone brush its fur outside the home. Frequent vacuuming, especially with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter (also by someone other than you), may also help.

 

Are allergies inherited? If one of your parents has allergic rhinitis (otherwise known as hay fever, seasonal allergies, or animal, dust or mold allergies) or asthma, you have a 25 percent to 50 percent chance of having allergies yourself. In particular, a multiple-allergy syndrome called atopy is more common in people whose parents have allergic rhinitis or asthma. If both of your parents have these allergic conditions, your chance of having allergies increases to more than 50 percent.

 

How should pregnant women manage their allergies? In general, you should try to avoid taking allergy medications during pregnancy, because few studies have tested safety in human fetuses. The most vulnerable period is the first trimester (first three months) of pregnancy.
 
Prevention is key. By avoiding allergens, you may not need to rely on medications. Some medications are considered safer to use during pregnancy than others (antihistamines are assigned into the pregnancy safety categories B or C, depending on the brand). We recommend consulting your obstetrician before taking any allergy medications. If you have already begun getting allergy shots (immunotherapy), you can continue them through your pregnancy. Otherwise, you should wait until after your baby is born to begin allergy shots. Allergy shots can be started even while you are breastfeeding.

 

Are the newest antihistamine medications the most effective medications available for allergy? There are definite differences between the new and old antihistamine medicines, but the major difference is in side effects, not in their power to treat symptoms. Although there are different formulations of antihistamines available, there has been no new dramatic change in any formulation that would be expected to make one medication noticeably better than another. Drug manufacturers have tried to demonstrate superiority of one product over another, and some experts feel that there is evidence to show that fexofenadine and cetirizine may be marginally more potent as allergy treatments than is loratadine. Any differences in effectiveness are subtle, so you should make your selection based upon the convenience, cost, and side effects of these medicines.

 

Should people with allergies consider moving to another state? Do not make plans to move to another part of the country in the hope that your seasonal or outdoor allergies will improve. There is no guarantee that they will get better, and you may develop a new allergy in the new location.

 

Are there special filters or other appliances that can help allergy sufferers? Dehumidifiers can be helpful for people with indoor allergies to mold or dust mites. By lowering the humidity in your home, you discourage the growth of mold and dust mites. It is necessary to regularly clean the water tray, as directed, to prevent mold growth in the dehumidifier itself.
 
Although vacuuming your floors and rugs and the use of special air filters may sound effective, these approaches tend to just stir up particles in the air. Most cleaning or filter units don't screen out microscopic allergens. “Ozone” filters can be problematic for people with asthma, because they generate pollutants of their own. A HEPA filter in a vacuum cleaner or other system is your best bet, but this option may be expensive; don't stress your finances in order to get one. Your most helpful appliance for dust mite allergy or pollen allergy is a washing machine! Your bedding should be washed in hot water every week, and clothing that has been worn outdoors during pollen season should not be kept in a bedroom hamper, but should be kept out of your bedroom and laundered quickly.
 
If you have eczema, an allergic type of skin rash, humidifiers can prevent the irritating effect of dry air during the winter. Keep the humidifier clean and free of mold. If you have outdoor allergies, use an air conditioner during the summer. An air conditioner is not useful as a filter, but it allows you to keep the windows closed and thus limits your pollen exposure.

 

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Last updated July 30, 2014


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