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Your 12 worst allergy mistakes

Allergies are nothing to sneeze at. Each year in the U.S., allergic reactions account for more than 17 million trips to the doctor, 30,000 emergency room visits, and several hundred deaths, according to a new report. And the report suggests things are getting worse, with sensitivity to mold and ragweed on the rise. And while allergies are prevalent across the nation - affecting one in five of us - they pose a bigger problem in some cities more than others. The report, from Quest Diagnostics, looked at the proportion of citizens showing sensitivity to food, ragweed, mold, dust mites, and cats and dogs in 30 U.S. cities. Keep reading to learn the 12 cities where allergies are most troublesome. Are you living in one of the "dirty dozen?" istockphoto

Are you making your allergies worse?

Allergies are the worst. A stuffy nose, itchy eyes, coughing, and other allergy symptoms can make life a misery.

But is your own cluelessness contributing to the problem?

From our friends at Health.com, here are the 12 biggest mistakes people make when it comes to allergies, and the smart ways to avoid them. There, don't you feel better already?

Your 12 worst allergy mistakes

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You leave windows open

girl, window, child, 4x3, stock

Make it a rule to keep your windows closed and the air conditioner on when it's pollen season.

Be sure to set the AC to "recirculate," and if it's not hot outside, you can keep it in filter-only mode. Using an air conditioner in your car can cut the amount of pollen you breathe by as much as 30%, says Dr. Myngoc Nguyen, chief of allergy at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, Northern California.

More from Health.com: How to stop allergies at home

Your 12 worst allergy mistakes

If you must finish that gardening before the in-laws show up, don a not-so-chic but tres useful N95 filter mask ($25 for 20), which keeps pollen out of your nose and mouth.More from Health.com: 10 worst plants for your allergies istockphoto

You ignore pollen counts

"People should make an effort to be aware of the pollen count and when the pollens are out that bother them," says Dr. Rosenstreich.

Check out pollen.com to find out exactly when allergy season begins in your area.

You can also use the site to look up four-day allergy forecasts for your zip code, and sign up to get allergy alerts by email. The more information you have, the better prepared you'll be to manage your symptoms.

More from Health.com: How to stop allergies at home

Your 12 worst allergy mistakes

You don't have to train like an athlete to stay fit this summer. From our friends at Health.com, try these outdoor activities that burn calories and keep your body toned without hitting the gym. All activities are calculated for a 150-pound woman performing the activity for 30 minutes. More from Health.com: 25 ways to cut 500 calories a day istockphoto

You exercise at the wrong time

If you love an outdoor workout, avoid the morning or early afternoon, says Dr. Nguyen.

Grasses and trees start releasing pollen at sunrise, with levels peaking in the late morning and early afternoon. "I always suggest people run after work in the late afternoon or evening," she says.

Exercising when pollen counts are lower, Dr. Rosenstreich agrees, "can make an enormous difference." And if pollen counts are going to be high on a given day, opt for a less strenuous workout.

More from Health.com: How to stop allergies at home

Your 12 worst allergy mistakes

Filters, that is. Ideally, you want a central air-conditioning system with a HEPA filter attached. If you don't have central air, try free-standing air cleaners in key rooms such as the bedroom. Change the filters at least every three months and have your heating and air-conditioning units inspected (and cleaned, if necessary) every six.More from Health.com: 10 worst plants for your allergies istockphoto

You undermine your air purifier

Room air purifiers and filters are an extremely effective way to remove pollen, animal dander, dust, and other allergens from indoor air. (Find out how to buy the right air cleaner.)

But unless you close the doors and windows in the room where you're using one, it's basically useless because they're only meant to filter room-size areas--not your entire house, or the great outdoors.

More from Health.com: How to stop allergies at home

Your 12 worst allergy mistakes

Flickr/gregfriese

Your EpiPen is expired

epipen, epi penIf you need to carry an EpiPen (an auotinjector) because you're at high risk of a serious allergic reaction, check every year to make sure its expiration date hasn't passed, and replace it if it has, Dr. Rosenstreich says.

It's also a bad idea to keep your EpiPen in the car, where it can be exposed to temperature extremes that make it less effective.

Be sure to learn how to use it properly, Dr. Rosenstreich advises. "You don't want to start reading the label in the middle of an attack." Finally, he adds, be aware that once the safety cap is off, the needle will inject anything it touches.

