Achoo Q & A

Posted by kevvyg on Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Dr. Matthew Mardiney, MDWe are constantly trying to bring you the most up-to-date and relevant information available. To help in doing so, we've begunn partnering with board certified doctors to answer some of the most frequently asked questions we receive about allergies and asthma.

With our first set of questions, I'd like to introduce Dr. Matthew Mardiney, MD.

Travel Allergy Tips?

How can I keep my allergies in check when traveling to countries where I might be exposed to trees/plants that I've never encountered before?

- submitted by TravelBug

Traveling out of the country or even other parts of our country can be challenging for people who suffer from environmental allergies. There is no easy way to predict how a foreign allergen will impact the allergic individual. Factors that can impact include previous exposure, the amount, and duration of exposure. Often allergy sufferers who have not have had previous exposure will be less affected by a new environment.

The keys to travel success are to ensure that your baseline allergic condition is being maximally treated and controlled prior to your travels and to have a treatment plan going forward. Being prepared to travel means knowing the predominant allergen that you will be exposed to {endemic pollens, animal dander, mold, etc.} and having backup measures to initiate if symptoms escalate. This includes avoidance measures (as best as possible) and additional medications such as antihistamines and/or decongestants for symptomatic control if needed. In extreme cases traveling with a low dose oral steroid and/or a rescue inhaler may be warranted based on the person's allergic history.

Finally, Individualizing a treatment plan with your Allergist or PCP is always a good idea before traveling. Remember the phrase "Fail to prepare...prepare to fail"

Keeping Your Child Active with Asthma?

Any advice on how to keep my asthmatic son active but safe during the spring and summer?

- submitted by Marietta, OH Mom

Every asthmatic is different but typically the summer and particularly the spring can be challenging. Our goal is always shooting for maximum control where the asthmatic patient essentially normalizes and can do anything a non-asthmatic can do. Typically this Playing & Exercise with Asthmacan be obtained to some degree with preventative allergy and asthma treatment.

If your child does have pollen sensitivity in the spring and summer it's best to do most activity outside in the early morning or late afternoon when pollen counts are down and temperatures are cooler. Be aware of the air quality and limit outside activities during poor air quality days. If your child struggles with allergy and asthma despite these measures, a reassessment of their maintenance allergy and asthma treatment is indicated and consideration for allergen desensitization "shots" should be discussed with your local allergist.

Do you have questions you would like answered? Submit them to us via the FAQ form on every product page, email them using, send them to us via our live chat or send us something via snail mail. The most relevant and intriguing we'll select to be answered.

Author: Kevin Gilmore

Posted by kevvyg on Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Dr. Lichtenberger, MDAs our most recent installment of Ask An Allergist, our partner, Dr. Frank Lichtenberger, answers questions about latex allergies as well as morning time coughing and sneezing for smokers. Take a look, and if you have questions you'd like us to answer, send them along via email, chat, FAQ submission, or phone.

Latex Allergies and Natural Rubber Products

Balloons make it difficult for me to breathe. If natural rubber is latex, and I have latex sensitivities are latex-free products safe for me to use? - submitted by Latex Allergic

Latex allergy is one of the most severe allergies that can affect people. Some people have allergies to only the latex gloves that used to be very common in medical practices. Unfortunately there are a few people with severe latex allergies that can react to hardened, or cured/ammoniated latex. People with this severe of an allergy have a difficult time with all forms of latex, even the thick processed gloves used for cleaning. If balloons make it difficult for you to breathe, I highly recommend formal evaluation from a local Allergy or Pulmonary specialist to determine if you have brochospasm. I cannot provide more specific recommendations, given the complexity of the issue.
- Dr. Frank

Morning Congestion and Sneezing, Allergies?  Smoking?

I've smoked for several years now, and have never really thought that I had allergies, but recently I've noticed a little congestion in the morning that goes away pretty quickly. Additionally, I notice that ever since I can remember, I get up and during the first hour, I sneeze like 3-6 times. It's one after Balloons Are Common Problems For Latex Allergiesanother after another, then it's gone. Could that allergies? Or something else? - submitted by Sneezy

First thing, and above all else, you must quit smoking.

Paroxysms of sneezing (the rapid-fire sneezing you are describing) tend to come from a short circuit in the nerves that go to the nose/pharynx. When there is inflammation (yes, it could be from allergies) these nerves are highly excited and can go into a repeat fire process that can last up to several hours. I have seen some people that have even developed neck pain from these. So, to answer your question, many things can cause nasal inflammation, allergies, viruses, particulates......smoke....., and finding out what is causing your inflammation will help you stop sneezing.
- Dr. Frank

Do you have questions you would like answered? Submit them to us via the FAQ form on every product page, email them using, send them to us via our live chat or send us something via snail mail. We'll submit the most relevant and intriguing to be answered by a featured allergist.

