Allergy falsehoods abound. Here’s the truth behind several widespread myths.
You’ll find a lot of allergy information online, but sometimes it can be hard to discern science from fiction. To help you identify your real triggers and find the right symptom relief, it helps to know the truth behind these 10 common allergy myths.
1. If it’s not spring or fall, you must have a cold.
Not necessarily. Colds don’t only spread during the winter months. They can make you sick at any time of year. One way to tell whether you have a cold or allergies is by your symptoms. Colds and other viruses usually come with a sore throat, green or yellow nasal discharge, and a fever. And while cold misery starts to relent in a few days, allergies can stick around for weeks or months — as long as you’re exposed to your trigger substance.
2. Only flowers cause allergies.
When allergies strike, brightly colored blooms might seem the main suspects, but they’re rarely to blame. Birds and insects intercept flower pollen, carrying it from plant to plant before it can catch the wind and reach human noses. Most pollen at this time of year actually comes from weeds like ragweed.
3. Allergic to pets? Buy a hypoallergenic dog.
If Fido makes you sneeze, you might have considered shelling out hundreds, or even thousands of dollars for a “hypoallergenic” dog. Certain breeds, like the Bichon Frise, Labradoodle, and Miniature Schnauzer are marketed to allergy sufferers because they shed less fur — and therefore less allergy-producing pet dander — than other dogs. Yet a study in the American Journal of Rhinology and Allergy found households with hypoallergenic dogs contained the same level of allergens as those with non-hypoallergenic dogs. “…The idea that you can buy a certain breed of dog and think it will cause less allergy problems for a person already dog-allergic is not borne out by our study,” said Christine Cole Johnson, PhD, MPH, senior author and chair of Henry Ford Hospital’s Department of Public Health Sciences. Because pets secrete allergy-causing substances in their saliva and skin, even a hairless dog can make you sneeze.
4. If you didn’t have allergies as a child, you won’t get them as an adult.
Even if you never sneezed at pollen, dust, or pet dander as a kid, it’s never too late to start. “Although allergies are most common in childhood, they can strike at any age in life,” said allergist Richard Weber, MD, past president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. Developing allergies is a cumulative process. It can take months or years of repeated exposure to a substance before you become sensitive to it.
5. The best time to start taking your allergy medicine is when your symptoms first appear.
If you wait for the first sign of a sniffle or sneeze to take your medicine, it will already be too late. Allergists recommend anticipating allergy season and starting on antihistamines and other allergy medicines early, so they can build up in your bloodstream and arm you before symptoms strike. Make sure you read package instructions carefully and take the medicine only as directed.
6. It doesn’t matter when you go outside. The pollen count stays the same all day.
With allergies, timing does matter. Plants release their pollen early in the morning. Counts peak by midday, and then gradually fall. In general, you’re better off going out later in the day. But weather is important, too. You’re more likely to feel miserable on warm, breezy days than on cool, rainy days.
7. Allergic to dogs or cats? Get a guinea pig or hamster, instead.
Any furry animal, no matter how small, can set off allergy symptoms. If you really want a hypoallergenic pet, buy a lizard or fish.
8. Get rid of your feather bedding and down comforters to reduce indoor allergies.
Don’t ditch your bedding just yet. Unless you’re specifically allergic to feathers or down, these materials shouldn’t bother you. Dust mites are the real pests in your bed, causing allergy attacks in some 20 million Americans. To keep these tiny bugs away from your skin, zip up your mattress and pillows in dust-proof covers. Also wash your bedding in water temperatures of least 130 degrees Fahrenheit to kill mites.
9. Only a dirty house can cause dust allergies.
Your house can pass the white glove test and still make your visitors — and you — sneeze. Dust particles that trigger allergies are often too small to be visible.
10. Vacuuming will prevent dust allergy symptoms.
Vacuuming regularly can release some of the dust and pet dander that’s been collecting in your rugs. Yet a vigorous run with the vacuum cleaner can also stir up these allergens and release more of them into the air. Using a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter vacuum with strong suction will remove the greatest number of allergy-inducing particles.
March 30, 2020
Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA and Janet O’Dell, RN