This spring we’ve been exploring how our allergies are affected by the air we breathe. Allergies are a common scapegoat this time of year--they’re usually at the center of blame for our congestion and scratchy throats. But how much do we really know about allergies, in the first place?
We skipped the guesswork and decided instead to turn to an allergies expert--Dr. Tania Elliott.
Dr. Elliott is board certified in Internal Medicine and Allergy/Immunology, and has been featured on Rachael Ray, The Doctors, and Dr. Oz for her expertise. We sat down with Dr. Elliott this past week to help us clear the air on our biggest allergy-related questions.
Q: What do you think is the biggest misconception about allergies?
A: That you have to live with them, and they are just a pesky annoyance. This is not true for two reasons:
- Often times allergies can be cured. Believe it or not, there are not many curable things in medicine---treatable, yes; curable: not as much.
- That allergies aren't a "big deal". In fact, untreated allergic rhinitis can lead to asthma, sleep apnea, and lost productivity at work and school.
Q: Are there any differences between indoor allergies and outdoor allergies (other than location, of course)?
A: Outdoor allergies tend to be seasonal--tree pollen in the Spring; grass pollen in the Summer; weed pollen in the Fall. In the winter in Texas, there is a cedar tree that causes bad allergies. People call it "Cedar fever" (instead of hay fever).
Indoor allergies are our year round allergies. They tend to be worse in the winter because that's when we spend more time indoors.
Q: So there is a lot of buzz and emphasis on outdoor allergies during this time of year. Is it possible that people mistake indoor allergy symptoms for outdoor allergies?
A: Indoor allergies are always present. Also, we often bring outdoor allergies inside the home when we don't wash our clothes or our hair or our pets when we come indoors after a day outdoors.
Q: What is the most common indoor allergy, and what causes it?
A: The dust mite is the most common indoor allergy. Dust mites are microscopic organisms that feed off of house dust and the moisture in the air. In environments where the relative humidity of the home is >50%--and you have a lot of carpeting or upholstered furniture--dust mites will thrive.
Q: Is it possible to accidentally make your indoor allergies worse? Are there any common activities that do so?
A: Carpets, curtains, drapes, and upholstered furniture make a nice cozy environment for dust mites. Using air fresheners, aerosols, and lighting candles can trigger allergy symptoms as well.
Q: Do you have a favorite prevention tip for indoor allergies?
Dr. Elliott: When renovating the home, opt for hardwood floors, blinds, and leather. Also, change your air filters in your heaters or air conditioners at least every 3 months, if not monthly.
Q: Do you think indoor air quality plays a role in allergies? If so, how and why?
A: Studies have shown that indoor air quality affects allergy and asthma symptoms. Particles in the air can be very irritating to the upper and lower respiratory tract, and act just like allergies--triggering asthma and nasal symptoms.
Thank you for all your insightful answers, Dr. Elliott!