Living with Environmental Allergies

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: March 2022

People living with environmental allergies face many challenges. Those challenges may be physical, social, and emotional. For instance, airborne allergens like pollen, dust, fumes, and mold can be extremely hard to avoid. Contact allergens like cleaning products, perfumes, and cosmetics may be easier to avoid, but substitutes may be more costly.

Finding ways to cope with these challenges can make your life more comfortable and enjoyable.

Environmental allergies explained

When someone has a reaction to something they breathe or come into contact with, they are said to have an environmental allergy. Environmental allergens can be found indoors and outdoors. Some common environmental allergies include:1-4

  • Dust, mold, or pollen from grasses, weeds, and trees
  • Dander from any animal with fur
  • Household insects like dust mites and cockroaches

Environmental allergies may be seasonal or year-round. Some people have both. Seasonal allergies are usually caused by outdoor mold and pollen from trees, grasses, or weeds. Year-round allergies are usually caused by things found in your environment all year long. This includes dust mites, pet hair or dander, cockroaches, or indoor mold.2

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If you live with respiratory allergens found in your environment, there are steps you can take to reduce your symptoms.

Improve indoor air quality

When you have allergies, indoor air quality plays an important role in how you feel each day. Environmental allergies like pollen, mold, and dust can lead to itchy eyes, sneezing, runny nose, problems breathing, and fatigue. By improving air quality in your home and office, you can better manage your allergen exposure. In turn, this will hopefully reduce your discomfort.5,6

Creating better air quality in your home may not be hard, but it may be expensive. HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters can be costly, especially if you need one in every room of the house. However, cleaning your home more often is relatively cheap, but it is time-consuming.5,6

Avoid outdoor allergens

Outdoors activities can be fun. But for people who suffer from environmental allergies, time outdoors can lead to discomfort. Pollen and mold spores float through the air and land on your skin and clothes when you go outside.

Avoiding allergy triggers is basic advice for those with allergies, but it can be hard to completely avoid the outdoors. However, there are ways to enjoy your morning run or beautiful fall leaves with a few adjustments.7

Rethink where you live

If you have severe allergies, you may want to reconsider where you live to help control your allergies. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) creates a yearly list of 100 cities where people are most affected by spring and fall allergies. The report looks at the largest cities in the United States. This information may be especially helpful for those living with seasonal allergies.8

Manage pet allergies

Pet allergies are fairly common. You may wonder, if you have pet allergies, can you have a dog or cat? The answer depends on the person. One thing to keep in mind: If you have allergies but never had allergy testing, you might not be allergic to your pet. Pet hair can carry mold, pollen, or dust, which may actually be your triggers.9,10

If you want to get a pet or already have one, talk with your doctor. You may need allergy testing to find out exactly what you are allergic to. It may help to wash your pet and your hands more often or make them sleep outside your bedroom. Your doctor may have tips for what you can do to keep both you and your furry companion happy.9,10

Partner with your healthcare team

Allergies are mostly a chronic condition that you manage yourself with support from your doctors. This fact makes you and your healthcare team partners. Each of you has important information that will help build the best treatment plan for you.

Everyone’s allergies are different, and you are the expert on what does and does not work for you. Your doctor knows which tests, medicines, and coping strategies are available. You know how your allergy symptoms and treatments make you feel. Working together, you can create an allergy management plan that brings you the most relief.