Allergy to mold - animal dander - dust

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Your house is where you're supposed to feel most comfortable, but for many people life at home is pretty unpleasant. When they breathe in the tiny particles of dust, mold, or pet dander that are floating around their house, they sneeze, cough, break out in a rash, and can even have trouble catching their breath. Let's talk about allergies to mold, pet dander, and dust.

Although we try to keep our homes clean, all sorts of little critters can sneak in. Mold is a tiny fungus that thrives in damp places, like your bathroom shower curtain or basement ceiling. Dust is made up of particles from your skin and clothing, plus tiny insects called mites. It floats around your house, skirting your broom and collecting into bunnies. And pet dander is the little pieces of skin your dog or cat sheds.

Most of us can breathe in a little bit of mold, dust, or dander without having any problems. But for some people, these substances trigger a chorus of sneezes, wheezes, and coughs, as well as watery eyes, itchy skin, and hives. If you're allergic to dust, dander, or mold, it's because your immune system is over-reacting, mistakenly targeting them as if they were bacteria or viruses.

So, how do you know you have an allergy?
Your doctor can find out for sure by doing allergy tests. One common way to do these tests is to put a small amount of the offending substance under your skin. If you have a reaction, you're probably allergic to it. You can also have a blood test to look for substances called antibodies, which your body produces in response to dust and other allergens.

How your allergy is treated depends on your symptoms, and what's causing it. You may take allergy medicines like Zyrtec or Claritin. Or, you can have allergy shots to get your body used to whatever substance you're allergic to, so it doesn't react to it in the future.

The obvious treatment is to avoid whatever is causing your allergy. Once you know what you are allergic to you may want to:

Keep your house dry so mold has nowhere to grow. If your home tends to be humid, a dehumidifier can help take some of the moisture out of the air. Throw out any moldy shower curtains and clean mold from ceilings and floors. Wrap your mattresses, box springs, and pillows in dust mite-proof covers. Wash all of your bedding in hot water at least once a week. Also wash stuffed toys, which can collect dust, and vacuum carpets. Wash and groom your pet regularly to get rid of dander. And install a HEPA filter to clean the air in your home.

By keeping your house clean and treating your symptoms, you should be able to live more comfortably in your home without sneezing. Allergy shots can also do the trick. If you've tried everything and your allergies are still driving you nuts, talk to your doctor about finding other ways to relieve your symptoms.

Allergy to mold - animal dander - dust

Version Info

  • Last reviewed on 10/25/2011
  • Alan Greene, MD, Author and Practicing Pediatrician; also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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