Cozy Up to an Allergy-Friendly Home
Tips for Preparing Your Home for Indoor Winter Living
Millions of people experience allergy symptoms caused by indoor allergens. These culprits include dust mite droppings, animal dander, cockroach droppings, and molds. While avoiding allergens is the most effective treatment approach, strict avoidance isn’t always possible. This winter, as temperatures drop and you begin spending more time indoors, consider making the following changes to minimize your allergy symptoms.
Dust mite allergens are a common trigger of allergy and asthma symptoms. While they can be found throughout the house, these microscopic creatures thrive in warm, humid environments, such as bedding, upholstered furniture, and carpeting.
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 degrees Fahrenheit) and dried in a hot dryer. Allergen-proof covers are available for comforters and pillows that can’t be regularly washed.
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.
Contrary to popular opinion, there are no “hypoallergenic” breeds of dogs or cats. That is because people are not allergic to an animal’s hair, but to an allergen found in the saliva, dander (dead skin flakes), or urine of an animal with fur.
Pet allergy symptoms typically 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.
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 your pet is already considered part of your family, try to minimize contact and keep the pet out of the bedroom and other rooms where you spend a great deal of time. Vacuum carpets often or replace carpet with a hardwood floor, tile, or linoleum.
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, so ask a non-allergic family member to clean the animal’s cage.
If you have a pet allergy, talk to your doctor about the potential for allergy immunotherapy. This strategy can often provide long-term relief.
Cockroaches are often found in the homes of densely populated urban areas, schools, or commercial buildings, but these creatures can lurk almost anywhere. This does not mean that you have a dirty house or living area.
Block all areas where roaches can enter the home. This includes 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, typically found in basements, bathrooms, or anywhere with leaks. Get rid of 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 10 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.
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.
Source: American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, aaaai.org
This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, Winter 2014-2015.