Allergens in the home

Contents

How to Remove Pollen From Your Home in 3 Easy Steps

Throughout the year, your home is at risk of many air pollutants and impurities. Whether it’s from pet dander, bacteria or smoke, small particles can find their way into your home, impacting your indoor air quality.

One of the most aggressive particles that affect your air quality is pollen. Pollen is worse throughout the summer and has a huge impact on your clean air. People who suffer from allergies will find themselves with watery eyes, difficulty breathing, and other symptoms when pollen is present in your home.

Luckily there are a few easy steps you can take to reduce and even completely remove pollen from your home, leaving you with fresh, clean air.

Step 1: Keep Windows and Doors Closed when Pollen is at its Worst

There are high times for pollen throughout the day. Typically, early mornings and between 10 am and 3 pm is worst. If you plan your activities so that you are not opening and closing your doors and windows during those times, it will greatly reduce the amount of pollen that gets into your home. Keep your windows closed and if you do need to go outside during these hours, make sure you change your clothes because pollen will attach itself to whatever you are wearing.

Step 2: Make Sure you are Using HEPA Filters

A HEPA filter stands for high-efficiency particulate air. These filters contain a very fine mesh that is specifically designed to trap pollutants such as pollen. By ensuring your HEPA filters are constantly clean, you can ensure maximum efficiency of your HVAC systems and protection from pollen throughout your home.

It’s important to regularly change your filter or clean it. A clogged filter will cause your AC to lose efficiency or even break down. Clogged filters will also affect your clean air and cause allergy symptoms to get worse. We recommend changing your HEPA filter at least twice per year, although it should be changed more often if you suffer from allergies, have pets or live with smokers.

Step 3: Keep Humidity Below 50%

This step may require some investment on your part. During the summer, your air conditioner cools and condenses the air, removing humidity and therefore reducing the chances of mold and mildew growing in the house.

While humidity actually helps reduce the pollen floating through the air, it creates the perfect condition for mold and dust mites to grow. In the end, this actually is a worse problem and has a bigger impact on the cleanliness of your air. By keeping the humidity below 50%, you are preventing mold and mildew while reducing pollen and ensuring clean air.

If your home is especially prone to humidity, it may also be a good idea to invest in a whole-home dehumidifier. These units detect excess humidity in your home and work to regulate it and keep it at a level that is safe and provides the best indoor air quality.

By following these steps, you can reduce and completely remove pollen from your home. This will improve allergy symptoms and make it easier to breathe. For more information on improving your indoor air quality, speak with the experts at Sharp-Long 72 Degrees Air Conditioning and Heating, in Lees Summit, MO, at 816-524-4308 today.

How to Keep Pollen Out of Your House, So Your Allergies Get A Rest

Every morning I wake up with a new hatred for spring. My eyes water, my throat is scratchy, and my nose feels as though I’ve fallen on my face. But I have learned to adapt, and you can, too. Once you learn how to keep pollen out of your house, it will keep your day from crumbling like the tissues you discard.

Pollen, however necessary, is evil. It’s the yellowish-green menace that desperately wants me (and you) to be miserable. According to the Annals of Allergy and Asthma Immunology, pollen, if you’re allergic to it, sets your body to release histamines, tryptase and possibly leukotriene C4, which are factors in your immune response that cause the allergic rhinitis (runny nose), watering eyes, and itchy throat. The greater the exposure, the greater the allergic reaction.

Even when you try not to venture outside, you may still feel the effects of pollen as it tracks everywhere in your house. But you can fight back. There are several strategies you can employ to make your home as comfortable as humanly possible when the outside creeps inside.

When thinking about how to keep pollen out of your house, always think about stripping. Your clothes, your linens, your air filters, and the filters on the vacuum as soon as you come home. If you have a garage you can get naked in and change clothes? Do it. What you don’t want is the pollen that’s coated your clothing from being outside spreading around your house like so much evil glitter. Don’t wear your shoes in the house, either. Anything that’s been outside should have as little contact with the inside as possible. If you’re really sensitive, like I am, you can also shower upon arriving at home like Reader’s Digest suggested. It’s a huge pain, but it helps immensely. I live in Brooklyn, so I don’t have a hose and garden, but if I did, I’d be tempted to hose off my children before they got inside, too.

