What are Airborne Allergens? Tips for controlling them

What are Airborne Allergens?

Airborne allergens, also known as aeroallergens, are any substance or particle present in the air that may be able to cause allergic reactions in humans. The particle or substance must be light enough to be carried out by air currents from the source to the person in which the immune response (hypersensitivity or allergy) is provoked. Roughly 35 million Americans suffer from upper respiratory symptoms that are allergic reactions to pollen in the air, and an estimated 15 million people suffer from asthma provoked by airborne allergens.

Common allergens present in the air include: pollen grains released by trees, grasses and weeds, dust particles, dust mites, mold spores, tiny algae and different volatile chemical substances. Hay fever is a known allergic reaction to, pollen, a very common allergen present in the air.

Concerns that some food allergens may become airborne if they are able to be carried out by air have begun to arise. For example, peanut proteins in a school setting may become airborne by an aereosolization process. In this case, children allergic to peanuts could have allergic reactions even if they have not eaten or touched peanuts or products containing peanut oil.

What are Common Reactions to Airborne Allergens?

Signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction to allergens spread by air are not very different from those cause by most other allergens. Common reactions to airborne allergens are:

  • Sneezing,
  • Runny or clogged nose
  • Coughing
  • Postnasal drip
  • The “ällergy salute” (especially in kids)–an upward rubbing of the nose that leaves a noticeable mark on the tip of the nose
  • Itching eyes,
  • Itching nose
  • Itching throat
  • Dark circles under the eyes
  • Red eyes
  • Allergy conjunctivitis
  • Respiratory difficulties
  • Wheezing
  • Asthma attacks (in hypersensitive patients)

Tips for Controlling Aeroallergens

Prevention is the key in controlling aeroallergens and avoiding allergic reactions. Depending on the specific allergen a person is sensitive to, there may be very specific recommendations. In general, an environmental control can reduce the presence or count of airborne allergens.

Using High Efficiency Low Pressure Air (HEPA) filters on heating and air conditioning systems is perhaps one of the best methods for reducing the amount of allergens present in the air. These high efficiency filters will reduce dramatically the number of pollen, dust, dust mites, mold spores and pet dander particles present in the air in your home.

In the case of sensitivity to pollen particles, a person should avoid outdoor activities in the morning. When riding in a car, the windows should be kept closed. Keep the air conditioning working since the filter of the air conditioning system will stop some of the pollen particles from getting into the car air. Also, a HEPA mask could be used when pollen counts are high or during pollen season.

References:

Allergy: your questions answered. By Helen E. Smith, Helen Smith, Anthony J. Frew, Alan Frew (2003). Elsevier Health Sciences

Medical toxicology by Richard C. Dart (2004). Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. 3rd edition.