July 16, 2014 | lmsXpect3 Dealing with allergies to your environment? Sneezing, itchy eyes, runny and itchy nose, congestion, scratchy throat are no fun and can be more than just annoying. These are what we call “allergies”. It’s also sometimes called hay fever, even though it involves neither hay nor a fever. Allergies to your environment can ruin your quality of life and decrease your productivity. Because of that, millions of dollars are spent on drugs called antihistamines like Allegra, Claritin, or Zyrtec. (When there is a –D after these names, it means they also have a decongestant in them like pseudoephedrine). These medicines block the effects of the chemical histamine which is released by cells called mast cells. These mast cells do this in response to exposure to various biological molecules in the air called antigens or allergens. When antigens attach to receptor sites on the mast cells of sensitive individuals, histamine and other chemicals are released. Histamine causes itching, swelling of mucous membranes, and increased production of mucous. The amount of reaction of a person with allergies to their environment to these allergens depends on genetics, degree of exposure, and how much other stuff the person is being subjected to, also called “total load”. One of the keys to treating allergies is avoidance: keeping windows closed, turning on the air conditioning, using air filters (which help to a limited degree), or in extreme cases moving to another part of the country. Typically, for example, a person with pollen allergies will feel much better on an ocean beach (don’t we all?). Pills, steroid nose sprays, various botanical extracts (quercitin, Stinging nettles, bromelain, N-acetyl cysteine) can all be helpful. And when symptoms are more than one season or when other treatments don’t provide adequate relief, then allergy immunotherapy with shots or sublingual drops (SLIT) is very useful. Allergies to your environment don’t only involve pollens, however. You can also be allergic to dust mites (actually the allergens is the dust mite poop! Yuk!), mold spores, pet dander, feathers, and other things. These environmental allergies also respond well to the treatment just described. Some people’s allergy to their environment can also include sensitivities to chemicals. For example, exposure to perfume, diesel exhaust, paint fumes, formaldehyde, newsprint, or you name it can lead to headache, nausea, mood change, brain fog, dizziness, fatigue, or other symptoms. And while there is good treatment for allergies to pollen, dust, mold, and dander, the main treatment for chemical sensitivity is avoidance, avoidance, avoidance.