Check out All Allergy FAQ's or read up on Dr. Frank's Bio.

Author: Kevin Gilmore

Posted by kevvyg on Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Dr. Lichtenberger, MDAs our second installment of Ask An Allergist, we answer questions about food desensitization, avoiding asthma triggers and bird dander allergies. Take a look, and if you have questions you'd like us to answer, send them along via the methods listed below.

Desenitization to Deal with Dairy Allergies?

What could an allergist could do to help me other than confirm what I already know? Specifically, is there any way to desensitize my body's responses to dairy so that I can enjoy products like cheese and ice cream again. - submitted by Milk Allergic

Cow's milk allergy is one of the more difficult allergies to deal with. If you see a board-certified Allergist, they would be able to help define what level of reactivity you have to these food products, and if you may have allergic sensitivity to other foods. In addition, there are many different ways the immune system can react to food protein that produces a rash, and an allergist could help determine whether it is an IgE mediated process or not. Also, an allergist could help define the exact molecule in milk protein that you are reacting to, i.e. alpha-lactalbumin, etc. which could point towards cross-sensitivity to beef, chicken, etc.

We know have several methods of food desensitization, but only for IgE reactions. Cow's milk is one of the foods for which there are established protocols. Not every allergist does food desensitization as it is a very new technique. Some allergists do desensitizations to hen's egg and peanut as well.
- Dr. Frank

Is There Anything More Than Avoidance When it Comes to Fragrance and Smoke?

Inhalants, such as, perfume, smoke, and chemicals, cause my asthma to get much worse. Are there any treatments that work? Simple avoidance makes me feel like a captive. - submitted by Jan & Larry

There are quite a few people out there that suffer from those types of triggers called "oxidants" and "volatile organic compounds" (VOCs). Oxidants are released when things burn, or by electrical equipment - or when stuff burns, and VOCs are petroleum based molecules which can directly or indirectly activate your body's nerves or allergy receptors. Many people with asthma can identify these things are triggers, and it usually means that their asthma is not well controlled and they have a lot of active inflammation in the lungs. the key to reducing the asthma triggers is to get the active inflammation under control as best you can.

Many products on this website can help you clean the air in your home, I would recommend a system that reduces VOCs as well as the standard smoke and dust.
- Dr. Frank

Am I Allergic to My Cockatoo?

My nose runs when I am in the parrot room. Is there a test to see if I am allergic to my Umbrella Cockatoo? - submitted by Cockatoo Blues

True bird-feather allergy is quite rare, and most allergists do not have that in their testing equipment. We commonly see people who think they are allergic to feather pillows, and 75% of the time it is actually just dust mite matter that has built up in the pillow. People with true feather allergy tend to be reactive to a cross-reactive allergen (gal d 5) which is chicken serum albumin and report symptoms with ingestion of egg yolk and chicken meat. Even in exotic bird fanciers, the majority of fanciers that report symptoms are actually allergic to feather mites, Diplaegidia columbae, a cousin of the common dust mite.

The cockatoo is of the order Psittaciformes(Parrots) and there is a blood test called a Parrot Feather specific IgE, which can determine if you are allergic to it or not. However if you already know you develop symptoms when you walk into the room, you should think about wearing an N95 mask to protect your nose, mouth, and lungs. Depending on the diet, some bird droppings will release ammonia as a by product of nitrogen metabolism, and this can be seriously irritating to the nose and throat.
- Dr. Frank

Do you have questions you would like answered? Submit them to us via the FAQ form on every product page, email them using, send them to us via our live chat or send us something via snail mail. We'll submit the most relevant and intriguing to be answered by a featured allergist.

Author: Kevin Gilmore

Posted by Craig on Friday, March 07, 2008
can you avoid allergy medication?A reader recently sent in an interesting question:

I have a question. Generally speaking. If you take preventive action against allergic triggers, could you avoid all the pharmaceutical and over-the-counter medications like singulair and nasonex?

In some cases, yes, allergy sufferers can avoid medication by practicing sound environmental control methods and avoiding allergens. Allergy symptoms do not occur without exposure to the offending allergen. We hear "miracle stories" all the time in regard to Allergy Armor™. Some people put these covers on their mattress and pillows, and their symptoms disappear completely.

