Tip/Thought of the Day

What Causes Allergies?

Many people suffer from allergies and if the reason behind the allergy isn’t addressed, symptoms can often become serious, even debilitating. Seasonal irritants, Asthma, pets, sensitivity to fragrances among many other causes, are all potentially irritants to the body. Symptoms can range from watery eyes, sneezing, headaches, skin irritation, and can be as severe as migraines, dizziness, even anaphylaxis- causing difficulty breathing and potentially death. Here are some potential causes of those allergy symptoms:

Seasonal irritants

As beautiful as it is, once plants start to bloom and the weather warms, many people experience an increase in allergy symptoms. Sneezing, stuffy or runny nose, coughing, itchy eyes, ear congestion, post nasal drip, are all symptoms of seasonal allergies. The severity can range from mild and treatable with over-the-counter antihistamine, eye drops or inhalers, while more severe symptoms may require a prescription medication.

Outdoor environmental allergens are difficult to avoid, but while indoors, taking steps like regular dusting, vacuuming, and replacing air filters can help mitigate symptoms.


Many people experience an allergy to pets. It is estimated that as many as 3 out of 10 people in the U.S. experience allergies or asthma symptoms from pets. Being allergic to cats is more common, as are allergies to certain types of breeds. When people experience a sensitivity to animals, it is often due to a reaction to allergens like proteins in the pet’s urine, saliva or dander (dead skin cells). Pet hair is not an allergen, but it can carry dander, saliva, and dust that cause people reactions.

Pet allergens can collect on furniture and other surfaces. Sometimes the allergens may remain at high levels for several months and cling to walls, furniture, clothing and other surfaces.

Symptoms can mimic those of seasonal allergies- runny eyes, sneezing, and coughing, even to the point of it being debilitating. If you experience allergies to pets, avoid contact. It can sometimes be difficult to avoid the reactions since pet allergens are easily transported on people’s clothes or stay on surfaces for long periods of time. If avoiding contact with animal allergens is unavoidable at home or because of contact with others who have pets, one option is using a HEPA filter, which removes tiny airborne pollutants, like dust mites, pollen, and pet dander, from the air. Or, speak to your provider about how an antihistamine or an allergy medication can help relieve some of the symptoms.


Food allergies can present themselves as digestive upset, reactions can mimic seasonal allergies like sneezing and coughing, and even cause skin issues like hives and eczema.

More serious symptoms can include:

  • Swelling of the lips, tongue, and/or throat that blocks breathing
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Shortness of breath or wheezing
  • Drop in blood pressure (feeling faint, confused, weak, passing out)
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Chest pain
  • A weak or “thready” pulse

If you know you have food allergies, clearly staying aware of what you consume is the safest route to take in preventing a reaction. Read food labels and ask people about the ingredients in food before consuming them. There is nothing scarier than assuming an item is allergen-free, only to feel the symptoms begin, especially for those that have a potentially life-threatening allergy.

For more severe reactions, speak to your provider if your allergy warrants an epinephrine pen (epi-pen) in the event you experience a more severe reaction. If you aren’t sure if you have an allergy to a specific food, sometimes you can establish a pattern from what have consumed previously that caused a reaction. Food allergies typically start mild, but can escalate rapidly with more exposure to the allergen. Since the reaction can suddenly be much worse than during a previous exposure, it is never a good idea to “test” foods you think you may be allergic to. Speak to an allergist for guidance on what may be causing the issue as more in-depth tests may be required.


Air fragrances such as perfumes, air fresheners, cleansers, and laundry supplies can cause serious allergies for some people. Mild reactions to fragrances can include sneezing or a stuffy nose. But for others, symptoms and reactions can be severe.

In a study completed by Anne Steinemann, PhD, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Melbourne School of Engineering, nearly 1,100 people were asked to complete questionnaires about their exposure to fragranced products. Of those that participated, 17% experienced serious reactions to fragrance, including coughing, difficulty breathing, and anaphylaxis. 10% experienced migraines. Almost 5% of people said they suffered neurological symptoms (dizziness or fainting, for example). Many others experienced skin sensitivities like rashes and hives. What is clear is that sensitivity and allergies to fragrance is more common than many realize. My daughter had a rash just around her neck for months when she was younger and had started using scented soaps and lotions. It wasn’t until a trip to the allergist that we learned it was a classic fragrance allergy.

One way to cut back on experiencing the adverse effects of a fragrance allergy is to avoid fragrances altogether. Instead of using candles and air fresheners that are loaded with chemicals, try opening the window to freshen the room. Or, use natural scents like essential oils in a diffuser. But, make sure you follow the guidelines for using even natural products, as people can still experience reactions if they are applied directly to the skin.

Don’t be afraid to share your experience with fragrance allergies with others; co workers, friends, and family will surely be eager to help you avoid a negative reaction by way of removing scents that cause a reaction.


An allergy to latex, which is derived from the sap of rubber plants, can range from mild, exhibiting skin irritation, to severe- difficulty breathing and anaphylaxis. Latex is commonly found in every day items like balloons, elastic, rubber toys, dental supplies, medical tools and supplies, pacifiers, etc.

Synthetic rubber products, including “latex” house paints, are not made with natural latex and do not trigger allergic reactions in people who are allergic to products made with natural rubber latex.

People who are at higher risk for developing latex allergy include:

  • Health care workers and others who frequently wear latex gloves
  • People who have had multiple surgeries (for example, 10 or more), such as children with spina bifida
  • People who are often exposed to natural rubber latex, including rubber industry workers
  • People with other allergies, such as hay fever (allergic rhinitis) or allergy to certain foods (like avocados, melons, chestnuts, and apples).

In most cases, latex allergy develops after many previous exposures to latex. Latex allergy symptoms may include hives, itching, stuffy or runny nose. It can cause symptoms associated with asthma: wheezing, chest tightness and difficulty breathing. Symptoms begin within minutes after exposure to latex containing products. The most severe latex allergy can result in anaphylaxis, a serious allergic reaction involving severe breathing difficulty and/or fall in blood pressure (shock).

Due to the risk of people experiencing a latex reaction when in a medical interaction (like at the dentist, or during an exam), many providers have switched to non-latex or low-protein gloves and tools. This is a crucial precaution as those with a severe allergy can experience a reaction from even the powder on latex gloves.

If you notice a pattern of reaction around items that may contain latex, speak to an allergist and the possibility of obtaining an epinephrine pen (epi-pen) in the event a serious reaction occurs.

If you end up needing an epinephrine pen, you may be surprised to discover how expensive they are. When you factor in that the recommendation is that they are replaced every 6 months, the cost adds up quickly. Insurance coverage doesn’t guarantee a good price for the prescription, either. Services like GoodRX help you find which pharmacies near you offer the best price and also provide a discount card that can be used in lieu of your insurance benefit. CVS introduced a generic epinephrine pen after the manufacturer of Epi-pens, Mylan, had raised prices several years ago. Due to the backlash, Mylan now also shares coupons that lower the price of the prescription, which can be found here. A little bit of research into which option works best for your specific situation can save quite a bundle.

Allergies can range from a mild irritant to life threatening. Don’t let them stop you from enjoying life. Whether that’s living with your loving pets, walking in the park, playing sports, or relaxing at home. . .Speak to your healthcare provider when simple remedies don’t work.









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