Allergies :Common Allergy Triggers

A woman sneezing due to pollen allergies.
Pollen on the pistil of a sunflower.


Trees, grasses, weeds, and flowers all produce pollen. Many types of pollen can trigger hay fever or seasonal allergies. These plants typically allow the wind to easily disperse their pollen. Symptoms are usually not life-threatening but are irritating (sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion, and watery and itchy eyes).

Treatments can include over-the-counter drugs, prescription drugs, and/or allergy shots. Some allergy symptoms from pollen can be reduced or avoided by staying indoors, especially on windy days, running air conditioning or using air filters and showering after being outside.

A dog lying down on top of a bed.

Animal Dander

Animal dander, a protein mix secreted in animal’s skin and saliva, causes allergic reactions in many people. Allergies to dander may take a long time to develop (over 2 years for some people) and the symptoms (similar to pollen allergy symptoms) may linger for months. If your pet is causing you to have symptoms, avoid carpets that can sequester dander, wash your pet regularly, and keep the pet out of your bedroom. Home air filtration and frequent vacuuming nay reduce your exposure to dander, but you may need to get allergy shots, too.

A dust mite in a dust ball.

Dust Mites

Dust mites are common allergens in most of the US. These microscopic mites live in pillows, mattresses and bedroom carpets and feed on the dead skin from humans. Eliminating “dust mite collectors” such as stuffed animals or complex items that are hard to clean reduces dust mite allergies. The environment should be washable and easily wiped down. Other actions like washing sheets in hot water and placing pillows and mattresses/box springs in dust mite encasements will also help.

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Close up view of a yellow jacket wasp.

Insect Stings

Some people develop severe allergic reactions to insect stings that can be life- threatening while others develop mild-to-moderate symptoms. Mild symptoms may include redness and localized swelling while moderate symptoms may include extensive redness and swelling, some nausea, fatigue, and low fever that may not resolve for a week. Anaphylaxis, a term used to describe a severe allergic reaction, produces symptoms that can include swelling of the face, mouth, tongue, throat, and other serious symptoms such as difficulty breathing and low blood pressure. Itching and/or hives on the body also often develop. Untreated, anaphylaxis can result in death. People with severe allergic reactions to stings (and other allergens) should be treated immediately with epinephrine (they can carry a portable dose of epinephrine in an EpiPen). Allergy shots are recommended to prevent anaphylaxis for certain insect stings for some patients.

Hormodendrum, the most common outdoor airborne mold.


Molds, like mites, are microscopic. There are many types, most of which can cause allergic reactions with symptoms similar to those produced by pollen and dust mites. Because molds need a lot of moisture to survive and grow, they usually live in damp or wet areas. There are molds that also thrive in dry climates, such as the desert southwest. Bathrooms and basements are prime areas for molds inside the home while grass and mulch outside provide good growth conditions. Good ventilation in bathrooms and basements helps dry areas and suppresses mold growth. Cutting grass, raking leaves, and spreading mulch may trigger mold allergy symptoms.

A pile of peanuts.


Food allergies are common. The foods that cause allergic symptoms most often are milk, peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, and shellfish (shrimp). Symptoms of a food allergy usually happen rapidly, within a few minutes of eating the food. Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are often symptoms of food allergy; however, many people have severe food allergies so symptoms of anaphylaxis can occur. These severe reactions need treatment with epinephrine immediately. People should avoid all foods that contain any of the food items they are allergic to.

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A doctor putting on latex gloves.


Latex, made from rubber based components that contain proteins, is found in medical gloves, medical devices, condoms, and other manufactured products. People can react to this substance even when it simply touches their skin. Allergic reactions range from mild to severe (anaphylaxis) so epinephrine (EpiPen) may be needed to treat some people. Many doctors recommend that patients wear medical alert bracelets if they have serious allergic reactions to latex or other substances.

An open bottle of aspirin.


Many people have allergic reactions to medications that range from mild to life-threatening. Although some mild reactions may be treated with antihistamines or steroids, most doctors will suggest you stop taking the medication. Your doctor may find a substitute medication that you are not allergic to. Again, those people that have had severe allergic reactions to medications should consider carrying an EpiPen and have a medical bracelet or some way to notify medical caregivers of their severe allergy.

A set of burning scented candles.


Although many allergists question if a fragrance is a true allergen or simply an irritant, the mild-to-moderate symptoms some people get when exposed to certain perfumes, candle smoke, laundry detergent odors, or scents accompanying other similar products mimic allergy symptoms. Although only a few people suffer severe symptoms, most symptoms abate when the odor (fragrance) containing item is removed. Using fragrance-free products can help avoid the symptoms.

A silhouette of a cockroach on a fabric.


Cockroaches, unfortunately, are everywhere in both urban and rural areas. The proteins in their droppings, saliva, and appendages can function as allergens. Some investigators blame cockroach allergies to an increase in asthma in the last 30 years. The more an area is infested with cockroaches, the higher the concentration of allergens and the more likely people will get allergic reactions. Keeping cockroaches out of living environments helps reduce and prevent cockroach-related allergic reactions.

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