Inhalant Allergies: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

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Allergies are caused by your body reacting to substances in the air that you breathe.

Although airborne allergies are caused by harmless things, your body identifies these substances as “foreign.” This leads to your allergy symptoms—sneezing, congestion, runny nose, and more.

Inhalant allergies commonly include indoor allergens (such as dust mites) and outdoor allergens (such as pollen and mold).

Learn more about the causes, symptoms, and treatment of inhalant allergies in this article.

Man blowing nose

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Common Inhalant Allergies

Inhalant allergies can be caused by a variety of airborne substances, both inside and outside. Seasonal allergies, also called “hay fever,” are one of the most common types of inhalant allergies. Air pollution can also trigger symptoms.

Common outdoor allergens and irritants include:

  • Pollen (grass, trees, weeds)
  • Mold spores
  • Fungi
  • Smoke
  • Smog
  • Ozone
  • Car emissions
  • Factory emissions
  • Dust

Many inhalant allergies are triggered by indoor allergens and irritants, such as:

  • Animal dander (such as dogs, cats, horses, guinea pigs)
  • Dust mites
  • Mold
  • Fragrances
  • Household chemicals
  • Candle smoke
  • Fireplace smoke
  • Cockroach saliva or excrement
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Fuel-burning heaters

Inhalant allergies can also be triggered by volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. These chemicals, which are released as gases, can be found in a variety of household products, including:

  • Cleaning supplies
  • Bug repellant
  • Car products
  • Fuel
  • Dry-cleaned clothing
  • Carpeting
  • Crafting supplies
  • Pesticides
  • Paint
  • Paint stripper

Symptoms

Inhalant allergies cause a similar set of symptoms, regardless of the particular allergen that triggers them. Common symptoms include:

  • Runny nose
  • Congestion
  • Itchy eyes, nose, mouth, and throat
  • Sinus pressure
  • Headache
  • Loss of smell
  • Rash
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Pressure/fullness in the ears
  • Swollen, red, watery eyes

Treatment

A variety of treatments are available for inhalant allergies, even if you don’t know your specific trigger. Both medications and home remedies can be beneficial in reducing your symptoms.

Common medications for allergies include:

  • Antihistamines: These medications block chemicals, called histamines, that are released from your immune system and cause your symptoms.
  • Decongestants: Decongestants decrease swelling in your nasal passages and thin mucus.
  • Corticosteroids: More severe allergy symptoms might require steroid anti-inflammatory medications.
  • Allergy shots: Small doses of your allergen can be introduced to your body over time to reduce your sensitivity. This can be particularly helpful for inhalant allergies to dust, pollen, and pet dander.
  • Sublingual immunotherapy: Small doses of allergens can also be given under the tongue for allergies to dust mites, ragweed, and grass.

While home remedies won’t “fix” your allergies, they can improve your quality of life when you’re living with inhalant allergy symptoms. Home remedies to consider include:

  • Keep it clean: Dust and vacuum at least once a week to remove inhalant allergens from your home. Use a HEPA filter or a double vacuum bag to keep dust from re-entering the air. Cleaning temporarily increases the amount of allergens in the air, so consider wearing a mask if you’re particularly sensitive.
  • Choose your furnishings: Allergens tend to collect in rugs and on fabric furniture. If you have the option, choose floors that have a hard surface, buy leather or vinyl furniture, and place area rugs that can be washed.
  • Chuck the pillows: Although they might be cute, accent pillows can be a magnet for allergens.
  • Reduce smoke: Avoid smoking cigarettes indoors. Use alternate forms of heat rather than a wood-burning fireplace or stove, which can also produce smoke.
  • Avoid fragrances: Don’t burn candles or use other types of air fresheners in your home if you’ve got inhalant allergies.
  • Don’t track it in: Remove jackets and shoes at the door to reduce the amount of outdoor allergens that get into your home.
  • Contain your pet: Limit where your pet goes in your home to reduce the spread of pet dander. Keep your pet out of your bedroom where dander can collect on your bedsheets.

Link Between Eczema and Inhalant Allergies

If you’ve got eczema (also called atopic dermatitis), you might also be at higher risk of developing inhalant allergies, as well as other types of allergies. The exact reason for this is not well understood, but it’s so common that it has been named the “atopic march.”

The atopic march describes a progression of allergies that often occurs from childhood into adulthood. Infants might start out with eczema, then develop food allergies as they move into childhood. Later in life, they might also develop inhalant allergies, seasonal allergies, and possibly asthma.

Genetics have been linked to the atopic march. A skin defect involving the protein filaggrin allows allergens to more easily enter the body, making a person more prone to allergies. Research has shown that people with this skin defect are also at higher risk of having an inhalant allergy, particularly to pollen.

What Is Eczema?

Eczema refers to a group of conditions that cause skin inflammation, itching, and rashes. There are many types of eczema, including:

  • Atopic dermatitis
  • Contact dermatitis
  • Nummular eczema
  • Seborrheic dermatitis
  • Dyshidrotic eczema
  • Stasis dermatitis

A Word From Verywell

Talk to your doctor if you experience symptoms of inhalant allergies—especially if they are occurring frequently. Allergy testing can help you get to the root cause of your symptoms. Once you’ve identified your allergen, you might be able to reduce or even eliminate your exposure to it.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you get tested for inhalant allergies?

    Allergy testing can be performed with skin tests or blood tests.

  • Can allergies affect your lungs?

    Allergies lead to inflammation in your lungs. This can cause several common allergy symptoms, such as coughing, shortness of breath, and wheezing.

  • Can dogs get inhalant allergies?

    Dogs can be allergic to airborne substances. Skin irritation is the most common symptom.

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9 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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