Fascinating Facts About 5 Common Household Allergens

Are allergies a mystery to you? Read on for interesting facts about common allergens.
Are allergies a mystery to you? Read on for interesting facts about common allergens.
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Which allergies can your kids outgrow? Is there any such thing as a cat or dog that will not cause allergic reactions in sensitive people? What does water have to do with mites and pollens? And where can you find out if your soaps and lotions might cause allergies? Learn the answers to these questions and more fascinating facts about five common household allergens.

1
Dust Mites
Dust mites like to lurk in your bed.
Dust mites like to lurk in your bed.
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These microscopic spiders make their homes in housedust, as their name implies. They are harmless, not biting nor causing illness – except for people with allergies. We speak of being allergic to dust mites but really it is dust mite droppings and decomposing bits which are the actual causes of allergies. Contrary to rumors widely circulated on the internet, dust mite debris does not double the weight of your mattress and feather pillows fight dust mites better, not worse, than polyester.

Dust mites do not drink, but absorb water directly from the air. Therefore lower humidity helps keep mite populations down. If pollen counts are not too high, airing bedding or throw rugs in direct sunlight for a couple of hours on a hot, dry day will kill the mites (but, don't forget, allergies are caused by mite droppings, not mites, so wash or vacuum thoroughly after sun treatment).

2
Pet Fur
Is your pet making you sneeze?
Is your pet making you sneeze?
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Did you know that clean pet fur does not cause allergies? When people appear allergic to pet fur, they are actually reacting to proteins in traces of saliva or urine on the fur or on dead skin (dander) which can float in the air and get mixed up in house dust. So your allergic partner or children really do have a good excuse to get out of emptying the litter box.

Some breeds of cats or dogs considered "hypo-allergenic" may cause fewer allergies because less shedding means less saliva- or urine-contaminated fur and skin flakes or because the breed has a lower concentration of allergenic proteins in their saliva and urine – but there is no such thing as a truly allergy-free dog or cat.

3
Pollens
Many people are affected by seasonal allergies.
Many people are affected by seasonal allergies.
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Pollen carries the machinery to create the male gamete, or sperm, necessary for the plant's reproductive cycle. The hard protein casing that causes so much misery protects the reproductive cells during their voyage from the male part of the plant (the anther) to the female part (the stigma), usually of a neighboring plant.

The evolution of pollen allowed plants to procreate without standing water, ultimately delighting us with blossoms and awing us with forests of trees.

4
Preservatives
Do you know what's in your products?
Do you know what's in your products?
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You might expect that some fragrances in personal care products could cause skin allergies, but did you know that most common preservatives also cause allergies? Recent studies suggest that current patch tests may not detect the problem product, so if itchy rashes or blisters on the skin continue without explanation, talk to your doctor about ensuring any product you suspect is included in the diagnosis.

Your dermatologist may have access to databases for finding safe products based on your range of allergies, or you can do your own research on databases such as cosmeticsinfo, maintained by the personal care products industry, or skindeep, maintained by the NGO Environmental Working Group.

5
Food allergies
Mlik allergies are common in children.
Mlik allergies are common in children.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

An allergy to milk is the most common childhood food allergy, but most children outgrow milk allergies by age 3. Most children outgrow allergies to eggs, the second most common food allergy, by adolescence.

People who become sensitized to one allergen may also be allergic to others – a phenomenon known as cross-reactivity. For example, if you are allergic to ragweed, you may also become allergic to bananas or melons.

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