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7 Myths About Allergies

May/05/2024 / by Brian Sodoma

Clearing the misconceptions on this seasonal ailment

white pills coming out of a medicine bottle next to a yellow flower
Photo via Shutterstock

Spring and summer are all about outdoor fun, but according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, one in three adults and one in four children will balance this year’s good times with allergy sniffles.

Allergies are an immune response to proteins in food or environmental matter like pollen or particulates in pollution. Even with excellent treatments available, there are still many myths and misconceptions about allergies today. We recently spoke to an expert to get to the bottom of a few of them.

Myth #1: Move To The Desert To Cure Your Allergies

Nothing could be further from the truth, says Dr. Jason Bellak, an allergy/immunology physician and President of Allergy & Asthma Center, in Las Vegas. Many communities, particularly deserts, have neighborhoods with nonindigenous plants and trees planted there. These can wreak havoc on anyone with allergies.

“Some of it can also be attributed to the dryness and wind in deserts, which promotes pollen blowing around and getting airborne; plus there’s plenty of dust. You won’t be allergic to it, but it’s an irritant, even if you don’t have allergies,” Bellak explains.

Myth #2: Get a Hypoallergenic Pet

All breeds are potentially allergenic, Bellak emphasizes. Even those less commonly associated with allergic reactions bring no guarantee that a family member won’t have an adverse response.

“Unfortunately, all furred pets are allergenic. Even hairless cats or dogs can have dander on their skin and in their saliva,” the physician notes.

Myth #3: Stick With The Same Skin Care Product To Avoid A Reaction

Allergies can develop at any age, the physician also says, and the ones that show up in adulthood are more likely to stick around for the long haul. Bellak will sometimes hear his adult patients dismiss a long-time skin care product as a potential allergic trigger. Not only can a person develop an allergy to an ingredient after years of use, but keep in mind that some companies change formulas, and a new ingredient may be the problem.

Myth #4: Thinking It’s Only A ‘Mild’ Food Allergy

It’s a common misconception for people to think that a mild reaction, such as throat itching and hives, to food that was quickly taken care of with medication, won’t be more severe next time. “Prior reactions don’t predict future reactions. We always encourage you to be prepared for anaphylaxis, if you have any kind of reaction,” Bellak cautions.

Myth #5: Thinking There’s A Food Allergy When It’s Something Else

Remember, an allergy is an actual immune response. It treats food or pollen as an enemy and attacks it. Common symptoms include hives, flushing skin, itching, and lightheadedness. With food, symptoms will occur immediately after it’s consumed, and it will happen consistently, not on and off, Bellak adds. Too often people confuse gas and bloating as an allergic reaction. Those are likely signs of an intolerance, something not nearly as serious.

Myth #6: Avoiding Allergy Nasal Sprays Because They’re Addictive

Nasal sprays for allergies are not addictive at all, the physician says. In fact, the confusion actually lies in decongestant sprays like Afrin, Sinex and Vick’s Nasal Spray. If overused, they will cause “rebound swelling and congestion,” requiring the patient to keep using the sprays to help them breathe.

“People then get into a pattern where they can’t breathe without them,” the physician explains, adding that patients who use allergy sprays like Flonase and Nasacort or Nasonex, do not have this problem when the medications are used correctly.

Myth #7: Keeping Benadryl Around For Allergy Symptoms

Benadryl is a drug often seen as a go-to for allergy symptoms. So much so that many parents keep it on hand as a quick fix for their kids during allergy season. However, it was approved for use in the 1940s, a time “before drugs underwent rigorous studies,” Bellak cautions.

Side effects may include sleepiness, cognitive impairment, and dry mouth, and high doses can be toxic. He finds newer allergy medicines like Zyrtec, Claritin, and Allegra are more effective with fewer side effects.

“Allergists are really trying to break people of the habit of using Benadryl. It’s not as safe as other options,” he says.

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