Giphy

The Mayo Clinic suggested the use of a HEPA filter as well. These air filters capture even the tiniest particulates floating around the air, helping you breathe easy. You can get a HEPA filter that is designed for just one room, for your air conditioner, your forced air heater, your car — they even have HEPA-filtered masks that make you look a bit like Bane from one of the Batman movies. (I don’t know which one, I only know about Bane because it was Tom Hardy.) I use this one, because I can add the essential oils that everyone from high school has sold me.

Wet dust can also help you fight the pollen fight. According to the N.C. Cooperative Extension, you can moisten a disposable duster or use a microfiber cloth, but wet dusting assures that as little as possible is kicked into the air by the act of dusting, and it traps the dust on the cloth.

Wondering how to get pollen out of your fabric? National Allergy suggested that you wash your linens in hot, soapy water, and dry them in a super hot dryer. The same goes for your mattress pads, and you can also try vacuuming your mattress weekly, and your furniture and curtains every other day. If your dog lets you, try vacuuming them between baths as well — their fur can hold a lot of pollen.

Basically? The most important tip is to keep your house closed up like a politician at a town hall. Keep your windows and doors shut, and the filtered air on. Yes, this is all a major drag, but spring is gorgeous, and it’s easy to hate on it without acknowledging the blooming dogwood trees or tulips covering flower beds everywhere. But try to enjoy the beauty — just do it quickly and then run back inside while tearing off your clothes and taking a Zyrtec.

13 Ways to Allergy-Proof Your Home

A Cure for the Itchy, Sneezy, Stuffy Head

Sneeze much lately? Is your throat scratchy? Eyes watering, too? You’re not alone: Allergies affect more than 20 percent of Americans. Medications can help relieve allergy symptoms, but removing irritants from your home is a much more effective way to stop your stuffy nose, headache, itchy eyes, and shortness of breath, according to the Allergy and Asthma Network/Mothers of Asthmatics (AANMA). Read on for the most effective ways to clear the air.

Find Out What You’re Allergic to First

Visiting an allergist will help you focus your preventative measures. The most common offenders are dust mites, mold, pollens, and pet dander. “There’s no point in making changes at home if you don’t address your particular allergies,” says Laurie Ross, editor of Allergy and Asthma Today. “Who knows, you might be allergic to cats, and here you are keeping your windows closed.”

Then Start With the Bedroom

Once you’ve established what causes your allergies, work your way around the house eliminating those specific allergens, starting with your bedroom. “If dust is one of your problems, cover your mattress and pillows with zip-on dust mite covers. You spend so much of your day in bed—if you can just get a good night’s sleep, you’ll be off to a great start,” says Ross.

Get Rid of Wall-to-Wall Carpet and Padding

If at all possible, replace them with hardwood or other impervious flooring, especially in the bedroom. “Just about every allergen accumulates in carpet—dust, pollen, pet dander. Walking across carpet re-releases all of that into the air,” says Ross.

Avoid Tracking in Trouble

Lay down two doormats at each entryway—one outside, one inside—to keep outdoor irritants from finding their way inside. Or, have your family and guests remove their shoes when they enter, so they don’t spread allergens around.

Upgrade Your Vacuum Cleaner

If it doesn’t have a HEPA filter, switch to one that does. They’re specially made to trap particles as tiny as 0.3 microns—which means they’ll be able to capture most allergens.

Change Those Air Filters

Don’t forget to clean or replace the filters in your heating and cooling system. Just follow the manufacturers’ instructions on timing and frequency. For a good overview of different types of filters and replacement requirements, follow our guidance in How to Clear the Air.

