Allergies Lurk Year-Round
Allergies are typically associated with pollen and the outdoors. But as cold temperatures drive us indoors each winter, many Americans find they are allergic to conditions inside their own homes.
Indoor allergies can provoke sneezing, a runny nose, and itchy watery eyes. Common indoor allergy triggers include dust mites, animal dander, cockroach droppings, and molds. Keep allergens at bay this winter with these tips.
Dust mite allergens – the most common trigger of allergy and asthma symptoms – are found throughout the house, but thrive in bedding and soft furnishings. Because so much time is spent in the bedroom, it is essential to reduce mite levels there.
Encase mattresses, box springs, and pillows in special allergen-proof fabric covers or airtight, zippered plastic covers. Bedding should be washed weekly in hot water (130° F) and dried in a hot dryer. Cover comforters and pillows that can’t be regularly washed with allergen-proof covers.
Keep humidity low by using a dehumidifier or air conditioning. Wall-to-wall carpeting should be removed as much as possible. Instead, throw rugs may be used if they are regularly washed or dry-cleaned. People with allergies should use a vacuum with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate) filter or a double-layered bag, and wear a dust mask – or ask someone else to vacuum.
People are not allergic to an animal’s hair, but to an allergen found in the saliva, dander (dead skin flakes), and urine of an animal with fur. Usually, symptoms occur within minutes.
For some people, symptoms build and become most severe eight to twelve hours after contact with the animal. People with severe allergies can experience reactions in public places if dander has been transported on pet owners’ clothing.
Dust mite allergens thrive in bedding and soft furnishings.
There are no “hypoallergenic” breeds of cats or dogs. The same is true for any animal with fur, so it’s best to remove the pet from the home and avoid contact if you’re highly allergic. Keeping an animal outdoors is only a partial solution, since homes with pets in the yard still have higher concentrations of animal allergens. Before getting a pet, ask your doctor to determine if you are allergic to animals.
If you cannot avoid exposure, try to minimize contact and keep the pet out of the bedroom and other rooms where you spend a great deal of time. While dander and saliva are the source of cat and dog allergens, urine is the source of allergens from rabbits, hamsters, mice, and guinea pigs; therefore, you should ask a non-allergic family member to clean the animal’s cage.
As with dust mites, vacuum carpets often or replace carpet with a hardwood floor, tile, or linoleum. Some studies have found that using a HEPA air cleaner may reduce animal allergen exposure.
An allergen in cockroach droppings is a main trigger of asthma symptoms, especially for children living in densely populated, urban neighborhoods.
Block all areas where roaches could enter the home, including crevices, wall cracks, and windows. Cockroaches need water to survive, so fix and seal all leaky faucets and pipes. Have an exterminator go through the house when your family and pets are gone to eliminate any remaining roaches.
Keep food in lidded containers, and put pet food dishes away after your pets are done eating. Vacuum and sweep the floor after meals, and take out garbage and recyclables. Use lidded garbage containers in the kitchen. Wash dishes immediately after use, and clean under stoves, refrigerators, or toasters where crumbs can accumulate. Wipe off the stove and other kitchen surfaces and cupboards regularly.
Indoor molds and mildew need dampness, such as that found in basements, bathrooms, or anywhere with leaks. Clean up mold growth on hard surfaces with water, detergent, and, if necessary, five percent bleach (do not mix with other cleaners). Then dry the area completely. If mold covers an area more than ten square feet, consider hiring an indoor environmental professional. For clothing, washing with soap and water is best. If moldy items cannot be cleaned and dried, throw them away.
Promptly repair and seal leaking roofs or pipes. Using dehumidifiers in damp basements may be helpful, but empty the water and clean units regularly to prevent mildew from forming. All rooms, especially basements, bathrooms, and kitchens, require ventilation and cleaning to deter mold and mildew growth. Avoid carpeting on concrete or damp floors and storing items in damp areas.
Excerpted with permission from Tips to Remember: Indoor Allergens, copyright © 2009 by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, www.aaaai.org.
This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, Winter 2010-2011.