Clearing the Air: Allergy Strategies That Work

New Weill Cornell Book on Airborne Allergies Distinguishes Fact from Fiction

Nov 21, 2002


More than 60-million Americans suffer from allergies and as many as 40 million suffer from airborne allergies. Yet despite their prevalence and the ever-increasing numbers of allergy sufferers, there is still widespread misunderstanding about allergies. Now, a new book by a leading Weill Cornell allergist clears the air about allergies and distinguishes the fact from the fiction.

The book, entitled What's In the Air? The Complete Guide to Seasonal and Year-Round Airborne Allergies, is authored by Dr. Gillian Shepherd, Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Marian Betancourt. It is available in paperback and published by Pocket Books.

Dr. Shepherd, who is affiliated with NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital Weill Cornell Medical Center, explains everything you always wanted to know about airborne allergies, which include pollens, molds, animal proteins, dust mite and cockroach fecal droppings, and latex particles. For example: What causes allergies? What is the best way to cope? Should I be on medication? Should I buy an air purifier? Should I get rid of my pet? Do I have an allergy, a cold, or just a hyperactive nose?

Most important, the authors dispel many of the current myths about allergies, including:

  • Myth: Growing up around allergens causes allergies.
    In fact, the rising prevalence of allergies may be due to an overly sterile environment. Also, if you are an only child, you may be more likely to have allergies.
  • Myth: Dander and fur are the cause of pet allergies.
    Actually, it is the protein in dried urine, saliva and skin secretions that coat the animal's hair. Most pet owners, even if allergic, will not give up their pets.
  • Myth: Synthetic fabrics attract less pollen than natural fibers.
    Actually, wearing natural fibers is a good way to stay allergy-free.
  • Myth: There will never be a cure for allergies.
    In fact, the FDA may soon approve a so-called anti-IgE drug that directly controls allergy antibodies.

Dr. Shepherd asks, "Why suffer needlessly with allergy symptoms? Many people with allergies wait until their symptoms are severe. Yet it is relatively easy to avoid being miserable with proper use of medications and by avoiding allergens."

She advises that, in order to diagnose an allergy, first become familiar with your family history. Next, your regular physician or internist should do a physical examination and, if needed, refer you to an allergist for a series of tests. Drug treatment options include nasal steroid sprays, antihistamines and decongestants. Severe allergies may be treated with immunotherapy, a therapy that involves regularly injecting small doses of allergens in order to increase the body's tolerance.

Other practical insights that the book offers include:

  • Certain occupations are more susceptible to allergens (health-care workers, farmers, etc.).
  • Many allergy drugs should not be used during pregnancy.
  • Over-the-counter allergy treatments can cause more harm than good.
  • Autumn is mold allergy season.
  • Avoid fruits and vegetables that cross-react with pollen allergies.
  • Book a flight early in the morning when the plane has been freshly cleaned.
  • As many as 21 percent of Americans are allergic to cockroaches.

Dr. Gillian Shepherd is Board-certified in Allergy and Immunology; a Fellow and member of the Board of Directors of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology; attending physician at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital Weill Cornell Medical Center; Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College; and a consultant to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.