More from Health.com: How to stop allergies at home

Your 12 worst allergy mistakes

Here's the tip off: Your desk is a mountain of paper and you just wasted a half hour searching for an important legal document. Or maybe you failed to make appointments for your children to see the pediatrician, and the school wants their immunization reports - pronto. If you have ADHD, getting and staying organized is a challenge for you. Breaking organizational tasks into smaller steps may help, according to the National Resource Center on ADHD, in Landover, Md. istockphoto

You've got clutter

Stuffed animals are cute, cuddly, and unfortunately, major magnets for dust, a common allergy trigger.

If your child has piles of fluffy friends, and he or she--or anyone in the household--has allergies, you're better off storing or giving them away. (Many charities collect stuffed animals to give to needy kids, or even as puppy play toys.)

It's best to limit youngsters to a select few, which can be occasionally washed, rather than a whole collection, Dr. Rosenstreich says.

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Your 12 worst allergy mistakes

What to try: For some, perfume isn't just an annoyance, it can trigger real pain. Avoid the beauty counters in big department stores if you can. More from Health.com: 10 hangover remedies: What works? istockphoto

You ignore symptoms

Adults can become allergic to pets or pollen after years of allergy-free living.

If you need antibiotics for sinusitis every spring, you may have a pollen allergy, says Dr. Nguyen, who recommends a visit to the allergist. "Repeated use of antibiotics is not necessary, can lead to drug allergy, and doesn't help the pollen allergy," she says.

You can become allergic to a pet and not know it because symptoms are subtle and chronic. If you've got allergy-ish symptoms that never go away, get it checked out.

More from Health.com: How to stop allergies at home

Your 12 worst allergy mistakes

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You're down with down

pillow, comforter, bedding, bed, sheets

Love that cozy comforter? It might be trouble, particularly if you've had it for a long time.

Feathers can be very allergenic, and become even more so as they age and break down, says Dr. Rosenstreich. "I'll have people tell me, 'I've had this feather pillow for 40 years, I brought it from Romania, it's never bothered me before,'" he adds. "That's precisely the point."

Synthetic pillow stuffing, like polyester fiberfill, is a better choice for people with allergies. You can make your pillows even less sneeze-inducing by getting dust mite-proof covers for them (and while you're at it, for your mattress).

More from Health.com: How to stop allergies at home

Your 12 worst allergy mistakes

Man installing window blinds in a house istockphoto

You sleep with your pet

It may seem sweet to snooze with your pup or kitty at night, but it's not a great idea if you have allergies.

Even if you're not allergic to animals, pets can bring in pollen, dust, mold, and other allergens from the outdoors, Dr. Rosenstreich notes. It's best to avoid letting your dog or cat hang out on your bed.

"Your bedroom should essentially be an allergy-free zone," he says. For the same reason, you're better off with bare floors in the bedroom, or only using a rug or two that you can throw in the wash periodically.

More from Health.com: How to stop allergies at home

Your 12 worst allergy mistakes

If you're set off by pets, you may be allergic to proteins found in the animal's saliva, dander (dead skin flakes), and urine. And all furry pets carry these proteins; studies suggest hypoallergenic cats and dogs can cause just as many symptoms as the regular kind. Here are better steps you can take if you can't bear to part with Rover or Frisky. Ban him from the bedroom Just keeping pets out (or better yet, away from your upstairs entirely) can help relieve your symptoms.More from Health.com: 10 worst plants for your allergies istockphoto

You get a hypoallergenic pet

Sorry folks, but there's no such animal as a truly hypoallergenic pet. (Beyond a snake or lizard.)

While some breeds are said to be less allergy-inducing than others, experts say any furry animal can cause symptoms in susceptible individuals.

Even hairless cats and dogs are allergenic; it's not the fur that makes people sneeze, but flakes of skin called dander and proteins found in the animals' saliva and urine.

More from Health.com: How to stop allergies at home

Your 12 worst allergy mistakes

Parkersburg, W.Va., resident Aaron Edwards holds the family's quaker parakeet, Fred, Saturday, May 22, 2004. The parakeet was found Friday in Pettyville, after escaping and living four years in the wild. The four years has mellowed the parakeet, as Fred reportedly bit everyone he didn't like and was a french fry eating machine. Now all he wants is bird food. AP

You think a bird is OK

People can be allergic to birds, too, Dr. Rosenstreich warns.

"A single big bird can cause a lot of problems for people, and often they will not realize it because allergy can take a long time to develop," he says.

Allergists advise against living with an animal if you're allergic to it. If you can't or don't want to find a new home for your beloved pet, consider allergy shots, which can help reduce symptoms in some people.

More from Health.com: How to stop allergies at home