Airborne allergens: what to know

How do you tell the difference between a cold and an allergy? What are the different allergens? Can cleaning surfaces help control them? Find out the answers to these questions and many more.

Common allergy conditions

Common allergy conditionsAllergic conditions such as hay fever and eczema are often triggered by one or more of the common indoor allergens – dust mite debris, pollen, pet dander or mould spores. These conditions can make life really uncomfortable for the sufferer.

Allergic conjunctivitis

This condition occurs when the eyes are exposed to an allergen – such as pollen. The membrane covering the eyes and the inside of the eyelid (the conjunctiva) becomes irritated and inflamed. The effects can be seasonal (seasonal allergic conjunctivitis) or all year round (perennial allergic conjunctivitis) and may happen alone or in conjunction with allergic rhinitis.

Symptoms:

  • Red eyes
  • Itchy eyes
  • Watery eyes
  • Swollen eyes

Dermatitis: eczema (atopic) and contact

Atopic dermatitis is also called eczema. This common allergic condition results from allergen exposure to the skin. Eczema is an itchy rash that often occurs on the hands, arms, legs and neck.. It can be triggered by airborne allergens like pet dander and dust mite debris. Contact dermatitis, on the other hand, is caused by direct contact with a substance that causes a skin reaction (like latex or poison ivy), but not by common airborne allergens.

Symptoms:

  • Skin dryness
  • Red and scaly areas on the front of the elbows and the back of the knees
  • Watery fluid weeping from affected skin
  • Itch
  • Lesions that may become infected by bacteria or viruses

Allergic rhinitis

Rhinitis’ means inflammation of the nasal passages, which may, in some cases, be caused by an allergen. The symptoms can include nasal congestion, sneezing and a runny nose. Dust mite debris, pollen, pet dander, and mould spores can all cause allergic rhinitis.

If the allergy is caused by pollen, the symptoms are usually seasonal, and the condition is called ‘seasonal allergic rhinitis’ or ‘hay fever’. Indoor allergens, such as dust mite debris, pet dander and mould spores, can cause symptoms all year round. In this case, the condition is called ‘perennial allergic rhinitis’. Sometimes, it can also affect the eyes (allergic conjunctivitis) or the sinuses (sinusitis).

Symptoms:

  • Sneezing
  • Stuffy, runny or itchy nose
  • Itching of the roof of the mouth
  • Post nasal drip (mucus running down the back of the throat)

Hay fever

Hay fever is another name for seasonal allergic rhinitis, which may occur in conjunction with allergic conjunctivitis. It is caused by an allergy to the pollen of plants, trees, or grasses. Depending on where you live and the pollen or pollens you are allergic to, hay fever can happen in the spring, summer and/or autumn - and could last until the first frost.

Symptoms:

  • Sneezing
  • Itchy and/or runny nose
  • Itchy and watery eyes
  • Burning or itching on the roof of your mouth and/or your throat

Common allergies versus colds

Some allergies, especially allergic rhinitis, are easily confused with the common cold, because many of the symptoms are similar. However, there are some general rules for determining which is which.

Common allergies

  • More likely to be present if your parents have allergies
  • Symptoms may last several weeks or more
  • Symptoms may occur in a pattern, cropping up at the same time each year or after exposure to certain settings or situations
  • Symptoms often include itching of the nose and/or eyes
  • Symptoms often include frequent sneezing and/or watery eyes
  • Never causes a fever

Colds

  • Most symptoms resolve within 2 weeks (a cough may persist for longer)
  • A fever is possible
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