Ditch the Drapes

Blinds or shades trap fewer allergens than fabric window treatments, but if you insist on curtains, opt for the machine-washable kind, which are easier to keep dust-free. Remove dust by vacuuming once a week with a brush attachment, and wash them frequently during months when you keep the windows open.

Minimize Mold

There are more than 100,000 species of mold on the planet, and one of their favorite places to live is your bathroom. Clean it regularly, making sure to dry off surfaces that collect standing water, and make sure it’s well ventilated. Also replace broken tiles and recaulk sinks and tubs every few years to discourage mold growth behind walls.

Tackle Overlooked Corners

“Most people forget to look under the kitchen sink,” says Ross. It’s a prime spot for mold growth when pipes drip. Pull everything out of the cabinet and inspect the interior carefully for signs of leaks. Also look for mouse droppings and cockroach webs, since rodents and bugs can trigger allergies, too. Get leaks fixed, seal holes, clean the area, and keep it tidy and dry to eliminate irritant build-up.

Take it Outside

Do your kitchen and bathroom fans just re-circulate indoor air or vent into the attic? If you can, replace them with true exhaust fans, which direct particles and humidity out of the house entirely. “If you’re venting damp spaces to your attic, mold can start growing there and eventually spread to the rest of your house,” says Ross.

Invest in a Hygrometer

High humidity can lead to mold growth and other problems; this simple device will give you an idea of your home’s moisture levels. Pick up one at your hardware store and take a measurement in each room. If you get readings of above 60 percent in any room or area, consider getting a dehumidifier.

Look Into Home Testing Kits

Still suffering from allergy symptoms? Get an air-testing kit, which can measure levels of mold, dust mites, cockroaches, and pet dander in dust samples taken from your home to help you determine the culprit.

Consider a Room Air Filter

Just be aware that they have limitations. “They’ll capture airborne allergens but can’t trap anything that’s settled in rugs or furniture, which is where most allergens end up,” says Ross. Still, they can be effective, particularly if you’re bothered by pollen. Make sure the one you buy doesn’t produce ozone, a gas that’s extremely irritating to people with allergies—the last thing you need right now.

The trees are bare and frost is a daily battle again. At least winter means allergies are gone for another season, right? Not quite. While ragweed has died down, winter forces most of us indoors for the season, exposing us to different levels of indoor allergens like dust, mold, and pet dander.

The symptoms of indoor dust, mold and pet allergies are that of typical allergies:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Red, itchy or teary eyes
  • Wheezing, coughing, tightness in chest and shortness of breath
  • Itching

Environmental control products are helpful during the winter to keep indoor allergen levels low in your home. These products can help reduce the symptoms you experience.

Here are five tips to help reduce and prevent indoor allergens:

Turning on the heat? Allergens like dust and pet dander can lurk in the air ducts. We recommend using a high-efficiency furnace filter to reduce the amount of harmful indoor allergens that circulate through your home. It is recommended that you change your air filter at least every 90 days; start changing it with the seasons to help you remember.

2. Change your Bedding

Dust mites are common indoor allergens that are found in pillows, mattresses, carpeting and upholstered furniture. Encase mattresses, box springs, and pillows with allergen-proof covers; this can help minimize allergens you may encounter while you sleep. Washing your sheets and pillowcases in hot water at least once a week can also help keep dust mites at bay.

3. Clean Your House Regularly

Vacuuming with a HEPA filter at least once a week will also cut down on indoor allergens such as the dust mites and pet dander. When dusting around your books and knick-knacks, use a microfiber or electrostatic cloth that will hold the dust instead of just moving it around. While you are dusting and vacuuming, dust will get stirred up in the air so, if you are allergic, use an N95 filter mask while cleaning.

When possible, we recommend avoiding wall-to-wall carpeting, especially in bedrooms. Hardwood floors are easier to clean, simply because you can see the dust when cleaning, however, you can also use washable area rugs to help cut down on allergens.

