Allergies & Asthma

What are allergies?

Allergies are an overreaction of the immune system to allergence, which normally do not affect other individuals, and which can cause sneezing, coughing, and itching. They can range from bothersome to life-threatening. Some are seasonal, and some are related to chronic conditions like sinusitis and asthma.

What can I do to protect myself from allergens?

First, if you or your child are experiencing a new allergic reaction, visit your doctor or an allergist to determine what you are allergic to and how to treat your reactions.

If your allergy is to something in your home (i.e. dust, mold) you should visit our Mold and Moistureand Asthma pages to learn about prevention strategies. Household trigger often include pets, smoke, mold, and dust and dust mites.

Food allergies in children are frequently outgrown, though it is important to prevent allergic reactions by limiting their exposure to the allergen. Common food allergies include dairy, citrus, artificial colors and flavors, nuts, and shellfish. Be sure to inform their school, caregiver, and anyone else who would control their exposure to the allergen. Be sure to thoroughly read food labels and avoid ingredients that could cause a reaction.

For seasonal allergies, consult your doctor. You may be able to treat your symptoms with an over-the-counter allergy medicine, or you may require a prescription. Seasonal allergies are the most common, and often result in sneezing, nasal congestion, runny nose, itchy nose, eyes, or mouth, red and watery eyes, postnasal drip, coughing, lethargy, and dark circles under your eyes.

If you are allergic to insect stings and bites, primarily from insects such as yellow jackets, honeybees, paper wasps, hornets, and fire ants, you can use a form of integrated pest management to rid your home of such insects. It is important to note that some of these species will only sting when provoke. Be sure to keep calm and slowly walk away if you see one.

Asthma

Asthma is a disease in the lungs that causes people to wheeze, cough, have trouble breathing, and sometimes die. During an asthma attack, the airways are swollen and the muscles around them tighten, and they produce a thick yellow mucous. It is the most common chronic condition among children, and is slightly more prevalent among African-Americans than Caucasians.

Causes in Your Home

Asthma attacks can be triggered by dust and dust mites, cockroaches, mold, pet dander, rodents, tobacco smoke, and air fresheners in your home. Additionally, they can be triggered by cold weather, exercise, and stress. While asthma is not contagious, it is hereditary, meaning it runs in families. If you have asthma, it is likely your child does as well. Children living in crowded or unclean conditions, and African-American children in low-income families are more at risk for developing asthma.

Preventing Asthma Attacks

There is no cure for asthma, so it is important to know how to prevent attacks. You should keep a clean home by making sure there is no dust, mold, smoke, or other triggers, vacuuming with an HEPA (High Efficiency Particle Air) filter, keeping food stored in tightly sealed containers, cleaning crumbs, drips, spills, and dirty dishes immediately, and fixing water leaks.

Keep people with asthma away from dust, dust mites, and smoke by using allergen resistant mattresses and pillow covers, keep pets away from sleeping areas and clear hair from carpets and furniture, do not smoke in your home or car and keep tobacco smoke away from children, change bed sheets often, and vacuum and dust while people with asthma are out of the room.

It is important to get proper medical advice and follow the doctor's instructions. See your doctor when you or your child has breathing problems, seek emergency help for bad attacks, shortness of breath, and wheezing, be sure to take any prescribed medication, and find out what allergies you have and follow instructions to prevent allergic reactions.

For more information, visit the EPA or HUD.