Airborne allergens affect the nose, throat, lungs, and eyes. In the nose, they cause hay fever (allergic rhinitis) in individuals who are sensitized. Asthma, allergic laryngitis, and itchy eyes are other consequences. The culprits are also called inhalant allergens, and they include a variety of plant and animal material, usually protein, which is harmless to people who are not allergic. Anyone can be allergic to any number of different things. An allergist can perform skin testing to find out which ones affect you.
According to Dr. Frank K. Kwong, the top ten airborne allergens are:
1. Tree pollen
2. Grass pollen
3. Weed pollen
4. Mold spores
5. Cat dander
6. Dog dander
7. House dust mites
10. Other dander and organic fibers
The pollens are seasonal, and vary considerably from one location to another. Spring and fall are the worst times in most parts of the country. So if seasonal allergies make your life completely miserable, does it make sense to move?
Dr. Kwong writes that it generally takes three to five years to become sensitized to pollens and other allergens. So a move to a different part of the country may buy you some time, but it won't be a permanent cure. One of my friends moved from Tennessee to Michigan, and said Michigan was paradise in the winter because the plants stay covered with snow and don't produce pollen. But other allergens lurk indoors.
Perennial allergens are usually indoor offenders including mold spores and dust mites. The way to escape these is through meticulous house cleaning. Carpet is the biggest challenge. If you do move, or just want to upgrade your home environment where you are, consider solid surface flooring: wood, tile, linoleum, and laminate materials are all much friendlier to allergic humans and less friendly to dust mites and molds. Blinds are better than curtains for the same reason, and leather or vinyl furniture is better than upholstery. Indoor plants, whether real or fake, are havens for mold spores. Doormats made of organic materials can break down and produce allergenic dust; synthetic doormats are preferable. Have your heating and air conditioning system inspected by a professional every year. Wash bed linens in hot water weekly to kill dust mites.
When the pollen outside is thick enough to coat your car windows with green powder, as it does here in Austin, there's not much you can do to escape except stay indoors. Good ventilation is recommended most of the time, but there may be some days when you just want a good filter on your AC.
Frank K. Kwong, M.D., “The Complete Allergy Book”, Sourcebooks, Inc., 2002.
Linda Fugate is a scientist and writer in Austin, Texas. She has a Ph.D. in Physics and an M.S. in Macromolecular Science and Engineering. Her background includes academic and industrial research in materials science. She currently writes song lyrics and health articles.