Common Allergens for Allergic Asthma
Allergens, which are small enough to be inhaled deep into the lungs, include:
- Windblown pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds
- Mold spores and mold fragments
- Animal dander (from hair, skin, or feathers) and saliva
- Dust mite feces
- Cockroach feces
You may also have allergic reactions if you are scratched with an allergen (causing itchy, red skin), get some in your eyes (causing itchy, red eyes), or eat it, which in rare cases can cause life-threatening anaphylactic shock (including a severe asthma attack).
Keep in mind that allergens are not the only thing that can worsen your allergic asthma. Irritants may still trigger an asthma attack, even though they don't cause an allergic reaction. Irritants that you inhale may also trigger an asthma attack. These irritants include:
- Tobacco smoke
- Smoke from a fireplace, candles, incense, or fireworks
- Air pollution
- Cold air, especially vigorous exercise in cold air
- Strong chemical odors or fumes
- Perfumes, air fresheners, or other scented products
- Dusty workplaces
Your health care provider can perform allergy and asthma tests to determine exactly which indoor and outdoor allergens cause your allergic asthma. The two most common (and recommended) tests are:
- Pricking your skin with a tiny amount of the allergen and measuring the size of the red bumps 20 minutes later
- A blood test (RAST or allergen-specific IgE levels)
Environmental Control and Allergic Asthma
A crucial part of controlling your allergic asthma is to limit your exposure to allergens. Here are some tips to get asthma relief:
- When pollen counts are high, stay inside as much as possible. Keep the windows closed. Don't use an evaporative cooler (called a swamp cooler in the Southwestern U.S.). If it's hot, use an air conditioner with a clean air filter. Don't use an old air conditioner if it smells musty or moldy.
- Avoid dust mites. Dust mites live in fabrics and carpets, but they are microscopic, so you can't see them. So wrap your pillows, mattress, and box spring using allergen proof covers. Wash your sheets and other bedding once a week in very hot water. Have wall-to-wall carpeting removed, if possible. Get rid of areas where dust can accumulate, like heavy curtains, upholstered furniture, and piles of clothing. If your child has allergic asthma, avoid stuffed animals, or only buy washable stuffed animals.
- Check indoor humidity (using an inexpensive meter). If moisture is a problem in your home (relative humidity above 40%), use a dehumidifier or air conditioner. This will reduce the growth of molds, cockroaches, and house dust mites. Repair any plumbing or roof leaks (but don't do it yourself).
- Check for pet allergies. If you have pets, get allergen skin testing (or RAST) to determine if you've become sensitized to them. If you are allergic to your cat or dog, your asthma control will be much better if you keep them outdoors or find another home for them. At the very least, ban all pets from the bedroom by installing an inexpensive mechanism on the bedroom door that closes it automatically. High levels of cat allergen persist for many months in a home or apartment after cats are no longer living there. There are no hypo-allergenic cats or dogs. Washing the pet every week will make very little difference in the amount of their allergen that you inhale. Dusts or sprays that claim to reduce pet allergens have not been shown to be effective.
- Keep your kitchen and bathroom clean and dry to prevent mold and cockroaches. If you are allergic to cockroaches, and you see evidence of them in your kitchen, contact a pest control company for help. Just using insecticide spray is inadequate. You need to eliminate their access to all sources of food in your home, even small crumbs in the carpet and oil stains near the stove. Run the exhaust fan whenever you cook or take a shower to lower the humidity in the room.
- Choose air filters wisely. Large HEPA room air filters effectively remove smoke and other small particles (such as pollens) from a room but only when the fan is on. They do not reduce humidity, and don't reduce exposures to house dust mites. Avoid electronic air purifiers, since they usually create ozone, which causes airway inflammation.
- Be careful doing outside work. Gardening and raking can stir up pollens and mold. Wearing a HEPA filter mask while outside (especially if working in the yard) can reduce the amount of pollen and mold particles that get into your lungs.