Allergies

What do I have?

An allergy is an immune system response to something that the body mistakenly believes is harmful. Someone who has never had allergies can develop allergies at any time. Allergies can be seasonal and can also occur when a person moves to a new environment.

Many Georgetown students face new allergies when they arrive on campus. According to the 2012 National College Health Association Survey, 42.3% of Georgetown students reported experiencing allergy problems within the last school year. If you’re unsure whether what you are experiencing is an allergy, a virus, or an infection, look below for more information.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Allergy symptoms come in many forms, including:
  • Sneezing
  • Sniffling
  • Coughing
  • Hives
  • Watery eyes
  • Itchy skin
  • Shortness of breath

The causes of allergies are varied. They can be caused by both hereditary and environmental factors.

Common allergy culprits

  • Allergens
  • Pollen
  • Dust mites
  • Mold
  • Animal dander
  • Insect stings
  • Latex
  • Certain foods (i.e. peanuts, shellfish)
  • Medication

What do I do?

Do you think that you might be suffering from allergies? Some information on prevention and treatment is listed below, but it is recommended that you seek out medical care before starting any medications. To make an appointment with the Student Health Center:

By phone: (202) 687-2200
Online: www.mymedstar.org

Prevention

Avoiding allergies in a college environment can be tough. Living and eating in a residential community pose threats of allergen exposure.

Here are some useful tips:

  • Minimize clutter: Books, dried flowers, stuffed animals, and other homey touches collect dust and allergens. Try to minimize or eliminate these.
  • Choose the hot cycle on laundry day: Linens should be washed in water that is at least 130° F to rid them of dust mites and their wastes.
  • Make your bed a mite-free zone: Encase your pillows, mattress, and box spring in allergen-proof covers.
  • Buy a dehumidifier: Keeping the air in your room dry will help put a stop to dust mite problems. Dust mites don't survive in humidity below about 45 percent.
  • Keep it clean: People with allergies fare better when dust and grime are kept to a minimum. Your room needs more than a dusting with a dry cloth, which just propels allergens into the air. Instead, wipe down hard surfaces and floors with a slightly damp cloth. In humid areas, use a bleach solution that kills mold.
  • Use an air filter: Keeping the air clean can bring relief from pollen, mold, and pet dander. When you use an air filter in your room, remember to keep the door closed so that the machine won't get overburdened with too much air to clean. However, air filters won’t eliminate all allergens - particularly dust mites.

Tips at Home:

  • Wear a face mask: Use one when doing anything that is likely to expose you to an allergen that you know will cause you problems. Vacuuming (dust allergens) and gardening (pollen allergens) are examples of tasks in which the use of a face mask may be helpful.
  • Air-conditioning: If walking outside makes you start wheezing and sneezing, be sure to use the air conditioner to help eliminate seasonal allergies.
  • Buy throw rugs: If you have carpet at home you can replace your carpets with throw rugs, and you'll achieve two major benefits. First, you'll eliminate your home's biggest collector of dust, pollen, pet dander, and mold. Second, you'll make keeping your home allergen-free much easier. Rugs can be washed at temperatures hot enough to kill dust mites.
  • Enforce a no-smoking policy: Tobacco smoke is a significant irritant for the smoker as well as anyone else breathing nearby.
  • Pets at home: Pets cause a staggering number of allergy exacerbations. Cat dander usually causes the most problems, but dogs, birds, rabbits, horses, and other pets with hair or fur also cause allergies in those who are susceptible.
  • Make at least one room a sanctuary: If you don’t have central air and don't want to eliminate wall-to-wall carpeting in every room in your house, try to make just one room a sanctuary, free from allergens

Treatment

Be sure to check with a health professional before taking any medications. The following are commonly used to treat and/or minimize allergy symptoms:

  • Allegra (over-the-counter)
  • Claritin (over-the-counter)
  • Zyrtec (over-the-counter)
  • Nasal sprays (prescription needed)
  • Saline nasal sprays/rinses are also effective at rinsing allergens from the nostrils
  • Antihistamines, such as Benadryl
  • EpiPen (for anaphylactic shock). Prescription required. This is used for severe allergic reactions.

On Campus Resources

Student Health Center
Darnall Hall Ground Floor
(202) 687-2200

http://studenthealth.georgetown.edu/medical-care/

References