Allergy Shots and Lifestyle Changes
"Shots are just one part of this therapy," says Stanley P. Galant, M.D., an allergist, and a clinical professor and director of pediatric allergy at the UC, Irvine. "Good avoidance measures are very important."
Usually outdoor allergens can't be completely avoided. Most people can't stay inside all the time, and, in any case, pollen comes inside through open doors and windows and on people's clothes, hair and shoes. Here are some ways to keep pollen out of the house:
- Keep all windows closed.
- Put a permanent air filter specially designed to keep out pollens and other airborne contaminants in the heating and cooling systems; wash the filter every month.
- Change clothes after coming in from outside, and wash the clothes before wearing them again.
- Keep dirty clothes out of the allergic person's bedroom.
- Wash the allergic person's hair every night to avoid transferring pollen from hair to pillow.
Some indoor allergens are also difficult to avoid, but they can be reduced. House dust mites, although they are so tiny you can't see them with the naked eye, can cause big allergic reactions in susceptible people. (The North American house dust mite pictured at right is, of course, greatly magnified.)
When it comes to dust mites, "it's hard to get rid of them," says Galant. Mites like to live in box springs, mattresses, pillows, and carpets. To keep the mite population down, the allergic person's mattress, box spring, and pillows should be encased in special covers available from companies that make allergy-proof products. Washable curtains should be the only window coverings. To kill dust mites in bed linens and curtains, wash water must be at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit (54 degrees Celsius). (But during all other times, keep water temperature at 120 F [49 C] to protect children from accidental scalding.) Carpets should be removed or treated with an anti-allergen spray. (Ask your allergist, or contact organizations listed in accompanying box for sources of these products.)
For those with allergies to pets, the simple answer, giving up a beloved cat or dog, is often unacceptable. To increase the success of shots, animals should be kept out of the bedroom. Giving pets a weekly bath may help reduce the amount of dander they release into the air.
Whether it means keeping a cat or playing outside in the spring, "my game plan for all patients is to have them live a normal life," says Galant.
Isadora B. Stehlin is a member of FDA's public affairs staff.