Lehach says that, in winter, half of the patients who come to her are people whose family doctors have told them they're not suffering from colds.
Eghrari-Sabet says primary-care doctors can miss an allergy diagnosis when their offices are flooded with patients who have colds or the flu.
People with allergies are more likely than others to develop asthma, a more serious and chronic condition. Some studies have shown that indoor allergies are associated more strongly with asthma than outdoor (pollen) allergies.
What to do if you think you might have indoor allergies? Here's some suggestions from experts:
— Minimize your exposure. Dust mites live in bedding, upholstered furniture and carpeting; mold grows in damp places such as bathrooms and basements; and pets — well, if you have a dog or a cat, you should at least keep the animal out of rooms where you spend a lot of time, such as your bedroom.
And cockroaches. "They are a major allergen," Lehach says, and are widely prevalent in urban settings — both housing and schools. A study of 831 houses across the country found that two-thirds of the homes had detectable levels of cockroach allergens, and higher levels were found in high-rise apartments and older, urban homes. (Nearly half of the homes had high enough levels of dust mite allergens to produce allergic reactions.)
So, vacuum frequently, wash bedding in hot water, remove mold with a bleach solution. Pay special attention to your bedroom, suggests the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, because you spend so many hours there. In addition to keeping a clean house, you might want to invest in a HEPA air filter, which removes particles from air passing through it.
_If you think you might have indoor allergies, there are plenty of over-the-counter products to help relieve the symptoms of allergies, including antihistamines and decongestants. You might also try steroid nasal sprays, one of which — Nasacort — was recently approved for nonprescription sales. Studies generally show that steroid nasal sprays work better than antihistamines for symptom relief. Some allergy sufferers swear by simple saline sprays and herbal remedies that contain butterbur or biminne.