Repeated colds or sinus infections may put you among the 36 million Americans with hay fever (allergic rhinitis), an allergy to tree, grass, and weed pollen; the 10 million allergic to cat dander; or those allergic to dog or rodent dander, cockroach droppings, Asian ladybugs, or mold or dust mites (tiny organisms that live in the fibers of pillows, mattresses, and carpets). Symptoms include coughing, sneezing, itchy and/or watery eyes, runny nose, and scratchy throat. See an allergist if your primary doctor can't find the cause.
You may be advised to give up your dog or cat -- or vacuum and dust at least weekly to remove dander, dust mites, or pollen. The irony? These avoidance tactics may not be terribly effective. In one study, encasing bedding in impermeable "dust-mite-proof" covers didn't reduce symptoms in those allergic to mites. And British researchers found that five high-end vacuums with fancy HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters were no better at cutting exposure to cat dander or mites than a 10-year-old vacuum.
Luckily, many effective medications are available. Allergy shots are another option -- combined with medication they may cure about one-third of patients and reduce or control symptoms for another third, according to Dr. Creticos. The rest of us are out of luck, and it can take more than a year to know which group you're in. Another drawback? The standard regimen is one or two shots a week for four to six months, then shots once or twice a month for three to five years. Due in five years: a vaccine for ragweed.
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