However, everyone is different, and even allergy sufferers who take all the proper environmental control measures will still experience symptoms sometimes. For instance, in many place in the U.S., it's difficult to avoid ragweed pollen during allergy season because the allergen is just so pervasive. And in one major study, cat dander was found in 100% of U.S. homes - even homes without cats! Similarly, it's nearly impossible to get rid of all dust mites and mold spores. They're everywhere! So, even with all the best environmental control products and methods, there will still be a need for allergy medication, but you can greatly reduce the chances that you'll need medication by avoiding the particles that make you sick.

Posted by Desirina on Wednesday, January 11, 2006
Q: What is the difference between hypoallergenic and anti-allergen? Which type of product is best to buy?

A: Both terms are used frequently in the world of allergies, and their meanings are actually quite different. However, both types of products are important for creating an allergen-free environment.

A HYPOALLERGENIC product is one which produces little or no allergic reaction. It is not likely to cause allergies… but of course, there is always the possibility that someone may have an allergic reaction to it. Our 100% cotton pillows are an example of this… they are made in very pure and natural conditions, with no irritants, and they are made from hypoallergenic materials. But for someone with an allergy to cotton, a 100% cotton pillow would not be hypoallergenic – quite the opposite. There are very few substances to which no one in the world is allergic.
Hypoallergenic products are usually products made in such a way that irritants or allergens which would normally be in the product are removed. As such, they play an important role for allergy sufferers. A typical example is a hypoallergenic down comforter. Unlike most down, which can cause an allergic reaction, a Hypodown comforter is filled with down that has been washed repeatedly in a special process to remove dust, dirt, and other allergens from the down, rendering it hypoallergenic.

An ANTI-ALLERGEN product is one which will actually control allergens, by removing or denaturing existing allergens in the environment. Allergens exist as part of nature… dust mites, animal dander, pollen, mold spores, all are difficult to avoid simply by purchasing hypoallergenic products. That is where anti-allergen products come in – anti-allergen products work to remove or control the allergens which are inevitably present in your environment. A good example is an anti-allergen dust mite encasing. This product will control dust mite allergens and prevent allergy symptoms, by protecting you from the dust mite allergens in your pillow. Another example is an anti-allergen spray, which you might use on your carpet or upholstery to denature allergens, affecting the allergen to render it harmless.

Ideally, an anti-allergen product is both anti-allergen and hypoallergenic. You wouldn't want to spray an anti-allergen spray which would denature pet dander and dust mite allergens, but then irritate your sinuses with a strong additive fragrance. However, the reverse does not generally apply – a hypoallergenic product is not necessarily anti-allergen as well. Both types of products are important for keeping your environment allergen-free.

Products mentioned:
100% Cotton Pillow
Hypoallergenic Down Comforters
Dust Mite Encasings
Anti-Allergen Spray

Posted by Desirina on Monday, January 02, 2006
A few days ago, we looked at an article about the benefits of houseplants in improving indoor air quality. Indoor pollution like VOC's and other toxins can be broken down and minimized by houseplants, improving indoor air quality. Today's question addresses another aspect of keeping houseplants – their affect on a mold-allergy sufferer.

Q: I recently found out I'm allergic to mold. Could house plants be a cause?

A: Yes. House plants can grow mold. By themselves, houseplants generally will not cause excessive mold exposure, but if you're allergic to mold spores, you may want to take steps to control any possible mold growth.

Houseplants can attract mold because they offer the ideal conditions that mold needs to thrive: an organic food source and lots of moisture. Mold does well in areas which have high temperatures, high humidity, and little or no light. This basically describes the conditions surrounding a houseplant, especially an over-watered one.

Obviously, the most effective way to avoid mold on houseplants is simply getting rid of them. But for those who love houseplants, or whose mold allergy is not severe enough to warrant turning your green babies out in the cold, there are a few steps you can take to minimize the risk of mold growth in your houseplants.

  • Keep the soil a little on the dry side. Water with care and only as needed.

  • Don't let water accumulate in the houseplant's pot or the tray beneath.

  • Give plants more light by putting them in the sunniest windows.

  • Consistently remove any dead leaves; don't allow dying foliage to build up.

  • Monitor indoor humidity using a hygrometer to ensure that the general environment is not overly moist.

  • Posted by Desirina on Wednesday, December 28, 2005
    Q: My allergies often feel worse after I've been outside in chilly weather. How does the cold affect allergies?

    A: Most of us feel sniffly after being outside in the cold for too long. But for allergy sufferers, the combination of the cold and allergy symptoms can be a double whammy. The cold weather doesn't actually cause respiratory allergies, but by replicating allergy symptoms of congestion and runny nose, it can make your allergies feel even worse.

