Allergies Health Matters Kaiser Permanente

Kaiser Permanente Health Matters
Although allergies come in many
forms, hay fever is the most common.
Symptoms include:
• itchy, watery eyes
• sneezing
• runny, stuffy, or itchy nose
• temporary loss of smell
• headache
• tiredness
Dark circles under the eyes (“allergic
shiners”) or postnasal drip may also
accompany hay fever. Allergy symptoms
are often like cold symptoms, but usually last longer. A child with allergies may
snore, wake up with a sore throat,
breathe through the mouth, and frequently rub the nose.
The most common causes of allergies
are particles in the air, such as pollen,
house dust mites, mold or mildew, and
animal dander. Allergies seem to run in
families. Parents with hay fever often
have children with allergies. Hay fever
usually develops in childhood, but can
occur at any age.
Regional Health Education
You can often discover the cause of an
allergy by noting when your symptoms
occur. Symptoms that occur at the same
time each year (especially during spring,
early summer, or early fall) are often due
to grass, weed, or tree pollen. Allergies
that seem to persist all year long may be
due to dust mites in household dust,
mold spores, or animal dander. Animal
allergies are often easy to detect; staying
away from the animal clears up the
symptoms, provided that is the only
There is no cure for hay fever. Avoiding
the substances that cause allergy attacks
will help.
• See the index of your Kaiser
Permanente Healthwise Handbook
for information on food allergies.
• Call the Kaiser Permanente Healthphone (1-800-33-ASK ME) and select
tapes #320 and #429.
• If you or your spouse have a history of
allergies, consider breastfeeding your
infants. There is some evidence that
only feeding breast milk during the
first six months of life may reduce a
child’s risk of developing food allergies.
Home treatment
If you can discover the source of your
allergies, avoiding that substance is the
best treatment. Keep a record of your
symptoms and the plants, animals,
foods, or chemicals that seem to trigger
If your symptoms are seasonal and
seem related to pollen . . .
• Keep your house, car windows, and
vents closed. Keep your bedroom
windows closed at night.
• Limit the time you spend outside
when pollen counts are high. Dogs
and other pets may bring large
amounts of pollen into your house.
Ideally, pets should be kept outdoors.
If your symptoms are year-round and
seem to be related to dust . . .
• Keep the bedroom as dust-free as
possible, since most of your time is
spent there.
• Try to reduce dust collectors, such as
carpeting, upholstered furniture, and
heavy draperies. Vacuum weekly with a
cleaner equipped with either a HEPA
filter or special bags.
• If you are allergic to dust mites, cover
your mattress, box spring, and pillows
with dust-proof covers now available at
many large retail outlets. Avoid wool
or down blankets and feather pillows.
Wash all bedding weekly in hot water.
If your symptoms are year-round,
worsen in damp weather, and seem to
be related to mold or mildew . . .
• Keep the house well ventilated and
dry. Keep the humidity below 50
percent. Use a dehumidifier during
humid weather.
• Use an air conditioner. This will help
reduce humidity. Change or clean
heating and cooling system filters
• Clean bathroom and kitchen surfaces
often with bleach to reduce mold
If you are allergic to a pet . . .
• Keep the animal outside, or at least
out of your bedroom.
• If your symptoms are severe, the best
solution may be to find a new home
for the pet.
General information on avoiding
irritants and allergens
• Avoid yard work (raking, mowing) or
at least wear a mask. Yard work can
stir up both pollen and mold.
• Avoid smoking and inhaling other
people’s smoke.
• Eliminate aerosol sprays, fragrances,
room deodorizers, and cleaning
products that may add to the
If avoiding allergens does not relieve
your symptoms, treatment with
medications is the next step. Over-thecounter antihistamines are often
effective at relieving sneezing, runny
nose, itching and watery eyes.
Decongestants help clear the nose, but
do not help much with sneezing and
itching. Consider purchasing an overthe-counter Allergy Self-Care kit at a
Kaiser Permanente pharmacy.
Prescription anti-inflammatory nasal
sprays have been shown to be more
effective at reducing sneezing, itching,
runny, and stuffy nose symptoms than
oral antihistamines. It may take a combination of medications to treat all of
your symptoms.
Alternative treatments
There are many alternatives
promoted for treatment of allergies.
We do not have sufficient scientific
evidence to support the safety or
effectiveness of alternative treatments
at this time. Please talk to your physician or medical professional about
alternatives you are considering.
What about allergy shots or
Allergy shots or immunotherapy involve
a series of injections given to reduce
your body’s sensitivity to an allergen,
such as pollen or house dust mites. It
requires regular treatments lasting up
to three to five years. Because of the
time and expense involved, you need a
realistic idea of the benefits before
agreeing to the treatment.
Immunotherapy is 98 percent effective
for allergies to bee stings and other
insect venoms. It is 80 percent effective
against grass, tree, and weed pollens and
house dust mites. Treatment is effective
only if the specific allergen has been
identified by skin testing.
The following factors make it more
likely that immunotherapy will be
worthwhile for you:
• Your symptoms have bothered you for
at least two years.
• You’ve tried home treatment without
• You’ve tried both prescription and
nonprescription medications without
• Skin tests show that you have allergies.
When to call Kaiser Permanente
If you think you have a medical emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest
Signs of a severe allergic reaction
• lightheadedness or dizziness
• wheezing or difficulty breathing
• swelling around the lips, tongue, or
face, or significant swelling around
the site of the insect sting (e.g., entire
arm or leg is swollen), especially if a
red streak leads away from the sting
• skin rash, itching, feeling of warmth, or
If symptoms worsen over time, and
your home treatment doesn’t help, your
physician can recommend different
medications or immunotherapy. Allergy
shots may help reduce sensitivity to
some allergens.
Other resources
For more general health information,
check your Kaiser Permanente Healthwise Handbook, listen to the Kaiser
Permanente Healthphone at 1-80033-ASK ME, visit our Web site at, or contact your facility’s
Health Education Department for
books, videos, classes, and additional
Emergency services and care are covered if you were experiencing acute symptoms of sufficient severity, including severe pain, such that you
reasonably believed that a failure to obtain immediate medical attention could result in serious jeopardy to health, serious impairment to bodily
functions, or serious dysfunction of any bodily organ or part.
This information is not intended to diagnose health problems or to take the place of medical advice or care you receive from your physician or
other medical professional. If you have persistent health problems, or if you have further questions, please consult your doctor. If you have questions or need additional information about your medication, please speak to your pharmacist.
© 2002, The Permanente Medical Group, Inc. All rights reserved. Regional Health Education. Adapted from copyrighted material of Healthwise, Incorporated.
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