Dusting Away Indoor Allergens
Spring is here, and it’s time for spring cleaning! For allergy and asthma fighters, a thorough cleaning can help control symptoms. Making changes to your indoor environment can take some time and effort. However, these changes will produce an indoor environment that is less allergenic, easier to clean, and healthier for the whole family.
The best thing you can do is to reduce or eliminate your exposure to the indoor allergens in your home, so focus on sites where allergens accumulate. First, you must know which allergens or irritants in your home provoke your symptoms. The term allergen refers to any substance that can trigger an allergic response. Common allergens include pollen, mold, animal dander, and cockroach or house dust mite droppings.
Symptoms of Indoor Allergies
Indoor allergy symptoms can occur quickly, or they may build and become most severe 8 to 12 hours after contact with an allergen. People with indoor allergies will often wheeze, sneeze, cough, and hack their way through the winter months, thinking they have a chronic cold. They probably don’t. Some symptoms between a cold and allergies are similar: sneezing and a stuffy or runny nose. However, with allergies, there is never a fever, the nasal discharge is clear, and eyes may become red and itchy. Furthermore, while a cold usually lasts about a week, allergies stick around until spring, and can last all year.
Dust mites are the most common trigger of perennial allergy and asthma symptoms.
Causes of Indoor Allergies
Increased time spent indoors means increased exposure to allergens like dust, pet dander, and mold. These allergens can all trigger an allergic reaction, which involves symptoms such as swelling of tissues, sneezing, wheezing, coughing, and other reactions.
Your Spring-Cleaning Checklist
Use the following checklist to guide your spring-cleaning and to rid your home of indoor allergens:
√ Get rid of clutter that may be collecting dust.
√ Clean windows, bookshelves, and air-conditioning vents thoroughly, as they may have collected dust and mold throughout the winter.
√ Put mattresses, box springs, and pillows in allergy-proof or “nonallergenic” cases.
√ Vacuum carpeting, or replace it with washable throw rugs.
√ Wash blankets, sheets, and pillowcases in 130-degree water and dry in a hot dryer. This should be done every week.
√ Fix leaks. They leave surfaces wet and allow mold to grow.
√ Clean moldy surfaces, such as the corners of showers or under sinks, with a cleaning solution that is 10 parts water to one part bleach.
√ Clean under stoves, refrigerators, and toasters where loose crumbs can accumulate and attract cockroaches.
√ Block cellar doors, outside drains, and wall, window, and floor cracks where cockroaches could enter your home.
Dust mites thrive in house dust, which is composed of plant and animal material. Their droppings are the most common trigger of perennial allergy and asthma symptoms. To reduce exposure dust mite allergens, change and clean cooling and heating system filters once a month. Have your home, car, and office vacuumed and dusted frequently. Wash blankets and bedspreads weekly, and sheets and pillowcases more often. Be sure that the water is above 130 degrees Fahrenheit. Try to wash curtains regularly.
Molds are microscopic fungi. Their spores float in the air like pollen, and are present throughout the year in many states. Molds can be found indoors in attics, basements, bathrooms, refrigerators and other food storage areas, garbage containers, carpets, and upholstery. To minimize mold, keep bathroom and kitchen surfaces dry, fix leaky plumbing, and seal cracks where water can seep in to avoid mold buildup. Reduce humidity in damp areas by using a dehumidifier. Clean dehumidifiers once a week.
People are not allergic to their pets’ hair, but to a protein found in the saliva, dander (dead skin flakes), or urine of an animal with fur. These proteins are carried in the air on small, invisible particles, and they can trigger allergy symptoms. If you have a cat or dog, it might help reduce household allergens by washing your pet once a week. Do not sleep with your pet. Sleeping with your pet greatly increases the amount of contact with unwanted allergens.
Cockroaches live in warm, tropical climates, but various species dwell in the offices and homes of humans living in various climates. A protein found in their droppings can trigger allergy and asthma symptoms. To help rid your home of cockroaches, remove all food sources and household food wastes. Food should be stored in sealed containers. Consider hiring a professional exterminator. Thoroughly and frequently clean to remove dust and cockroach byproducts.
Source: American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, www.aaaai.org
This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, March/April 2011.