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Allergen: A substance that triggers an allergic reaction.

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Allergic Rhinitis: An allergy affecting the mucus membrane of the nose. Seasonal allergic rhinitis is often called "hay fever."

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Allergist: A doctor that diagnoses, treats, and manages allergy-related conditions.

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Ana-Kit: A device used to inject epinephrine during an anaphylaxis attack.

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Anaphylaxis: A life-threatening allergic reaction that involves the entire body. Anaphylaxis may result in shock or death, and thus requires immediate medical attention

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Animal dander: The small scales or pieces of skin, often containing proteins secreted by oil glands, which are shed by an animal. These proteins are the major causes of allergies to pets.

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Antibiotics: A class of medications used to treat bacterial infections. Certain antibiotics, such as penicillin, may cause an allergic reaction in some people.

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Antibody: A protein in the immune system that recognizes and attacks foreign substances in the body.

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Anticonvulsant: A medication used to prevent or treat seizures. Certain anticonvulsants may cause an allergic reaction in some people.

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Antihistamines: A class of medications used to block the action of histamines in the body and prevent the symptoms of an allergic reaction.

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Asthma: An inflammatory disorder of the airways, causing periodic attacks of wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath.

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Atopic dermatitis: A chronic skin rash, also known as "eczema," that often appears in the first few years of life.

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Basophil: An immune system cell that attaches to antibodies and circulates through out the blood.

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Beta-blockers: A class of blood pressure medications that ease the heart's pumping action and widen the blood vessels. Beta-blockers counteract the effects of epinephrine used for emergency treatment of anaphylactic shock and should not be used during immunotherapy.

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Bronchial tubes: The lower sections of the airway that lead into the lungs.

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Challenge test: A test used to confirm an allergy to specific substance. A doctor will administer small but increasing amounts of a suspected allergen until an allergic response is noticed. Due to the risk of anaphylaxis, this should only be performed under a controlled setting.

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Conjunctivitis: Inflammation of the conjunctiva, or the mucous membrane surrounding the eye. Also known as pinkeye.

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Contact dermatitis: An allergic reaction resulting from skin contact to an allergen.

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Corticosteroid: An anti-inflammatory medication used to treat the itching and swelling associated with some allergic reactions.

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Cromolym sodium: An anti-inflammatory nasal spray used to treat and sometimes prevent allergic rhinitis.

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Decongestants: A class of medications used for nasal congestion. Decongestants are available in oral doses, nasal sprays, or eye drops (for conjunctivitis).

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Dust mites: A microscopic organism that lives in dust.

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Eczema: See Atopic dermatitis.

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Eosinophil: A specific type of immune cell that can cause tissue damage in the late phase of an allergic reaction.

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Epinepherine: A medication used for immediate treatment of anaphylaxis by raising blood pressure and heart rate back to normal levels. Epinepherine is also known as adrenaline.

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EpiPen: A device used to inject epinephrine during an anaphylaxis attack.

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Heparin: A chemical released by basophils and mast cells that causes nearby tissues to become swollen and inflamed.

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Histamine: A chemical released by basophils and mast cells that causes nearby tissues to become swollen and inflamed.

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Hives: See urticaria.

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Hypertension: High blood pressure. When blood pushes against artery walls harder than normal.

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Immunoglobulin E: A type of antibody responsible for most allergic reactions.

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Immunotherapy: A series of shots that help build up the immune system's tolerance to an allergen.

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Insulin: A hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. Diabetics who take insulin derived from animals may have allergic reactions.

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Intradermal test: A test where an allergen is injected just underneath the skin. Intradermal tests are generally used when results from a skin prick test are unclear.

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Late Phase: The period 4 - 24 hours after exposure to an allergen where tissue damage may occur.

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Leukotrienes: Inflammatory substances that are released by mast cells during an allergic response or asthma attack.

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Lymphocyte: A specific type of immune cell that can cause tissue damage in the late phase of an allergic reaction.

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Mast cell: An immune system cell which attaches to antibodies and is located in the tissue that lines the nose, bronchial tubes, gastrointestinal tract, and the skin

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Neocromil sodium: An inhaled medication used to treat inflammation involved with asthma.

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Neutrophil: A specific type of immune cell that can cause tissue damage in the late phase of an allergic reaction.

