Indoor Allergies

Indoor allergies happen when the immune system reacts to substances normally found indoors, such as smoke, dust, mold, or pet dander. Symptoms of indoor allergies can be managed by avoiding triggers.

Indoor Allergies Overview

Reviewed: May 19, 2014

Allergies are very common and affect millions of Americans. Allergies occur when the body's immune system reacts to an allergen. The reaction is called “hypersensitivity” and causes the body to release inflammatory proteins into the body. Allergens are any foreign substance that triggers the body's immune system to react defensively.

Many people suffer year-round from allergy symptoms caused by indoor allergens, which include cigarette smoke, dust mite droppings, animal dander, cockroach droppings, and molds. The allergens are inhaled through the nose and travel to the lungs, causing allergic reactions.

Symptoms of an allergy or hypersensitivity reaction range from mild irritations such as sneezing, coughing, skin irritations, and a runny nose to more serious reactions such as indigestion, vomiting, and diarrhea. In some cases, an extreme, life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis can occur in response to allergens; anaphylaxis can cause a patient's airway to swell and close, which prevents the person from breathing.

There is no specific cause of allergies. Family history, genetics, and environmental exposure to allergens all contribute to the risk of developing allergies.

Allergies cannot be completely cured, but there are treatments available to regulate them and actions that can be taken to prevent further reactions. The first step is to avoid triggers or allergens that make symptoms worse. Prescription and non-prescriptions medications, including antihistamines, can be used to treat indoor allergies.

Indoor Allergies Symptoms

Symptoms of indoor allergies depend on the allergen, but usually affect the airways, sinuses, and nasal passages. Reactions usually cause symptoms such as sneezing, stuffiness, a runny nose, or itchiness in your nose, the roof of your mouth, throat, eyes or ears.

Indoor Allergies Causes

Allergies and hypersensitivity reactions are caused when the body's immune system has a reaction that causes the body to release inflammatory proteins. Since immune systems vary from person to person, allergies and allergic reactions differ greatly with each individual.

An allergy starts when your immune system mistakes a normally harmless substance for a dangerous substance. The immune system then produces antibodies that remain on the alert for that particular allergen. When you are exposed to the allergen again, these antibodies can release a number of immune system chemicals, such as histamine, that cause allergy symptoms.

The cause of allergies is largely unknown and it is difficult to predict who will develop allergies to particular substances. You are more likely to develop allergies if you:

  • have a family history of asthma or allergies
  • are a child
  • have asthma or other allergies

Indoor Allergies Diagnosis

If you think you have an allergy, your health care provider can assist with making an accurate diagnosis by performing a physical exam and ask you questions, such as when the allergy occurs.

Allergy testing can determine whether the symptoms are an actual allergy or are caused by other problems. For example, a runny nose or cough may actually be due to an infection.

Skin testing is the most common method of allergy testing. Skin testing involves placing a small amount of the suspected allergen on the skin, and then closely watching for signs of a reaction, which include swelling and redness. Blood tests may also be done to measure levels of allergy-related substances in the body. You may also be told to avoid exposure to suspected allergens to see if you get better, or to use suspected items to see if you feel worse.

Living With Indoor Allergies

Most indoor allergies can be managed by avoiding exposure to allergens or taking medications to manage symptoms of an allergic reaction.

Some allergies are manageable with home remedies. For example, allergies to dust or pet dander can be managed with frequent washing of bedding and stuffed animals, maintaining low humidity in your home, regularly vacuuming carpet, or replacing carpet with hard-surface floors. Symptoms of mold allergies can be managed by reducing moisture in your home by using ventilation fans and dehumidifiers in rooms that remain damp, such as the kitchen and bathroom.

Having an allergy increases your risk of certain other medical problems, including:

  • anaphylaxis. If you have severe allergies, you're at increased risk of this serious allergy-induced reaction. Anaphylaxis is most commonly associated with allergies to food, drugs, and insect venom.
  • asthma. If you have an allergy, you are more likely to have asthma.
  • atopic dermatitis (eczema), sinusitis, and infections of the ears or lungs. Your risk of getting these conditions is higher if you have an allergy to pollen, pet dander, or mold.
  • fungal complications of your sinuses or your lungs. You are at increased risk of allergic fungal infections if you have an allergy to mold.

Indoor Allergies Treatments

Allergy treatment begins with avoiding the allergen that triggers your symptoms.

Medications can help relieve the symptoms related to allergies. Common antihistamines used to treat allergy symptoms include:

Antihistamines are often included as a component of combination cough and cold products. Review the labels of all medications carefully so you do not take more than 1 antihistamine at a time.

Immunotherapy (allergy shots or sublingual tablets) may be necessary for severe allergies. This type of treatment involves exposure to purified extracts of allergens to increase the body’s tolerance to the substance and reduce the body’s development of a reaction.

Epinephrine (EpiPen, Auvi-Q, others) is recommended for severe allergic reactions. It should be injected as soon as the symptoms of a life-threatening reaction appear and can reduce the symptoms until emergency help arrives.

Indoor Allergies Prognosis