Are you suffering from a runny nose, itchy and watery eyes, sneezing, skin rashes or respiratory problems? Staying indoors in closed up quarters during the winter season increases the risk of allergies.

The most common causes of allergies are dust mites, pollen, food, mold spores, pet dander, prescription medications, latex and insect stings. Certain ingredients found in cosmetics can cause allergic reactions as well.

According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, one out every three Americans suffers from allergies. Allergies cause mild to severe reactions. Mild reactions generally affect the respiratory system or the skin. On rare occasions, a severe reaction called an anaphylactic shock may result. This condition can be life threatening and may cause the throat to swell, vomiting, cramping, diarrhea, confusion, dizziness and a sudden lowering of blood pressure. When this occurs, immediate medical attention is necessary.

For milder reactions to allergies, medications such as antihistamines, decongestants, and anti-inflammatories may relieve symptoms. Allergy injections may also be effective.

The Cleveland Clinic Department of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine has researched allergy triggers in various environments. Their website offers the following recommendations to help avoid allergic reactions in the home and outdoors:

At Home

? Keep windows closed and use air conditioning if you’re allergic to pollen. Don’t use fans since they can stir up dust.

? Filter the air. Cover air conditioning vents with cheesecloth to filter pollen. Clean air filters frequently and air ducts at least once a year.

? Keep the humidity in your home below 50 percent to prevent mold growth. To reduce the moisture in the bathroom and kitchen, fix leaks

• If you have pets, consider keeping them outside. Animal dander and saliva are common allergens. If you must keep your pets indoors, do not allow them in the bedroom and be sure to bathe them often.

• Install dehumidifiers or steam vaporizers in areas of the house where molds tend to collect. Clean these devices every week.

• Air out damp clothes and shoes (in the house) before storing.

• Remove laundry from the washing machine promptly. Don’t leave wet clothes in the washer where mold can quickly grow.

• Wash shower curtains and bathroom tiles with mold-killing solutions.

• Don’t collect too many indoor plants as soil encourages mold growth.

• Store firewood outside.

• Use plastic covers for pillows, mattresses, and box springs. Avoid overstuffed furniture and down-filled bedding or pillows.

• Wash your bedding every week in hot water.

• Don’t allow smoking in your house.

• Wear a mask and gloves when cleaning, vacuuming, or painting to limit dust and chemical exposure.

• Vacuum twice a week.

• Limit throw rugs to reduce dust and mold. If you do have rugs, make sure they are washable.

• When possible, choose hardwood floors instead of carpeting. If you must have carpeting, choose low-pile material.

• Avoid dust-collecting Venetian blinds or long drapes. Replace old drapes with window shades instead.

• Make sure there is an exhaust fan over the stove to remove cooking fumes.

Outdoors

• Minimize walks in wooded areas or gardens.

• Check the forecast. Stay indoors as much as possible on hot, dry, windy days when pollen counts are generally the highest.

• Try to avoid extreme temperature changes. This can trigger asthma in some people.

• If possible, stay indoors between 5 and 10 a.m. when outdoor pollen counts are usually highest.

• Wear a mask when gardening or mowing the lawn if allergic to grass pollen or mold. Avoid being around freshly cut grass.

• Avoid raking leaves or working with hay or mulch if allergic to mold.

? After being outdoors, take a shower, wash your hair, and change your clothes to remove pollen that may have collected in your clothes and hair.

? Protect yourself from insect stings with clothing and by not wearing scented deodorants, perfumes, or hair products.

? Don’t hang clothes or linens out to dry, as pollen and molds may collect in them.

For more information, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology website is www.aaaai.org.

Mary Garza Cummings is a free-lance writer. The Town Crier does not warrant the information as valid. If you comments email askseniorfocus@aol.com.