Eligibility

Got a pet allergy? Here's how your FSA can help

Ask pet owners and they will tell you that their dogs or cats are like extended members of the family, which is why it isn't surprising that allergic pet owners choose to endure their symptoms rather than give their pets up. And the problem is a common one - according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, 1 in 3 Americans have some form of pet allergy, some of which can develop from a young age, while others can develop later in life.

According to The Mayo Clinic, allergies occur when the body's immune system is triggered by the presence of foreign substances like pollen, mold or pet dander. When under threat, your immune system produces proteins known as antibodies, which protect you from unwanted invaders that could make you sick or cause an infection. When you have allergies, your immune system makes antibodies that identify your particular allergen as something harmful, even though it isn't.

The easiest solution to pet allergies is removing the pet from the home, but for those who can't imagine life without their pets, there are other options available. If you have a flexible spending account (FSA), your benefit covers a wide range of potential treatments for pet allergies. Here are a few options to keep in mind.

  1. Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy, also known as allergy shots, is one of the most popular traditional treatments of preventing allergic reactions to allergens. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, allergy shots decrease the body's sensitivity to allergens and function much like a vaccine.

The body responds to injected amounts of a specific allergen, which is given in gradually increasing doses to boost one's immunity or tolerance to the substance. This treatment is eligible for FSA reimbursement and could be a beneficial approach for many pet owners.

  1. Antihistamines

Antihistamines are among the best options for allergy sufferers to control their body's immune response to the presence of allergens. According to The Mayo Clinic, histamine is a substance that is active during an allergic reaction, which can result in swelling, skin reactions and respiratory effects. Antihistamines can help relieve the itching, stuffy nose and sneezing that come with an allergic reaction. Best of all, over-the-counter antihistamines are FSA-eligible with a prescription from a doctor.

  1. Decongestants

Decongestants are a type of medicine that are chemically distinct from antihistamines, but they are typically combined in most products to provide optimal relief from allergic symptoms. As opposed to fighting the body's production of histamine, decongestants assist in reducing swelling in nasal tissues to help you breathe more easily. Once again, these OTC medicines are FSA-eligible with a prescription.

  1. Nasal Irrigation

Last but not least, nasal irrigation is a great option for allergy sufferers to clear their nasal passages of mucous, allergens and other particulates that could contribute to their allergic reactions. Your FSA covers both saline irrigation rinses and Neti pots that can administer therapy directly to your nasal passages to alleviate your symptoms.

Save up to 40 percent each year on products when you shop with your FSA! We have the web's largest selection of FSA-eligible items to help you maximize the potential of your employee benefits!

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Neti Pot and Supplies

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Sources:

http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pet-allergy/diagnosis-treatment/treatment/txc-20238974

http://www.aafa.org/page/pet-dog-cat-allergies.aspx

https://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/treatments/allergy-shots-(immunotherapy)

Living Well

Is it asthma or allergies?

Spring allergy season brings its own set of challenges for allergy sufferers, but the season can be even more difficult for those with asthma as well. Many individuals are confused by asthma and allergy symptoms because they are so similar, and often these two conditions are directly related to one another.

According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, more than 25 million Americans with asthma also have allergies, which is called allergic asthma. This condition occurs when asthma symptoms are triggered by airborne substances, such as pollen, pet dander, mold and other allergens that are present in the surrounding environment.

But not all allergy sufferers have asthma and understanding the differences between these conditions is key to managing one's symptoms of either condition. Let's examine the key characteristics of asthma and allergies from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA).

Asthma

Asthma is an incurable condition in which breathing passages narrow and produce more mucous than normal, which can trigger breathing difficulties like wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath. Asthma can be triggered by a number of factors, but typically asthma is triggered by exercise, workplace irritants (dust, chemicals, gases) or allergens that are present in the environment.

Allergies

Allergies are a direct immune response after allergens enter or come into contact with the body and produce an allergic reaction. These allergic responses are caused by the body's natural ability to produce antibodies, which typically ward off foreign invaders and fight infections in the body. However, when an allergen (such as dust, pollen or pet dander) is introduced to the immune system, antibodies will recognize this as a potential threat (when it is actually harmless), and will trigger an immune system response that can manifest itself as sinus, digestive system, skin or respiratory issues.

How do these two conditions relate?

While allergies can trigger asthma symptoms, the primary difference between an allergic reaction and an asthma attack is where it occurs within the body, reports Health Guidance. Allergens trigger a response in the upper respiratory system, while asthma attacks affect the lungs and upper bronchial passages. In the case of allergic asthma, allergens are the primary driver of the triggering of asthma symptoms, which presents unique challenges from a treatment perspective.

As such, individuals who have both allergies and asthma will have to take more advanced steps to control their conditions and minimize their symptoms. The vast majority of medical treatments will treat either asthma or allergies, but some can also treat both conditions. According to the Mayo Clinic, these include:

  • Allergy Shots: Regular allergy shots are a form of immunotherapy that helps to treat both asthma and allergy symptoms by gradually reducing the body's immune system response to particular allergy triggers. For this treatment to be effective, allergy shots are administered over a period of 3-5 years to ultimately diminish allergic and asthmatic reactions.
  • Anti-immunoglobulin E (IgE) therapy: Coming into contact with an allergen will trigger an immune response in the body which consists of a release of antibodies to attack the allergen, which are referred to as lgE. This sparks the release of histamine, which causes an inflammatory effect in the body that results in allergic reactions. Medications such as omalizumab (Xonair) directly interferes with lgE in the body to help prevent histamine release and subsequent allergic reactions.
  • Leukotriene Modifiers: These medicines are used to control the symptoms of allergic rhinitis or allergies, as well as tackling asthma attacks as well. These drugs block the action of leukotrienes, which are chemicals released by the immune system that cause tightening of breathing passages and the production of excess mucous. The most common of these is Montelukast (Singulair).

