An Overview of Airborne Allergies

Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Methods

From coughing, itching, and sneezing, to watery eyes, airborne allergies can be a pain. It can be challenging to find relief as the allergens that trigger them may be found inside your home or outdoors. Read more about the most common airborne allergies, their symptoms, prevention, and treatment methods.

How to Prevent Airborne Allergens

Verywell / Michela Buttignol

What Are Airborne Allergies?

Airborne allergies are the allergies that occur when your immune system has an overreaction to an airborne allergen (aeroallergen). Examples of aeroallergens are spores or pollen. These can circulate in the air.

An allergen is a substance (usually a protein) that isn't harmful in itself. But in some people, its presence leads immune cells to produce a type of antibody that triggers an allergic reaction.


Depending on where you live, various airborne allergens may be in your environment. These are not harmful in themselves and do not trigger a reaction in every person, but may in some people. Some common sources of aeroallergens include:

  • Dust mites
  • Pollen
  • Fungal spores
  • Pet danders

Common Types of Airborne Allergies

There are various types of airborne allergies. The most common ones that cause rhinitis are pollen, spores, and dust mites.

Animal Allergens

The majority of people who have animal allergies own pets. Almost 62% of United States households have pets, and more than 161 million of these pets are cats and dogs.

The proteins present in their skin flakes, saliva, and urine, can trigger allergy symptoms. People who do not have a pet in their household, but who visit a house that has a pet or an environment frequented by pets, may also have allergy symptoms.

Pets are also likely to collect outdoor allergens (such as pollen) in their fur, which might cause an allergic reaction that is not from the pet itself.

Fungal Spores

Fungal spores are released by mold. They float in the air and can be found outdoors and indoors Everyone inhales the air containing these particles. But some people have a sensitized immune system and get allergies or symptoms of asthma if they inhale too much of this fungus.

When those who are allergic to the fungal spores inhale them, their immune system triggers reactions such as sneezing, runny nose, itchy mouth and lips, watery eyes, etc. However, not every type of mold causes allergies. The most common allergy-causing molds are Cladosporium and Aspergillus.


Pollen is produced by plants as a part of their reproduction. It is a yellowish powder carried in the air to fertilize plants. It triggers allergy symptoms in people who are allergic to it. They may experience symptoms such as sneezing, wheezing and runny nose.

Many people are allergic to specific tree or weed pollens. They may have seasonal allergies to these airborne pollens when pollen counts are high.

Insect and House Dust Mite Allergens

Various kinds of insect matter can become airborne and trigger allergic reactions. These include their saliva, dried feces, scales, and wings. Cockroaches, flies, and even caterpillars can be sources of these allergens.

Dust mites are a common source of airborne insect allergens. They are microscopic insects that thrive in humid areas such as furniture, carpets, and bedding. When these are disturbed, the mite allergens can become airborne.

An allergy to dust mites can result in allergic rhinitis (runny nose), asthma symptoms, or an eczema flare (an itchy skin condition).

Airborne Allergens in House Dust

While cleaning at home, it is a common occurrence for dust particles to be stirred up into the air. This results in a variety of airborne allergens, including allergens from dust mites, cockroaches, pets, molds, and pollen. This can cause symptoms such as:

  • Red, itchy, watery eyes
  • Itchy and runny nose
  • Stuffy nose
  • Sneezing

Industrial and Occupational Allergens

Industrial allergens are also known as occupational allergens. In this setting, dust and a variety of allergenic substances can be airborne. They can trigger allergies or occupational asthma, which is the most common work-related lung disease in developed nations.

In asthma, an allergen can trigger the airways to become inflamed, constricted, and produce excess mucus, leading to breathing difficulties. Non-allergenic substances can also trigger occupational asthma, such as chemical fumes.

If your family has a history of asthma, it is more likely that you will develop asthma due to the conditions your immune system is subjected to. Nevertheless, you can still develop occupational asthma, though your family has no one diagnosed with the allergy.

