7 Allergies That Are On the Rise—and Why You’re Likely At Risk

If it seems like your "seasonal" allergies are on a four-season stretch and you're suddenly being triggered by things that never bothered you before, here's why.

"Seasonal" allergies

seasonalThodsaphol-Tamklang/ShutterstockClimate change and crazy, new weather patterns worldwide that affect the environment are changing the way we think of "seasonal" allergies. A study conducted by the University of New Hampshire showed that spring is getting longer and coming earlier each year, due to mild winters and less frequent snow falls. So, the transition from winter to spring, known as the "vernal window" is opening sooner. This means seasonal allergies follow suit, coming earlier and lasting longer than ever before. Other research has shown that increasing levels of carbon dioxide and certain types of pollution make pollen more potent, and more likely to affect people with only mild allergies. If you want to avoid spending spring battling the annoying symptoms of seasonal allergies, such as sneezing, and itchy eyes and throat, limiting your time outdoors on high pollen days can help, says Clifford Basset, MD, founder and medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of New York and author of The New Allergy Solution: Supercharge Resistance, Slash Medication, Stop Suffering. You can monitor pollen levels in your area on most weather channels and websites. "You should also watch out for windy days, wear sunglasses, a hat, and other protective gear, and be sure to take medication, such as an antihistamine or nasal steroid spray, before symptoms kick in," he adds. Here are 11 more surprising ways you can stop seasonal allergies in their tracks.

Food

foodAkkaradet-Bangchun/Shutterstock If it seems like more people you know are dealing with food allergies, you're not imagining it. Each year the number of adults and children with some type of food allergy or sensitivity skyrockets. Researchers believe that food allergies affect nearly 50 million people in the United States, which is about 30 percent of all adults and 40 percent of children. And in 2013, the CDC released a study that shows food allergies among children increased nearly 50 percent between 1997 and 2011. (Check out these facts about food allergies.) Scientists are still trying to figure out why food allergies are so prominent today, but one main theory is that the over-sanitization of daily life (a concept called the "hygiene hypothesis") causes helpful gut bacteria to decrease. Another theory is that modern vaccines eradicate the kinds of diseases that would give our immune system something to fight against, so it takes up arms against more harmless stimuli. A simple skin and blood test by your doctor can determine whether you have a food allergy. Foods that tend to cause the most allergic reactions are soy, peanuts, milk, eggs, fish, and wheat, so be sure to note how you feel after eating one of them. Unfortunately the only way to prevent an adverse reaction is to avoid the food or trigger altogether. "You should also create an intervention plan, including how to notice and handle allergic symptoms," advises Dr. Bassett. "And if your food allergies are severe, always be prepared with an epinephrine auto injector pen."

Nickel

nickelbaranq/ShutterstockNickel is literally found everywhere. Your cellphone? Yes. Kitchen utensils? Yes. Even some of your gold, silver, and diamond high-end jewelry may contain traces of nickel. And of course, the five cent coin is obviously made of nickel too. Since this silvery metal is commonly found in so many household products, the number of people who suffer from nickel allergies increases each year. Someone with such an allergy may experience an itchy, red, and inflamed rash known as dermatitis or eczema after their skin comes in contact with the metal. Earlobes, wrists, and the lower abdomen are typically affected. But in recognition of this increasing sensitivity, many manufacturers now offer nickel-free alternatives for most products, and if you're unsure whether your brand-new toaster is made of this pesky ingredient, you can buy a nickel test at your local pharmacy and do at-home testing. "If you're allergic, you don't need to run out and buy a new phone; there are special cases that provide protection," says Dr. Bassett. "In a pinch, a product that bonds to the metal or coats it can form a protective barrier—even clear nail polish can do the trick sometimes." Check out these other weird things you can be allergic to.

