If you have respiratory allergies, you have an environmental problem: There's something in the air that makes you sniffle, sneeze, stuff up or wheeze. And growing evidence suggests your problem may be linked with the biggest environmental problem of all: global climate change.
That may be especially true for pollen sufferers. Tree, grasses and weeds (including the ragweed tormenting many people right now) churn out more pollen over more weeks when temperatures and carbon dioxide levels rise, says Richard Weber, a Denver allergist who helped write a paper on the link published this month in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
"I think we can expect allergy sufferers are going to be suffering more," says Weber, a professor at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center.
Weber and colleagues from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology suggest people with allergies and asthma have a special stake in slowing climate change: Drive less and use energy-efficient appliances and lighting, they write, and you just might help yourself and the planet.
Sadly, though, screwing in a few compact fluorescent bulbs will do nothing to clear up the stuffy nose you have today. For that, many sufferers turn to drugs.
But there's another way to reduce symptoms. Once again, it's all about changing the environment -- in your home.
"We've got really good evidence now that environment matters," says Jay Portnoy, a Kansas City, Mo., allergist and president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. "Just taking a pill is not going to solve your problem."
Mark Dykewicz, chief of allergy and clinical immunology at St. Louis University School of Medicine, agrees: "Allergen avoidance is Job One."
Allergens are the things that trigger symptoms: the pollens and molds outside; the dust mites, molds, pet dander and insect droppings inside. Different people have different triggers and need different environmental control strategies.
Many are common sense: If pollen bothers you, check daily counts (at www.aaai.org) and stay inside with your windows closed when they peak. If you go outside, shower before bedtime.
Avoiding indoor trouble-makers takes more work. But research suggests it's worth the bother, if sufferers take multiple steps. "Doing one thing isn't enough," Portnoy says. Measures that may help:
Control dust mites by keeping indoor humidity below 50 percent, putting mite-proof covers on pillows and mattresses, washing bedding in hot water, removing carpets from bedrooms, using products that kill or deactivate mites and using a cyclonic vacuum cleaner or one with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter. Room air cleaners with HEPA filters also can help.
Reduce indoor mold by finding and repairing leaks and making sure bathrooms, basements and kitchens are well ventilated.
If you can't part with a pet that causes allergies, at least keep the pet out of your bedroom.
Undertake a long-lasting, aggressive pest control campaign if the problem is cockroach allergy.
Clean or change your furnace filters at least as often as recommended by manufacturers.
Ban smoking in your house: The irritation makes any allergy worse.
Not recommended: regular cleaning of heating ducts or the use of air cleaners that emit ozone.
The allergy college has more tips at www.acaai.org.
The materials at the site were developed with funding from the Clorox Co., which makes cleaning products for mold and dust mites.