Are You Sabotaging Your Allergy Treatment?

Are you in the driver's seat when it comes to managing your allergies? Allergist Kevin P. McGrath, MD, fellow of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), says that controlling allergies requires a multi-faceted strategy that includes not just taking medicines, but also identifying and avoiding common allergy triggers.

Allergy Control Mistakes

Unfortunately, many people prone to allergic reactions skip some of these guidelines and end up suffering unnecessarily. Below, McGrath shares eight of the biggest ways people sabotage allergy management, as well as some tips for getting back on track.

1. You adopt a cat or dog even though you're allergic to animals.

McGrath says that if you aren't willing to get rid of your pet, the best way to treat this problem is to undergo immunization therapy or allergy injections, but keep in mind that these can take several years to be effective.

2. You eat foods you know you have an allergy to.

Even if you don't develop symptoms every time you eat something you're allergic to, there may still be a risk of a life-threatening reaction. You should always err on the side of caution: "If a patient wants to check if they have lost an allergy to a food, they should retest with their allergist annually rather than experimenting on their own," McGrath says.

3. You stop your allergy medications when your symptoms seem controlled, forget to take them when you go on vacation, or don't take them until after you need them.

"It's harder and takes longer to get full-blown allergies under control than to treat them early," says McGrath, who recommends that patients start seasonal medications two weeks before the season begins and continue until two weeks after it ends. (Check with your allergist to find out the allergy season timing in your region.)

4. You have carpeting in your bedroom and living room.

Carpets trap allergens and germs. Wood floors, pergo (synthetic laminate flooring), or tile are much better options. McGrath also points out that cleaning carpets frequently can cause problems for allergy sufferers: "If you clean your carpet more than one or two times per year, it can make allergies worse," he explains. That's because cleaning or steaming will leave your carpet wet for days, which promotes dust mites and mold.

5. You run ionizers to clean the air in your home.

Ionizers are used in air purifiers. Ionizers release ions, which attract allergens like dust and pollen, creating larger particles which can be captured by the ionizer's filtration system. Unfortunately, "they only remove 30 or 40 percent of allergens from the air, and they do so by making the allergens stick to things like the walls, clothes, and furniture," McGrath says. "When the charges dissipate, the allergens are back in the air." Ionizers also create ozone, a form of oxygen that can irritate your eyes, nose, and lungs, make allergies worse, and can even put you at risk for other health problems.

6. You keep stuffed animals in the bedroom.

Stuffed animals collect dust mites, which can be a big trigger. Your best bet is to wash the toys in very hot water, or put them in your freezer for five or six hours. "The allergens will fracture when they freeze and are destroyed," McGrath explains.

7. You don't allergy-proof your bed.

Sheets should be washed every week in hot water to destroy allergens. McGrath suggests drying items for an extra five to 10 minutes to prevent dust mites or mold growth, which can occur when the bedding is damp. It's also a good idea to get allergy-proof covers for your mattress, box spring, and pillows. "Woven covers are better and more comfortable than plastic ones," McGrath adds. He suggests using washable blankets and quilts or allergy covers (encasements) for down comforters or those you can't wash. Also use a vacuum cleaner with vacuum allergy bags and/or HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters.

8. You leave household leaks untreated.

Because leaks can promote mold and mildew, it's important to fix any damage promptly and replace any wallboard or wood that gets wet and moldy. "It's a huge mistake to paint over water or mold damage," McGrath says. He also suggests running a dehumidifier in the basement and emptying it often to help prevent mold growth.

Kevin P. McGrath, MD, reviewed this article.