The best way for you to avoid the signs and symptoms of allergies in your own home is to avoid exposure to the allergens (dust mites, mold, pollen and pet allergen) that cause problems. Effective environmental control can reduce or eliminate the need for medicine.
1. DUST MITES
Eighty percent of people with allergies and asthma test positive to dust mites in allergy skin testing. The microscopic bugs called dust mites and their fecal material thrive in warm and humid places such as beds, upholstered furniture, and carpets and live on the skin cells that people and pets shed. Reducing exposure to dust mite waste is central to effective treatment.
* Wash bedding weekly in hot water. Dry on high to kill dust mites.
* Use anti-allergen encasements for bedding, including pillows, mattresses, duvet covers, and box springs.
* Vacuum thoroughly using a High Efficiency Particulate Arresting (HEPA) filter vacuum and bags that seal in dust.
* Clean thoroughly once a week using equipment that traps dust rather than releasing it back into the air.
* Filter the air with a HEPA air purifier, which will eliminate 99.7 percent of indoor airborne allergens.
* Dehumidify the air. Dust mites thrive in humidity levels above 50 percent. Reduce humidity levels to between 30-50 percent with a dehumidifier. Use a small dehumidifier to remove excess moisture from closets, cabinets and other small, enclosed spaces. Monitor humidity levels with a hygrometer.
* Use High Efficiency Low Pressure Air (HELPA) air filters on heating and air conditioning systems.
* Replace non-washable stuffed toys with hypo-allergenic toys that can be washed in hot water.
There are 35.0 million people who are allergic to pollen. Avoiding exposure to pollen is central to effective treatment.
* Avoid outdoor activities in the morning. Days that are dry and breezy have higher pollen counts, so exercise indoors to avoid allergens.
* Avoid mowing the lawn.
* Keep car windows up and air conditioning on when you’re driving.
* Wear a HEPA filter mask when pollen counts are high to avoid outdoor pollen exposure.
* Close all your windows at home. Use filter screens if windows must be opened, and a window fan with built-in filter.
* Try not to hang laundry outside during pollen season.
* Remove shoes before entering your home. Shower and wash your hair every night before gong to bed. Pollen collects on clothing, hair, and exposed parts of your body.
* Use HELPA air filters on heating and air conditioning systems.
3. PET DANDER
About 10 percent of Americans are allergic to pet dander. When pets groom themselves, allergens such as animal dander (skin flakes) and proteins from their saliva get into the air. Steps can be taken to reduce animal allergen exposures when giving away a pet is not an option.
* Wipe down indoor surfaces frequently to remove animal hair and dander.
* Keep your pets outdoors as much as possible, and at least out of the bedroom.
* Use HEPA air filters to remove microscopic particles of animal dander and hair from room air.
* Vacuum frequently using a HEPA vacuum cleaner.
* Use a dust mask when cleaning.
* Install High Efficiency Low Pressure Air (HELPA) filters on home heating and air condition systems.
* Cover room heating and air conditioning vents with vent filter clothes to filter the air.
* Wash your pet weekly with a dander-reducing shampoo, then follow with an anti-dander spray.
* Wash your hands after touching your pet.
Mold is one of the four most common allergic triggers, especially in humid areas. Avoiding exposure to mold spores is central to effective treatment. High humidity promotes growth of mold spores in places such as damp basements, closets, refrigerator drip pans, air conditioners, garbage pails, and shower stalls.
* Clean the refrigerator drip pan every few months. When mold grows in this pan, the refrigerator fan blows the mold spores into the room.
* Remove visible mold with non-toxic cleaning products.
* Keep the humidity level in your home below 50 percent with an air conditioner or dehumidifier and monitor humidity levels by using a hygrometer.
* Use exhaust fans in the kitchen and the bathroom.
* Check air conditioner vents and under the sink for water leaks. Address water leaks immediately.
* Wear a protective mask while gardening, raking, or mowing.
* Open windows on days when humidity levels are low to air out the house.
* Use a HEPA air purifier to reduce indoor airborne mold spores.
* Install High Efficiency Low Pressure Air (HELPA) filters on home heating and air condition systems to trap mold spores.
Note: Airborne irritants, including tobacco smoke, fuel particles and chemicals, will be discussed in a future article. Many of the same steps apply to reducing airborne irritants, such as using a HEPA air filter, but there are different approaches for detection and avoidance.
By Annie Berthold-Bond with Carlene Gibbons, RN