    Breathing cold air causes nasal congestion in two ways. First off, the cold air affects an important body defense mechanism called mucus transport, which stimulates an increase in mucus production. In plain English, the cold makes your nose run – a way of fending off any nasal intruders which might try to venture in. Second of all, cold air affects the tissue in your nose. It's your nose's job to warm or cool the air you breathe to your body temperature – 98.6 degrees. When you're breathing frosty cold air, that's a tough job. The capillaries in your nose tissue dilate, bringing warm blood to heat the cold air. Dilated capillaries mean swollen tissue, and more nasal congestion and stuffiness.

    Extreme temperatures can also trigger asthma reactions. For an asthma sufferer, it's a good idea to wear a warm scarf or mask during cold or damp weather.

    Note: It is possible to have a true allergic response to cold temperatures, although this condition is very rare. The condition is called cold induced urticaria. However, cold urticaria generally causes a reaction in the form of hives or welts, not a respiratory condition. For more information on cold urticaria, contact your doctor.

    Posted by Desirina on Tuesday, December 20, 2005
    Q: I hear a lot of talk about dust and dust mites. Is the one a fancy term for the other? Or are they different?

    A: This one confuses everyone at one point or another. Much like the bear and the teddy bear, dust and dust mites have little in common except a name and a few spare body parts. (We'll explain).
    Dust mites are actually living creatures. A diminutive relative of spiders and ticks, they are invisible to the naked eye. They live in bedding, carpets, stuffed animals, and similar cushy surfaces. Thankfully, they don't live on people, only near them. A gross fact: they actually feed on the dead skin particles shed by human bodies, and they thrive in humid environments. An even grosser fact: these nasty habits make them love your bedding.
    Now, it is not actually the dust mites themselves which cause allergic symptoms. Because they are alive, they are difficult to inhale. Instead, it is dust mite waste particles and fragments of dead dust mites which cause allergies.
    Which brings us to dust – another common allergen. Dust is a conglomerate of many kinds of miniscule particles: human skin flakes, cloth and fabric fibers, animal dander, cockroach allergens, mold spores, construction and industrial byproducts, and bits of dirt and debris. And, present in this mixture is usually a fair amount of dust mite allergens.
    So, if you're allergic to dust mites, you're probably going to be allergic to dust, as well. But an allergy to dust doesn't necessarily imply an allergy to dust mites, as there are lots of other troublesome particles in dust which could be causing your symptoms.

    For more information on dust mites and how to control them, visit achoo! ALLERGY's extensive article.

    Posted by Desirina on Friday, December 09, 2005
    Q: I am considering getting a live Christmas tree, but I'm worried about my allergies. Is a Christmas tree safe for an allergy-friendly living room?

    Many people start to sniffle and wheeze around Christmas trees, giving them a bad holiday rap with allergy sufferers. Poor trees -- it's generally not the tree itself causing the allergies. Instead, it's what's on the tree. No, you're not allergic to well-meaning Aunt Margaret's hand-painted moose-slippers. Actually, tacky ornaments aside, Christmas trees also accumulate allergens like dust and mold spores.

    Why not pollen? Most Christmas trees are scotch pines or Douglas firs, trees which don't pollinate in the winter. And evergreen pollens have a thick, waxy outer coating, which makes them unlikely to be a significant allergen.

    But, mold is a frequent culprit. Many Christmas trees are cut several months beforehand, and then left out in the winter rain, an ideal breeding ground for mold. (See why you should feel sorry for them?)

    It's not just live Christmas trees, though. Artificial trees have their own set of blues. Depending on how they are stored during the year, they can also be prone to collecting dust and mold. Dusty attics and damp basements are not good places for allergy sufferers, and the porous surface of an artificial tree can bring all those nasty allergens into the home along with holiday spirit.

    So how can you enjoy a bright and cozy tree while staying sneeze and sniffle free?

    • If you use a live tree, shake it out thoroughly, and let it dry out for a few days before you bring it indoors.
    • If you use an artificial tree, make sure to dust and clean it thoroughly (outside!) before installing it in the house. For storage, make sure that it's kept clean and dry, preferably sealed in a plastic bag.

    And don't forget, holiday decorating can cause all kinds of allergy flare-ups. Don't always blame it on the tree! Decorations stored in attics and basements can also be covered in dust, mold spores, or dust mite allergens. Wash your hands thoroughly after unpacking them, and clean them thoroughly before putting them up. Actually, forget washing your hands – make a non-allergic person do the dirty work. That's one holiday cloud of dust you deserve to keep your nose out of.

    For more great tips on surviving holiday allergens, visit this page from the AAAAII.

    A similar version of this article appeared in our December newsletter, the achoo! review. To subscribe to the achoo! review, visit our website at

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