This allergy season, make sure you're prepared for the worst by shopping for Allergy, Sinus & Combinations at FSAstore.com! We have the web's largest selection of FSA/HSA eligible products to help you maximize the potential of your healthcare benefits!

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Living Well

5 ways to create an allergen-free home this spring

Spring is here in full swing, and if you suffer from seasonal allergies, this is a particularly trying time of year. High pollen counts will lead to runny noses, itchy eyes and sneezing throughout the early weeks of April as the seasonal bloom commences, and while you can't control the conditions outdoors, you can take the appropriate steps to make your home a haven from the allergic triggers outside!

Allergens in the home can exacerbate your symptoms or interfere with your sleep cycle, so it's important to take the necessary steps to keep your home clean this spring to keep your allergic symptoms under control. Here are a few great ideas to keep in mind from FSAstore.com.

  1. Change your "coming home" routine

Open windows are the primary culprit for allergens making their way into the home, but even if you keep them closed all spring, you can bring a large amount of pollen, dust and other irritants into your abode on your clothing. As allergy season gets underway, make conscious changes to your routine when you walk in the door.

First, remove all clothing and put it in the laundry machine if available to wash off all potential allergens. Also, make an effort to take a shower soon after coming indoors to wash off all pollen and particulates on your hair and skin that could be transferred to bedding and other surfaces in your home.

  1. Switch out your winter drapes

A smart change for seasonal allergy sufferers in spring is to switch out your winter drapes with lightweight curtains. Thick drapes with pleats are notorious for trapping dust and other allergens, so opt for blinds that can be wiped down quickly during the spring. Or as an alternative, opt for machine washable drapes that you can clean several times throughout the season to keep your home free of allergens.

  1. Invest in mattress and pillow allergy covers

In addition to the buildup of allergens on sleeping surfaces, dust mites also become increasingly prevalent during the spring months. Anti-allergy mattress and pillow covers are made with tightly-woven synthetic materials or vinyl to provide a barrier between the person and the dust mites on the underlying sleeping surface. These covers keep the allergens that have built up on the bedding from becoming airborne when shifting during sleep, which can dramatically reduce your allergic symptoms.

The difference in the cost of an allergy cover vs. a standard pillow/mattress cover may even be eligible for FSA reimbursement, so check with your benefits administrator before making a purchase!

  1. Carpeting vs. bare floors

Ideally, those who suffer from seasonal allergies will have bare floors in their home (hardwood, vinyl, etc.) that are easier to clean and do not retain as many allergens. However, if your home is carpeted, this will require extra care during allergy season. First, invest in a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter to trap allergens when cleaning, or look into a steam cleaning service that utilizes high temperature cleaning devices to remove allergens.

  1. Use a dehumidifier

The rainy, wet nature of spring lends itself to rapid mold growth, and you can make an effort to stem the growth of mold in your home by using a dehumidifier. Mold thrives in moist, humid environments that have a relative humidity above 60 percent, reports Allergy Consumer Review. In areas where mold growth is prevalent, run a dehumidifier to lower the humidity to 50 percent where mold growth will become inactive.

This allergy season, control your symptoms with Allergy, Sinus and Combinations and other anti-allergy products from FSAstore.com! We have the web's largest selection of FSA-eligible products to help you maximize the potential of your healthcare benefits.

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Living Well

Spotting and treating winter allergies

While spring allergies certainly get a lot more attention when pollen levels peak, winter has its own set of various indoor irritants to trigger those allergy symptoms many of us know all too well. As your furnace kicks in during the winter months, it can send dust mites, mold spores, and insect parts into the air which can find its way to your breathing passages to cause an adverse reaction.

One to way to help mitigate symptoms is to get a better idea of where these allergy triggers are surfacing from. Dust mites are microscopic bugs that particularly love to hide in mattresses and bedding. Their droppings and remains, when airborne, are most likely the source of your symptoms.

Additionally, mold can be found in damp and humid areas such as basements and bathrooms, but can also manifest itself under moldy carpets, soggy drywall, and areas with water leaks. As you spend more time indoors in the winter, these allergens become more prominent in causing discomfort and allergic reactions.

Treatment for your winter allergies can include Antihistamines and Decongestants, both of which are available for purchase with an FSA (with a prescription) on FSAstore.com. Antihistamines help to reduce sneezing, sniffling, and itching. Decongestants clear mucus in the nose and lungs to relieve congestion and swelling.

Antihistamines (Prescription required to purchase with FSA):

Decongestants (Prescription required to purchase with FSA):

If neither of these work and your symptoms are serious, you may want to consider immunotherapy, which consists of allergy shots or under-the-tongue tablets. Immunotherapy should expose your body to gradually bigger doses of the allergen to curb your symptoms for the longer term.

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