4. Avoid Pets Dander

Just like us, pets spend more times indoors during the winter. Pet allergens are found in the saliva and dander of cats and dogs, and no breed is allergy-free. Bathing pets once a week can help reduce the amount of dander they shed. Avoidance is key with animal allergies, however, after petting a cat or dog, washing your hands with soap and water can help keep symptoms from flaring. Remember to keep pets out of bedrooms and vacuum carpets often to reduce allergens as well.

5. Monitor Humidity Levels

Due to winter’s dry air, many use humidifiers in their homes to add moisture to the air. Humidifiers can prevent dryness, however, if you do not monitor the humidity levels you could be encouraging mold and dust mites to grow and live. Use a humidity meter to monitor the humidity in your home. The CDC recommends keeping it below 50% to reduce dust mites and mold and prevent them from growing. Use a dehumidifier if needed and remember to use a vent fan to remove moisture in bathrooms and the kitchen.

If your allergies get worse during the winter and avoidance or OTC medication isn’t working for you, schedule an appointment so we can help you find relief.

Millions ‘allergic to their own home’, says charity

At least 12 million Britons now suffer from allergies caused by dust mites, The Independent has today reported. The newspaper says that a report by the charity Allergy UK has revealed an epidemic of “home fever”, a range of symptoms caused by dust mites and other triggers around the home.

The report has been published as part of Indoor Allergy Week, which is intended to raise awareness of the kind of steps that can be taken to remove allergy triggers, or ‘allergens’, from the home. A survey in the report suggests that, currently, around two-thirds of people with allergies experience symptoms such as sneezing and itchy eyes caused by allergens including dust mites, chemicals, pets and mould.

This new report raises lots of questions, such as whether its small survey of symptoms in 1,600 allergy sufferers is actually strong enough evidence to suggest that there is an epidemic sweeping the nation.

Also, the report’s suggestions to change your mattress and use an air filter are likely to raise a few eyebrows since the awareness week is being run in conjunction with a mattress company and an air filter manufacturer. It would also seem to contradict the findings of a 2008 Cochrane Review which found no credible evidence that these type of home modifications were effective in reducing symptoms.

What is “home fever”?

“Home fever” is a term used by Allergy UK to describe out-of-season hay fever symptoms. The most common of these are runny nose and sneezing, symptoms which the charity reports have risen greatly in recent years. Unlike regular hay fever, which is usually triggered by high pollen levels that vary seasonally, “home fever”, Allergy UK suggests, is triggered by allergens such as dust mites, moulds, cleaning products and pets that are present in the home or office. These can cause symptoms throughout all seasons.

Who compiled the report?

The news is based on a report by Allergy UK that surveyed more than 1,600 allergy sufferers about indoor allergies. The report was released ahead of Allergy UK’s Indoor Allergy Week, launched today, which aims to raise awareness about indoor allergies caused by house dust mites, moulds and pets.

As mentioned above, the awareness-raising week and report are supported by a mattress company and an air purifier manufacturer. It is not clear what role these companies had in the survey, which featured recommendations to prevent “home fever” by replacing your mattress and using an air purifier. This affiliation may be something to take into account when considering the report’s recommendations.

Allergy UK is a national charity supporting people with allergies, food intolerance and chemical sensitivity.

What did the report say?

The survey asked allergy sufferers what triggered their symptoms, offering the possible options of house dust mites, cleaning products, mould or pets. Participants could choose more than one option. The most popular answer was house dust mites at 57.6%, followed by pets (45.2%), cleaning products (31.2%) and mould (30.9%).

The report says these figures have risen since the last survey was published in February 2010. The Allergy UK report does not give any detail on the characteristics of the people surveyed or how many people answered each question. It also does not include any statistical analysis to say whether the differences observed between years are real or the result of random variation that occurs when different groups of people are surveyed. We must be very cautious in taking these figures at face value without more information about how the survey was carried out.

