5 Myths About Allergies

BWFH allergist Margee Louisias, MD, MPH, shares the top misunderstandings about environmental allergies.

Photo by iStock/Noppharat05081977

Pollen isn’t the only thing floating around these days. There are also plenty of misconceptions circulating about environmental or seasonal allergies.

Here are the top five myths my colleagues and I encounter in the Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital Allergy Clinic, as well as among the general public.

  1. Myth: ENVIRONMENTAL ALLERGIES ARE ONLY SEASONAL
    Environmental allergens can be seasonal or year-round. Peak seasonal allergens include trees in the spring, grasses in the summer, and ragweed pollen in late summer. Equally common are year-round allergens you might find in your home, such as dust mites, mold, and dander from cats or dogs. If you aren’t sure what is causing your symptoms, allergy testing can help you figure out if you’re allergic to something inside or outside, and what times of the year you should expect to be most symptomatic.
  2. Myth: YOU DO NOT NEED TO TAKE YOUR ALLERGY MEDICINES DAILY
    Whether you have seasonal or year-round allergies, if you are being exposed to something that causes you to react, you must take your allergy medicines every day to get the greatest effect. Taking them daily gives the medicines enough time to work to treat and prevent new symptoms. If you take them only when you are symptomatic, you will always be playing catch up with your symptoms.
  3. 500

    Pollen can travel in the air up to 500 miles. Particles from a ragweed plant in Richmond, VA, can float all the way to Boston!

  4. Myth: CHILDREN ARE TOO YOUNG TO TAKE ALLERGY MEDICINES
    Children can have environmental allergies as young as 2 years of age, as their bodies need to be exposed to allergens for several years before symptoms develop. However, some children can have symptoms even earlier. Many allergy medicines are approved for children. The oral antihistamine cetirizine is approved for babies as young as 6 months old. The allergy eye drops ketotifen are approved for children aged 3 years and older. These medicines should only be initiated with guidance from your child’s physician.
  5. Myth: MY CAT OR DOG IS HYPOALLERGENIC
    There is no such thing as a hypoallergenic cat or dog. Pet allergens can be secreted from their skin, hair, dander, and saliva. Even if you were to have a hairless cat or dog, you could still be allergic to it.
  6. Myth: THERE IS NO CURE FOR ENVIRONMENTAL ALLERGIES
    Allergy shots (what we call allergen subcutaneous immunotherapy) consist of repeated, increasing doses of allergens injected under the skin. Over time, they change your immune system, making you less allergic and less symptomatic. After three to five years of treatment, you can expect to feel benefits for several years. If the time commitment of allergy shots is too much, sublingual allergy tablets can be a consideration. However, the tablets are currently approved only for allergies to grasses, dust mites, and ragweed. There are many options today for treating environmental allergies, so please consult with an allergist for more information.

Margee Louisias, MD, MPH

Written by Margee Louisias, MD, MPH
Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Allergy Immunology Clinic
Associate Physician, Brigham and Women’s Hospital