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January 21, 2021 • read

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Four common allergy myths

Itchy skin, stuffy nose, watery eyes—we all know the telltale signs of allergies. Pollen and plants aren’t the only causes of these unpleasant symptoms. Substances in your food, household, and even your soap can trigger an allergic reaction. Here’s a look at some common misconceptions to do with allergies, and tips for keeping your allergies under control.

1. Myth — sinus rinsing is dangerous

Rinsing your stuffed-up sinuses with clean water or saline solution can relieve the discomfort of nasal congestion. There are tools you can use to flush out your sinuses, like Neti pots. They’re designed to gently push mucus, allergens and debris out of your nasal passages so you can breathe. 

There’s been debate about whether sinus rinsing is a safe practice. Complications can arise from sinus rinsing with tools that weren’t properly cleaned. Dirty tools flush bacteria into the nasal passage. 

Sinus rinsing isn’t dangerous as long as it’s done with water that’s been boiled or distilled. This is necessary for cleaning any tools you insert into your nasal passage. Avoid using tap water to clean your device unless it’s been boiled first.

Another misconception about nasal flushing is the more you do it, the better you’ll feel. The truth is, sinus infections have been linked to rinsing too often. There’s no need to sinus rinse if you aren’t congested. Your nose is able to clean itself naturally. If you are congested, start with rinsing once daily and see if it helps your symptoms, to a maximum of three times daily.

2. Myth — cleaning products don’t cause allergies 

Clean environments have fewer allergens. That’s why keeping your home free of dust can help keep your allergies at bay. In Canada, 27% of adults report being allergic to household dust. 

When it comes to dust, what triggers your allergies is a microscopic creature called a dust mite. They thrive in warm, humid environments, and are often found in mattresses, sheets and carpets. Although dust mites don’t bite, inhaling them or touching them can cause:

  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Swelling around the eyes, with irritated skin
  • Postnasal drip
  • Cough

There are countless cleaning products that are great for getting rid of dust. However, what people with allergies may not know is that some cleaning products can make their allergies worse. That’s because they often contain harsh chemicals. In some cases, those chemicals trigger the same symptoms as dust. Widely used chemicals known to cause allergic reactions include:

  • Ammonia
  • Formaldehyde
  • D-limonene
  • Sodium lauryl sulphate

They’re commonly found in household products like:

  • Furniture polish
  • Dish soap
  • Laundry detergent
  • All-purpose cleaner
  • Fabric softener

If you’re trying to eliminate dust to alleviate your allergies, opt for gentle cleaners. There are low-chemical options you can purchase, and DIY solutions. 

3. Myth — adults can’t develop new allergies

Most allergies develop during childhood. The good news is that lots of people grow out of them. Conditions like asthma, or allergies to certain foods often disappear as your immune system matures. 

However, not all allergies begin during childhood. It’s possible to develop new ones later in life. This is most common with food allergies. One study found that 45% of adults with food allergies developed them in adulthood. 

In lots of allergic reactions, the particular food isn’t actually the culprit. What triggers your immune system is actually an allergen that the food has been cross-contaminated with. Especially for adults with pollen allergies, eating raw fruits and vegetables that still have pollen particles on them can cause allergy symptoms. This is known as oral allergy syndrome, and reactions are usually mild. Symptoms include itchiness and swelling in your mouth, tongue, nose, and throat soon after consuming the allergen.

To learn more about which types of foods or cross-contaminants you’re allergic to, consider an allergy test. Allergists can help you narrow down the cause of your reactions and give you advice for managing future episodes.

4. Myth — pet allergies always cause acute reactions

While four-legged friends are great for your mental health, their effect on your physical health may be another story. Dog and cat allergies affect between 10% and 20% of people worldwide, and twice as many people are allergic to cats than dogs.

Allergic reactions to animals can be caused by:

  • Dander, which are pieces of microscopic skin shed from animals that have fur, hair or feathers. Inhaling dander can cause an allergic reaction, especially for people with asthma.
  • Allergens from the outdoors. If you have a pet that spends time outdoors, chances are they’re tracking allergens back into your home. Grass, bushes, and other plant life can contribute to allergic reactions. 
  • Dust in litter boxes. Pets can kick up dust from their litter box, sending particles into the air that irritate your respiratory system.

Not all pet allergies are severe. You might have long-term, mild symptoms without knowing the cause. To reduce allergens from pets in your home environment, try an air purifier. High efficiency particulate air filters, or HEPA filters, can help. They filter air by forcing it through a fine mesh. The mesh catches things like hair, pet dander, dust, and other particles that make allergies worse. 

When it comes to allergies, it can be tough to narrow down your triggers. Keeping a clean home, using low-chemical products, and monitoring your diet are a few ways to beat unwanted reactions.

If you need help getting to the bottom of what’s causing your symptoms, you can speak to an allergist from the comfort of your home. They’re doctors who specialize in allergies and immunology. Wait times are only a couple days, so allergy relief may be closer than you think!

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