6 Allergy Myths Debunked
Our master class in allergies will help you separate fact from fiction.
Myth: Short-haired pets don’t cause allergies.
Reality Check: Adopt that Labradoodle or Siberian cat so that your kid will finally stop begging for one—but not because it’s hypoallergenic. Hair isn’t the problem. It’s the proteins found in a pet’s dander (skin flakes), saliva and urine that cause allergic reactions. “All animals have skin, so they all have dander to some extent,” says Cristina Porch-Curren, MD, an allergist at Coastal Allergy Care in Ventura County, CA. Even rabbits, guinea pigs, rodents and birds may kick up your symptoms. Fish and reptiles, because they have scales, are pretty good sneeze-free bets. If you’re allergic to your furry family members, keep them out of your bedroom, use a vacuum with a HEPA filter to prevent their allergens from being flung into the air, and reduce dander by having them bathed weekly with a gentle shampoo.
Myth: Eating local honey will relieve my allergies.
Reality Check: The only thing you’ll be relieving is your sweet tooth. Because honey contains small amounts of pollen, some people have concluded that eating it desensitizes you. “We’re allergic to the kinds of pollen that are airborne—like those from trees, grasses and weeds—not the kinds bees carry around,” says Andy Nish, MD, medical director of NGPG Allergy and Asthma in Gainesville, GA.
Myth: Over-the-counter meds are the only way to treat my symptoms.
Reality Check: Immunotherapy with shots or tablets is another option. Unlike antihistamines and nasal sprays, which manage your body’s reaction to an allergen, immunotherapy’s goal is to prevent a reaction from occurring in the first place. By being exposed to increasing amounts of an allergen (ragweed, grass, dander, etc.) over time, you build up a tolerance. “Immunotherapy aims to slowly desensitize you to an allergen,” explains Porch-Curren. Typically, you’ll require shots once or twice a week while your immune system builds up antibodies to the allergen, then once a month for three to five years. If you’re needle-shy or can’t get to the doctor’s office regularly, ask your allergist about sublingual tablets, which dissolve under your tongue. They’re a newer form of immunotherapy approved by the FDA for grass, ragweed and dust mite allergies and must be taken daily for several years.
Myth: Black mold causes allergies.
Reality Check: “Black mold is the one everyone worries about, but it’s not typically the mold that triggers allergies,” says Sandra M. Gawchik, DO, codirector of Allergy and Immunology at Crozer-Chester Medical Center in Chester, PA. “It’s usually the molds you can’t even see.” Significant amounts of indoor mold of any color (such as after a flood or water leak) may also lead to respiratory symptoms like coughing, sneezing or itchy, watery eyes. Eliminate it with mold-killing products or 1 cup of bleach in a gallon of water. Because mold thrives on dampness, use a dehumidifier to maintain indoor humidity at no more than 50%. If you have underlying health issues (like asthma) or think you have extensive indoor mold, consider hiring a mold remediation professional.
Myth: I’m too old to develop them.
Reality Check: No such luck! “We used to think that only kids or younger people develop allergies, but I see just as many adults for the first time,” says Gawchik. Allergies unfold in stages: First you’re exposed, then you have symptoms that usually worsen with subsequent exposures. So you may have spent all these years building up to the sniffling, sneezing, itchy-eye, scratchy-throat joy of it all—especially as allergy seasons have worsened over time.
Myth: There are better parts of the country to live or vacation in if you have allergies.
Reality Check: You can’t outsmart science with geography. It’s true that some locales (such as the upper Midwest) may have shorter pollen seasons while others (like Florida) have longer ones. “But those shorter seasons may be more intense, making overall exposure similar,” says Nish. “And if you’re genetically inclined to become allergic, you may develop new allergies in a few years anyhow.” What’s more, vacationing away from home during peak pollen season may not give you temporary relief if there are other allergens that affect you at your destination. The timing of pollen season can vary from year to year too, so there’s no guaranteed “safe” time to escape it. “There are too many variables to ensure you’ll get relief by hitting the road,” says Nish. Instead of planning your life around allergies, get them out of your life by seeing your doctor to find a treatment that works.
Prop styling: Megumi Emoto.