Allergy Trigger #3: Your home
You might consider your home a sanctuary, but so do many of the things that trigger your allergies. Surprisingly, 52 percent of US households have at least six detectable allergens, all of which can float through the air and find their way into your body, reports a study from the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. These irritants include animal dander, dust mites, mold, scented candles, cleaning products, and cigarette smoke. Once again, these allergens probably won’t spark much of a histamine reaction in a healthy immune system, but when it’s hypersensitive they’ll set off a host of five-alarm symptoms.
Fortunately, you can eliminate potential reactions to these foreign invaders by employing some simple solutions. For starters use a nasal rinse once a day–twice if you’re really suffering–to flush irritants out of your nasal passages. You can buy a nasal rinse at the drugstore or make your own by adding a teaspoon of salt and a pinch of baking soda to a quart of boiling water, says H. James Wedner, MD, chief of the division of allergy and immunology and medical director of the Asthma and Allergy Center of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Let the solution cool to body temperature before you put it in a neti pot to flush your nose. If the rinse burns, add a little more baking soda.
Four other common household immune-system irritants–and how to conquer them:
Dust mites. The key is to offer these microscopic creatures fewer places to live. If possible, replace carpeting with hardwood and limit upholstered items and fabric hangings like wall tapestries or drapes. Enclose pillows, mattresses, and box springs in allergen-proof covers, and wash bed sheets, mattress pads, and blankets in 130-degree water every week. Also, put pillows in the dryer on high heat for 45 minutes once a week, says Steelsmith–the heat kills dust mites. Every six weeks, wash any stuffed animals in hot water or stick them in plastic bags and freeze them overnight to kill off the mites, says Wedner.
Animals. Pets contribute a large share of household allergens, including proteins found in their dander, dead skin flakes, urine, and saliva. Cats are actually worse than dogs because their dander is lighter and clings to everything, says Wedner, which makes it more likely to enter your body and cause your immune system to “attack” it. Your pet’s dander can linger for long periods, so swap carpeting for hardwood, keep your little creatures off upholstered furniture, and invest in a HEPA air filter, which reduces dander in the air.
Mold.The best way to reduce mold in your house is to keep the temperature around 68 degrees and the relative humidity about 35 percent; you can pick up a humidity gauge to monitor this. Because mold tends to grow in potting soil, especially if it’s too moist, keep all indoor plants on the dry side and ban plants from the bedroom, where you spend up to a third of your time. Finally, place a dehumidifier in damp basements or crawl spaces during summer, which can improve overall air quality throughout the entire house.
Airborne chemicals. Switch to natural cleaning products; avoid synthetic fragrances in scented candles, detergents, and deodorants; and if you smoke or live with smokers, now’s a good time for everybody to quit.
Allergy Trigger #4: Antibiotics
Used to treat bacterial infections like strep throat, urinary tract infections, and some sinus infections, antibiotics succeed when it comes to fighting bacteria–but they also wreak havoc on the good bacteria that live in your intestines. “Because 70 percent of your immune system is stimulated by the good bacteria, there’s a good chance taking antibiotics will result in an imbalanced immune system,” says Lucille. To counter this loss of healthy flora, she recommends taking probiotics daily (particularly a brand with shelf-stable lactobacillus) while you’re on antibiotics and for at least three months after you finish your prescription. And research supports this: A study published in Clinical and Experimental Allergy found that people with grass pollen allergies who took probiotics experienced fewer allergy symptoms than those who didn’t. You might even consider taking probiotics year-round for overall gut health, especially if you’re middle-aged or older.