5 Common Allergens


Cats and grass are two allergens that cause woe to many people.
Cats and grass are two allergens that cause woe to many people.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Sometimes you'd like to step outside to enjoy the great outdoors, or maybe just take a break for a little fresh air. But when allergies make your throat scratchy or bring you to tears, it can be challenging. And not every allergy is triggered by outside elements; many lurk within our own homes. Learn how to recognize common allergens and discover ways to deal with their side effects with this list of the five most common allergens.

1
Ragweed
Ragweed can bring sufferers to their knees.
Ragweed can bring sufferers to their knees.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Named for the ragged shape of its leaves, ragweed is the most common plant allergen — and a most tenacious weed! A single plant can produce a million grains of pollen in a single day and a billion grains during its growing season. And that pollen is made for roaming. Samples have been collected 400 miles out to sea and up to two miles in the air.

2
Dust Mites
Dust mites are eight-legged creatures that don't bite or cause illness -- and just as you might guess, live in dust particles.
Dust mites are eight-legged creatures that don't bite or cause illness -- and just as you might guess, live in dust particles.
Derek Berwin/The Image Bank/Getty Images

These ugly, microscopic cousins of spiders are the prime source of year-round allergies. Researchers estimate that 20 million Americans suffer from dust mite allergies. Perfectly adapted to the temperature and humidity of a typical home, dust mites survive on the tiny flakes of skin that all of us shed each day. An adult typically sheds enough skin each day to feed a million dust mites.

A protein in the mite's waste products—not the mite itself — is what provokes allergic reactions. A single dust mite may produce as much as 200 times its body weight in waste. Bedrooms have been shown to be the main repository of dust mites in a typical home. To reduce the effects of dust mites there:

  • Cover pillows and beds with zipped dust-proof covers.
  • Wash sheets in hot water (at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit).
  • Reduce and/or eliminate "dust catchers" such as stuffed toys, draperies, comforters and wall-to-wall carpeting.
  • Equip vacuum cleaner with special filters. Vacuum bedding thoroughly. One researcher suggests vacuuming a single mattress for 20 minutes regularly to reduce hidden dust mites.
3
Animal Dander
The kiss of death! (Well, for people with severe enough cat allergies, that is.)
The kiss of death! (Well, for people with severe enough cat allergies, that is.)
Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock

Although many people with allergies to pets think that animal fur is the offending culprit, it's not. Researchers have found that the allergens are actually proteins secreted by oil glands in the pet's skin and shed in its dander. Proteins in saliva and urine are also potent allergens. When the substance carrying the protein dries, it may become airborne. Because they lick themselves so much and are often housebound, cats tend to cause more allergic reactions than dogs do. Proteins in the urine of pet rodents such as guinea pigs, gerbils, mice and rats can also cause allergic reactions.

4
Mold
Fallen leaves may be pretty, but they can also harbor mold.
Fallen leaves may be pretty, but they can also harbor mold.
Nathan Blaney/Getty Images

Molds, like mildew, are fungi, which reproduce by releasing spores into the atmosphere. While allergies to mold are most common in midsummer to fall, triggered by molds that grow on rotting logs, falling leaves and composts piles, mold allergy symptoms can occur year-round thanks to molds that grow inside bathrooms, kitchens and basements.

  • To reduce discomfort from mold allergies:
  • Outside: Wear a dusk mask when mowing lawns or raking leaves.
  • In bathrooms: Replace damp carpets and scrub sinks, tubs and tile at least monthly with a solution of household bleach (1 ounce diluted in a quart of water).
  • In basements: Keep humidity low by raising temperature and using a dehumidifier. A low-watt lightbulb can help keep closet areas dry.
  • In the kitchen: Clean refrigerator gaskets and drip pans using a bleach solution and scrub out trash cans regularly.
5
Grass/Tree Pollen
Grasses and trees bring seasonal allergies to many.
Grasses and trees bring seasonal allergies to many.
iStockphoto.com/Thinkstock

Lacking the showy flowers that attract insects to pollinate them, grasses rely on the wind to spread their pollen. Of the 1,200 or so species of grass in North America, though, only about 20 cause allergic reactions. The most common are:

  • Perennial Rye
  • Bermuda
  • Redtop
  • Fescue
  • Salt grass
  • Johnson
  • Sweet Vernal
  • June
  • Timothy

Of the 650 trees native to the U.S., the pollens of about 100 are allergens. Some of the most common culprits are: Alder, Ash, Beech, Birch, Chestnut, Cypress, Japanese Cedar, Western Red Cedar, Elm, Hazel, Heath, Hickory, Maple, Myrtle, Mulberry, Oak, Olive, Pine, Plane, Poplar, Ti, Wattle, Walnut, and Willow.

During tree season, keep windows closed tightly and use the air conditioner rather than window or attic fans. Most people are allergic to a single species, but people may be allergic to several members of certain families, particularly these:

  • alder
  • beech
  • birch
  • oak
  • juniper
  • cedar

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