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Asthma and Allergies

3 Myths About Allergies Under the Microscope

Stephen Tilles, M.D.

President, American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology

If you have allergies or asthma — and even if you don’t — you’ve heard plenty of myths. They’re hard to avoid, but frankly, they don’t do us any favors. Having all the facts in hand means being able to get rid of allergy and asthma symptoms more quickly.

1. I have asthma so I can’t exercise

One of the goals of asthma treatment is to have a normal, healthy lifestyle that includes exercise. If your asthma is well-controlled, you should be able to participate in any sport you choose. Allergists’ specialized training give them the tools needed to help their patients breath well enough to exercise and play. Asthma symptoms during or immediately following exercise may signal poorly controlled asthma.  Exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB) is different. As many as 90 percent of people with asthma have EIB, but not everyone with EIB has asthma. EIB can be avoided by warming up with gentle exercises for about 15 minutes before you start intense physical activity. Cover your mouth and nose with a scarf or face mask when you exercise in cold weather and try breathing through your nose. This helps warm the air going into your lungs.

2. My mom told me I’m allergic to penicillin

Were you told you had a penicillin allergy because you had a reaction as a child? Many people have a response to penicillin such as hives or swelling, and are told it is an allergy. And though 10 percent of Americans think they are allergic to penicillin, 90 percent of them are not. Most people who think they’re allergic have never seen an allergist and been tested for a penicillin allergy. If you have a “penicillin allergic” label in your medical chart, you’ll be given alternative antibiotics for infections. The alternative antibiotics tend to be more expensive, less effective and more toxic. Even in people with a documented allergy to penicillin, only about 20 percent are still allergic 10 years later. If you think you have a penicillin allergy but have never been tested, talk to a board-certified allergist.

3. “Killer mold” in your bathroom is deadly

There are roughly a thousand species of mold in the United States — many of which aren’t visible to the naked eye. Most of them aren’t toxic and won’t kill you. That said, as tiny mold spores become airborne, they can cause allergic reactions and asthma symptoms in people who have mold allergies. How can you fight mold? Bathrooms, basements and tiled areas are especially prone to mold. The key to reducing mold is moisture control. Use bathroom fans and clean up standing water immediately. Scrub visible mold from surfaces with detergent and water, and completely dry the area. You can also help ward off mold by keeping home humidity below 60 percent and cleaning gutters regularly.

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