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Drugs

drugsAkkaradet-Bangchun/ShutterstockYou know when you doctor asks if you're allergic to any medications and you say no, but in reality you have no clue and are silently hoping that you didn't just lie to your doctor and are now going to die of an unknown allergy caused by a new medication? Well, you're not alone. Most people don't know that they're allergic to a drug until after having a reaction, which is scary because drug allergies are on the rise. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, about 10 percent of the world's population has some type of an adverse drug reaction that affects up to 20 percent of all hospitalized patients. While any medication can technically trigger an allergy, antibiotics like penicillin and amoxicillin and anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen and naproxen are common culprits. Most adverse reactions to medications are mild, with symptoms such as hives, rashes, and a fever, but severity differs from person to person. It's important to understand that a reaction might not occur after one dosage; some people have a reaction after taking the meds a few times. If you think you may be allergic to a medication, stop taking it and talk to your doctor, who will most likely prescribe an alternative. Trying to decode medical jargon is hard if you're not in the medical field, so follow these 10 guidelines that will help you take your medication the right way.

Pets

catcasey-christopher/ShutterstockSadly, pet allergies are a lot more common than you'd think. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America estimates that as many as 3 in 10 people in the United States are allergic to cats and dogs, with cat allergies being twice as prevalent as dog allergies. The good news? Just because you're allergic to one breed of dog or cat doesn't mean you're allergic to all breeds. The bad news? There is no such thing as "hypoallergenic" animals. Most researchers believe an over-sensitive immune system reacting to the pet's urine, saliva, or dander is what causes an allergy. Similar to most other reactions, symptoms include itchiness, sneezing, and a rash or hives, and the only means of prevention is avoidance. But don't get rid of your pet just yet. You might be able to keep it depending on the severity of your reaction. "Try restricting the pet's access to the allergy sufferer's bedroom, and better yet, use a room or whole house HEPA air filter to reduce buoyant pet allergen particles in the air," recommends Dr. Bassett. "When exposure to pets is unavoidable, you can find long-term success with immunotherapies like allergy injections and sublingual allergy drops." These are the surprising allergy triggers that aren't pollen.

Insects

insectall_about_people/ShutterstockMost people have some type of negative reaction after an insect bite or sting, such as swelling and itchiness at the site—a mosquito bite is a perfect example—but others may experience a more severe whole-body reaction that can be life-threatening. The American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology estimates that about 3 percent of adults die from insect bites each year. Even though those numbers sound small, it's easy to let a bite or sting go untreated because some type of discomfort is always expected. So if you're walking through the woods and get stung by a wasp, you'll likely have pain, redness, and swelling, but a more severe and potentially life-threatening reaction like difficulty breathing, swelling beyond the bite or sting site, and abdominal cramping, vomiting, or diarrhea requires immediate medical attention. The stings of five insects that commonly cause allergic reactions include honeybees, hornets, wasps, yellow jackets, and fire ants, so keep an eye out for those creepy crawlers. Avoidance is the first and most important step if you have an insect allergy, so make sure you're always wearing shoes when outdoors and be aware of your surroundings. Follow these other tips for avoiding insect bites and stings. And as always, see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment if you're ever unsure.

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Poison oak and ivy

poison-oakSundry-Photography/ShutterstockAccording to Dr. Bassett, these rash-inducing plants are more widespread today than ever before. "They're bigger and more potent too," he says. Many researchers believe global warming is behind the troubling trend, as warmer weather and increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere allow the plants to grow lager, faster, and stronger, causing a more severe reaction. If you come in contact with this green (and sometimes red) three-leaf plant, immediately wash all your clothes, your shoes, and even your pets—basically anything that touched the plant. Poison oak typically causes an itchy, red rash within hours of contact and can last anywhere from 5 to 12 days. While most rashes go away without treatment, Dr. Bassett highly recommends picking up an OTC cream or calamine lotion that acts as a skin barrier and reduces the itching and pain. You should also consider trying one of these natural home remedies for treating poison oak. In extreme cases, a prescription medication may be needed. If you're having trouble breathing or swallowing, if the rash is all over your body, or if your eyes are swelling, seek medical attention right away.
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