Environmental Allergy FAQ and Resources
What are environmental allergies?
- Environmental allergies occur when the body’s immune system overreacts to substances in the environment like grass, pollen, animal dander or dust mites.³
- When you come into contact with an allergen, the immune system forms antibodies that trigger a chemical response, causing allergic symptoms. These are signs of the immune system overreacting to the allergen.³'⁴
What are common environmental allergy symptoms?
- Exposure to an allergen can cause allergic rhinitis, or inflammation of the upper airways (nose, mouth, throat) also known as hay fever, and conjunctivitis (itchy, watery eyes).⁴'⁵'⁶
- Symptoms of allergic rhinitis include a runny nose, congestion, itching around the nose, mouth, eyes or throat, and sneezing.⁵
- You can be sensitive to many different types of allergens. It’s important to take note of where and when you have symptoms, how much symptoms bother you and how well you manage them. Based on the cause of the allergy and severity of your symptoms, an allergy specialist can determine what type of treatment will be most effective.
What types of environmental allergens can people have a reaction to?
- You can have an allergic reaction to outdoor or indoor allergens.
- Common outdoor allergens include trees, grass, ragweed and pollen. These are known as seasonal allergens because they typically occur during certain times of the year and in certain areas of the country.⁶'¹²
- Common indoor allergens include dust mites, pet dander and molds. These are also called perennial allergens because they can occur all year long.⁶'¹²
What happens if symptoms go untreated?
- If untreated, environmental allergy symptoms may worsen over time.
- Short-term relief for symptoms can be achieved through medicines such as prescription or over-the-counter antihistamines, decongestants and nasal sprays that control symptoms.²
How are environmental allergies diagnosed?
- A diagnosis by an allergy specialist helps to identify the cause of environmental allergies and minimize their impact.¹⁴
- An allergist can determine what is causing an allergic reaction from a patient’s medical history and symptoms, supported by confirmatory testing.
- Skin prick testing is a reliable and inexpensive way to identify what substances trigger an allergic reaction. During the test, the skin is exposed to tiny amounts of an allergen to watch for signs of an allergic reaction.¹⁶ Allergy skin testing is performed in the doctor’s office and results are usually available within 15-20 minutes.¹⁶'¹⁷
- A blood test is another way to diagnose environmental allergies and confirm results of skin testing. A sample of a person’s blood is tested in a laboratory for immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies that are produced by the body during an allergic reaction. Results can take several days or up to a week.