Food Allergens

While food allergies are more typically triggered by eating the food, airborne food allergens can be produced during food preparation and cooking, as well as in food processing facilities. These can cause symptoms such as a runny nose or itchy eyes, but don't usually cause a life-threatening reaction.

Food allergies are usually diagnosed in young children although they can also be seen in older children and adults. Eggs, fish, peanuts, and shellfish are some of the foods that cause most allergic reactions.


Symptoms of an allergy to airborne allergens can include:

Symptoms of allergic asthma may also be triggered by airborne allergens. These may include:

Management and Prevention

Some ways you can help reduce airborne allergens include:

  • Avoid carpeting, fabric-covered furniture, and heavy fabric window coverings. These can harbor dust and dust mites. It is better to have surfaces you can wipe clean.
  • Clean often. Damp-mop hard flooring daily. Use a dry cloth on hard surfaces to remove dust weekly. Dusting and vacuuming can stir up dust, so you may wish to wear a mask. Wet-vacuuming or steam cleaning carpets may be a good choice.
  • Close doors and windows. This is especially recommended during the season where pollen count is higher. Also, avoid going outdoors during those periods.
  • Keep humidity low. Maintain the relative humidity in your home below 50% to minimize the growth of dust mites.
  • Use an air filter. Using air filters like HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters can trap these allergens and reduce your allergies. They work by forcing air through a small mesh which stops allergens from triggering your allergies.
  • Wash and encase bedding. Wash all bedding one to two times a week in hot water to kill dust mites. Encase mattress, box springs, and pillows in dust mite-proof covers.
  • Wash clothes and fabrics frequently. Dust and dirt from your clothes can also trigger your allergies. Hence, you should wash them regularly.

When to Seek Professional Treatment

Any allergic reaction that interferes with your breathing needs immediate medical attention.

If you have minor allergy symptoms, you might not seek professional treatment. But if your symptoms are reducing your quality of life or you use over-the-counter medication frequently for them, it is best to consult a healthcare professional.

Your primary healthcare provider may be able to provide help or refer you to an allergy specialist. An allergist specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of allergic diseases. They can determine which allergens are responsible for triggering your allergic reactions.

An allergy specialist may also recommend immunotherapy (allergy shots) to desensitize you to airborne allergens. They can assist you in preventing and controlling your allergy while you carry out your normal activities.


Airborne allergies often occur when your immune system overreacts to an airborne allergen or such as spores, pollen, or pet dander. Symptoms can include coughing, sneezing, watery eyes, or dark circles under the eyes. Additionally, lifestyle measures can help reduce triggers, and your doctor can recommend medications to lessen symptoms.

A Word From Verywell

Airborne allergies may disrupt your normal daily activities due to sneezing, an itchy nose, and watery eyes. Avoid common allergens so that you do not expose yourself to allergic attacks. You can try to stay indoors when the pollen count is high or wear a mask in dusty places.

See your healthcare professional for recommendations on which over-the-counter or prescription medications and therapy may help reduce your symptoms.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How sick can airborne allergies make you?

    Airborne allergies can cause a host of symptoms such as sneezing, a runny or clogged nose, and itchy eyes, nose, and throat. Sometimes the symptoms are mild; other times they are dangerous and should be treated by a professional.

  • Is food considered an airborne allergy?

    Reactions to airborne food allergens are not common and are usually mild. They include a runny nose, wheezing, and hives. However, people with asthma may be prone to breathing problems from food allergens floating around in the air.

  • What percentage of people have airborne allergies?

    Hay fever affects up to 60 million people each year in the U.S. with symptoms such as congestion and sneezing. Meanwhile, allergic conjunctivitis (eye inflammation) has been found in as much as 30% of the population and in 7 out of 10 allergic rhinitis patients.

14 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Margaret Etudo
Margaret Etudo is a health writing expert with extensive experience in simplifying complex health-based information for the public on topics, like respiratory health, mental health and sexual health.