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Like all allergies, environmental allergies happen when our immune system overreacts to a normally safe substance as if it’s harmful. Our bodies can be overly sensitive to anything from cockroaches to cigarette smoke, however the most common types of environmental allergies are seasonal allergies, pet allergies and allergies to dust mites or mold.
If your eyes water and your nose starts to itch during certain times of the year, you might have seasonal allergies. Seasonal allergies, also called hay fever, affect one in ten Americans, making it the most common type of allergy.
Seasonal allergies are allergic reactions caused by the cycle of plant and mold growth. Plants and mold release pollen and spores into the air when they grow. When you breathe in pollen and spores, they can cause inflammation and irritation.
People are affected by seasonal allergies during seasons when the amount of pollen or mold spores in the air is high. There’s usually more pollen in the air on warm, dry or breezy days and less on chilly or wet days.
If your pet is warm-blooded, it has animal dander. When these dead skin cells from dogs, cats, birds and rodents trigger an allergic reaction, they can trigger asthma symptoms that cause you to cough or make it harder for you to breathe. In other cases, our bodies react to dander by producing a rash (atopic dermatitis) or a stuffy nose (allergic rhinitis).
It’s common for people to say they’re allergic to dust. What they’re actually allergic to are tiny bugs that live in dust. Dust mite allergies are sometimes confused with hay fever because they both cause sneezing and a runny nose. But unlike hay fever, dust mite allergies also cause many with the condition to experience wheezing and trouble breathing.
Mold allergies – when your body overreacts to inhaled mold spores – cause symptoms that are very similar to those of a dust mite allergy. In rare cases, however, mold allergies can cause a more severe response, like with mold-induced asthma or inflammation of the sinuses or lungs. Because mold is often found indoors, mold allergies can occur year-round, however you’re most likely to experience them in the fall when mold grows on fallen leaves and compost piles.
At HealthPartners and Park Nicollet, we work with you to manage your allergies so you can enjoy every season. Our allergists diagnose and treat seasonal allergies in patients of all ages. Allergists can treat even the most complex allergy cases, especially in people who have a history of severe allergies, asthma or other respiratory conditions.
We have allergy clinics in Minnesota and western Wisconsin, including many locations that provide immunotherapy (allergy shots) and two allergy and asthma specialty clinics where you can see an allergist and an asthma specialist during the same visit.
Common symptoms of environmental allergies include:
Allergy symptoms are often confused with cold symptoms, but there are some ways to tell the difference. If you experience some of the common allergy symptoms along with body aches, a fever or frequent, wet coughs, it’s probably a cold.
If you’re experiencing symptoms but aren’t sure if you have allergies, that’s okay. Our doctors can help find the cause of your symptoms and work with you to create a treatment plan.
Common tests used to diagnose environmental allergies include:
During this test, your skin is lightly pricked with suspected allergens and monitored for allergic reactions. Skin prick tests aren’t painful and usually take between 20-40 minutes. This test is usually used to diagnose allergies to pollen, pet dander, mold and dust mites.
Also known as a skin injection test, an intradermal test is when a small amount of a suspected allergen is injected into your arm. We’ll then examine your arm for signs of an allergic reaction. The test usually takes about 15 minutes and is only done at the discretion of a clinician. The needle used for the test is very small, so it won’t be painful. You might feel a pinch when the injection is performed and mild itching if your body reacts to the allergen.
Once your blood is drawn, we’ll test it against possible allergens. Your results are usually available a few days after your appointment. Blood tests aren’t used as commonly as skin tests. They are used when someone has experienced a severe allergic reaction and a skin test might put them at risk.
There are many different treatment options for environmental allergies and it’s common to need a combination of different medicines to manage all the symptoms. Our board-certified allergists work with you to find the ideal treatment plan that relieves your symptoms.
Antihistamines are the most common treatments for seasonal allergies and can be taken by mouth or nasal spray. Finding the most effective medicine or combination of medicines is often the best way to manage your symptoms. Our doctors will work with you to find the treatment option that works best to relieve your symptoms.
Nasal congestion is a common symptom of allergies. It’s caused by dilated blood vessels in your nasal passage. This congestion can make you feel miserable throughout the day and affect your sleep at night. Decongestants provide relief by narrowing the blood vessels in your nasal passages. The two most common decongestants are phenylephrine and phenylpropanolamine.
Nasal steroids are used to reduce nostril swelling caused by environmental allergies. They are commonly found in the form of nasal sprays. Steroids help reduce symptoms associated with seasonal allergies like sneezing, stuffy nose and inflammation. They are more commonly prescribed for severe allergies.
If environmental allergies give you itchy, watery eyes, we might recommend prescription eye drops. Eye drops are used by applying a few drops of the liquid to your eye. They soothe itching and reduce swelling and irritation.
Allergy shots are used to significantly reduce, even eliminate, your body’s reactions to environmental allergens. To do this, we’ll give you shots with small doses of allergens and increase the dose over time until the target dose is reached. After the target dose is reached, we’ll work with you to create a maintenance schedule.
Allergy shots are available at all HealthPartners primary care clinics and at the following Park Nicollet locations: Brookdale, Burnsville, Carlson Parkway, Chanhassen, Eagan, Maple Grove, Minneapolis, Prior Lake, Shakopee and St. Louis Park. For more information about where to go for allergy shots, choose a location and call for help scheduling.
If you haven’t talked to a doctor about your environmental allergy symptoms before, patients usually get started by making an appointment with one of our primary care doctors. Primary care doctors are able to treat hundreds of conditions and can help you get started on a personalized treatment plan.
Your primary care doctor can refer you to one of our board-certified allergists help you feel better. Allergists are also able to provide the best treatment for people with a history of severe allergies and/or asthma.
We accept most health insurance plans, including Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, CIGNA, HealthPartners, Medica, Medicare, PreferredOne and many others.
Not sure what your insurance covers? Call the number on the back of your card for help looking at your options.
Don’t have your card in front of you? Here are member services numbers to help get you started: