How to Avoid Surprise Allergy Attacks

Tried-and-true methods to keep allergens from making you miserable.

4 min read

Out of nowhere -- a sneeze attack. Who knows what caused it? An assortment of indoor and outdoor allergens can launch a surprise assault. Pollen's a biggie; so is mold. Whatever you can do to tame those plagues will make your life sweeter.

Allergy attacks are the body's overreaction to an irritant. An allergen is normally a harmless substance in the environment, such as pollen, which causes the immune system to react as if the allergen is harmful.

Pollen, dust mites, mold, animal dander, and insect stings are common allergens -- triggering a range of symptoms, if you are sensitive to them. Mild reactions might be a rash, eye irritation, and congestion. With a moderate reaction, there's itchiness or difficulty breathing. A severe reaction, called anaphylaxis, is a rare but life-threatening emergency in which the whole body reacts.

It's a jungle out there. But here are tips to survive allergy triggers:

It's no secret that grasses, trees, and flowers produce pollen from spring to fall. Here's their tentative schedule: Grass pollen (March to October), ragweed pollen (July to November), tree pollen (January to June), and weed pollen (April to November). The timetable varies depending on where you live.

But did you know this: Mowing the yard stirs up grass pollens. Gardening puts you face-to-face with flowers, those wicked little pollen producers.

To avoid pollen:

  • Check the clock. Pollen counts are usually highest in the late morning and early afternoon.
  • When pollen counts are high, keep windows closed. Use air conditioning. Stay indoors as much as possible.
  • Don't hang clothing or bed linens outside to dry; pollen can adhere to fabric.
  • Get help with yard work. Get someone to mow the lawn, so you won't be exposed to so much grass pollen.
  • If you simply can't avoid yard work, wear an inexpensive face mask. Take a shower afterward, and change your clothing.
  • Avoid being around freshly cut grass whenever possible.
  • Keep car windows and vents closed; use air conditioning.

Damp areas like basements, bathrooms, and laundry rooms are where you can find mold. Outside, there are plenty more havens for mold.

To avoid mold:

  • Don't rake leaves. That stirs up mold spores, which you might inhale.
  • Steer clear of grass, leaf, hay, mulch piles, and compost heaps.
  • Avoid other damp areas like basements, garages, crawl spaces, and barns.
  • Stay indoors during rainy or windy days, when mold spores are likely to be airborne.
  • Clean home surfaces (including bathroom tiles and shower curtains) with diluted bleach or bleach-based cleaning products.
  • Keep an incandescent light on a mold-prone area of your home.
  • Use a dehumidifier and ventilate high-humidity areas.
  • Don't hang clothes or bed linens outside to dry; mold spores can easily attach.

These tiny creatures live in house dust, as do animal dander, bacteria, mold, and other allergens. Bedding, stuffed animals, overstuffed furniture, rugs, and window blinds are popular hangouts for dust mites.

To control dust mites:
  • Put plastic covers over mattresses, pillows, box springs; use hypoallergenic pillows.
  • Don't use down-filled bedding or pillows.
  • Wash bedding weekly in hot water.
  • Get rid of overstuffed furniture.
  • Limit use of rugs. Choose hardwood floors over carpeting.
  • Avoid window blinds or long drapes.
  • Wash stuffed animals and pillows in hot water; dry them in a hot drier.

If you've got pets, animal dander can seep into upholstered furniture, carpeting, drapes, and bedding -- just as dust mites can.

Your car can harbor animal dander too -- even if you don't have a pet. When you're exposed to other animals, like a neighbor's dog, your clothing attracts high levels of dander. Slide into your car seat, and you've deposited considerable amounts of this allergen.

To control pet dander:
  • Keep pets out of dens, bedrooms, and other rooms where you spend most of your time.
  • Get rid of carpeting, if possible.
  • Vacuum the house twice a week.
  • Vacuum the car, too.
  • Bathe pets often.
  • Avoid contact with animals.
  • Use an air cleaner or purifier. This helps remove dander circulating in the house.
  • Follow suggestions (above) for control of dust mites/house dust.

Bees, fire ants, yellow jackets, hornets, and wasps can cause allergic reactions when they bite or sting. Everyone who gets stung by an insect will have pain, swelling, and redness around the site. However, some people have a severe or even life-threatening reaction.

To avoid stings:
  • Don't wear brightly colored clothes.
  • Don't wear scented deodorants, cosmetics, or hair products.
  • Wear long pants and sleeves.
  • Avoid outdoor garbage.