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Otitis media: A middle ear infection. Otitis media with effusion occurs when fluid builds up within the ear.

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Radioallergosorbant Test (RAST): A blood test that measures the amount of IgE antibody produced when the sample is mixed with a specific allergen.

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Rhinitis: An inflammation of the nasal passageways, particularly with discharge.

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Sinusitis: An inflammation or infection of one or more sinuses. The sinuses are hollow air spaces located around the nose and eyes.

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Skin prick test: A test where a needle is used to scratch the skin with a small amount of allergen. A response can usually be seen within 15 - 20 minutes.

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Urticaria: Raised areas of the skin that are often red, warm, and itchy. Urticaria is also known as hives.

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Urushiol: An oil found on poison ivy, oak, and sumac.

Your first step towards feeling better on a daily basis is avoiding the things that cause your allergic reactions. Once you have been tested and you know what you're allergic to, there are specific steps to take.

Avoid indoor allergens and irritants

Many people don't realize that the air we breathe inside our own homes can be laden with airborne allergens and irritants. Here is a list of fom of the most common culprits and ways to minimize them:

  • Pollen -- Stay indoors on days with high pollen levels. If you need to be outside for a while, consider taking a shower to wash your face and hair after coming indoors. Change your clothes and wash them, and don't dry them on an outdoor clothesline. Keep doors and windows closed, and use the air conditioner if you can. (This applies while you're riding in a car as well.) Obviously, pollen is hard to avoid, but you can probably minimize some of the exposure.
  • Dust mites -- Encase mattresses, boxsprings, and pillows with mite-proof covers. Wash bedding once a week in hot water. Replace upholstered furniture with wooden, leather, or vinyl alternatives. Try to keep the indoor humidity level lower than 50%. Remove clutter and stuffed animals from the bedroom. Wipe dust with a damp cloth and vacuum (with a HEPA filter) weekly. Replace wall-to-wall carpet with hardwood or other flooring -- though costly, this can significantly reduce the dust mite populations in your home.
  • Mold spores -- Try to keep the indoor humidity less than 50%. Keep sinks and tubs dry and clean, and fix leaky pipes. Clean the refrigerator tray when necessary. Use an exhaust fan in the bathroom while showering. Avoid putting damp clothes into a basket or hamper.
  • Pet dander -- One of the most important first steps you should try is keeping your pet off beds and linens; in fact, out of the bedroom entirely. Since you lie in bed all night long, you definitely don't want allergens accumulating on your bedding. Try to keep pets off upholstered furniture and carpets as well. Some allergists recommend washing your pet once a week to minimize the amount of allergen given off, but that may be impractical. Consider installing a HEPA filter if you have a central air conditioning system to remove airborne pet allergen. Vacuum cleaners with HEPA filters may help. If these measures don't help and your symptoms are greatly impacting your life, you may have to consider immunotherapy or finding your pet a new home.
  • Cockroaches -- Wipe off counters in the kitchen, and avoid leaving dirty dishes in the sink. Keep food in closed containers. Take out the trash regularly, including bags, newspapers, and cardboard boxes. Use roach traps.
  • Tobacco or wood smoke -- Don't allow smoking in the house or car. Encourage family members and friends to stop smoking around you. Avoid using fireplaces. If you need to burn wood, use an air-tight woodburning stove.
  • Cleaning agents -- Avoid using cleaning agents and sprays (such as bleach) that can irritate the airways of someone with allergies and asthma.

Avoid outdoor allergens and irritants

You may have more trouble avoiding outdoor allergens, especially during pollen season, but here are some suggestions for avoiding common culprits:

  • Pollen/mold spores -- Wear a face mask while doing outdoor activities, like yard work, on days when pollen levels are high. Have someone without allergies cut the grass.
  • Ozone -- Refrain from outdoor activities during peak ozone periods, which often occur in the afternoon on hot summer days.
  • Insect stings -- An allergic reaction to insect sting venom can lead to anaphylaxis. If you know you are allergic to insect stings, you should always carry an injectable epinephrine kit (such as EpiPen or Twinject) with you. To avoid getting stung, you need to take certain precautions.

 

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Review Date: 7/10/2007

Reviewed By: Alan Greene, M.D., F.A.A.P., Department of Pediatrics, Packard Children's Hospital, Stanford University School of Medicine; Chief Medical Officer, A.D.A.M., Inc.


The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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