Other findings include:

  • 58.9% of indoor allergy sufferers found their symptoms were worse in the bedroom. The authors suggest that this was due to dust mites in the bed, quoting figures that “the average bed harbours 2 million dust mites and the average pillow doubles in weight over a period of six months due to dust mite faeces”.
  • 16% of allergy sufferers said they wash bed linen every three weeks or less often, and 58% of those surveyed said they are washing at 30 or 40 degrees. This is two weeks longer than Allergy UK recommends and at a temperature that they say does not kill any dust mites present.
  • 13% of allergy sufferers had had their current mattress for 11 years or more, and 3% kept theirs for 20 years or longer.

The authors suggest people “too often confuse allergy symptoms with a common cold or flu and, therefore, don’t treat the root cause of the problem”. Allergy UK believes the root cause is allergens such as dust mites, which trigger these allergic reactions and symptoms.

How common are household allergies?

Allergy UK estimates that at least 12 million people are allergic to their own home and so could be classed as household allergy sufferers. NHS Choices reports that indoor allergies are very common and that 10-20% of the population has an indoor allergy. The top estimate of 20% would be broadly in line with the figure suggested by Allergy UK, although it is not apparent how the charity has reached this estimate.

Most sufferers first develop indoor allergies in childhood, with 80% of cases developing before the age of 20. Men and women are equally affected by indoor allergies.

What causes household allergies?

The main cause of indoor allergies or “home fever” are house dust mites. Dust mites are microscopic creatures that survive well in warm damp conditions such as the average UK home. Beds provide the ideal environment for dust mites as they can feed on the skin cells we shed, obtain warmth from our bodies and gather water from our sweat and exhaled breath. They are also commonly found in carpets, upholstered furniture, fabrics and furry toys. While they are completely harmless to most people, in some they can trigger an allergic reaction. The allergen that triggers most allergic reactions is the mite droppings. These can collect in pillows, mattresses, duvets, upholstery and carpets.

Other common causes of indoor allergies include allergens from animals and from mould spores.

What can I do to ease my allergies?

Allergy UK recommends many ways to manage symptoms and reduce the amount of indoor allergens in the home.

  • Buy products that have been tested to ensure they prevent the escape of the house dust mite allergen.
  • Use allergen-proof barrier covers on all mattresses, duvets and pillows.
  • Dust regularly but use a damp duster first, then a dry cloth. Otherwise, you are just moving the dust around.
  • Wash all bedding that is not encased in a barrier cover (for example sheets and blankets) every week. Washing at 60 degrees or above will help eliminate house dust mites. The allergens produced by house dust mites dissolve in water so, while washing at lower temperatures will wash the allergens away temporarily, the mites will survive and produce more allergen after a while.
  • If possible, remove all carpeting in the bedroom and vacuum all surfaces of upholstered furniture at least twice a week.
  • Change your mattress every 8-10 years and replace pillows every year.
  • Use a high-temperature steam cleaner to rid carpets of dust mites.
  • Use light, washable cotton curtains, and wash them frequently. Reduce unnecessary soft furnishings.
  • Washable stuffed toys should be washed as frequently and at the same temperature as bedding. Alternatively, if the toy cannot be washed at 60 degrees place it in a plastic bag in the freezer for at least 12 hours once a month and then wash at the recommended temperature.
  • Reduce humidity by increasing ventilation. Use trickle-vents in double-glazing or open windows. Use extractor fans in bathrooms and kitchens.
  • If necessary, use a dehumidifier to keep indoor humidity between 30 and 50%, plus an air purifier to trap large airborne allergens such as pollen, house dust mite debris and mould spores.

These are just some of the recommendations given. To read the recommendations in full visit the Allergy UK website.

One point to note is that in the Allergy UK publication participants reported on various symptoms, most commonly runny nose, sneezing and itchy eyes (typical symptoms of allergy), but also a wider range of symptoms such as wheezing, disturbed sleep and poor concentration. The full range of symptoms offered is not specific to allergy, and could cover many things, including symptoms of the common cold and flu.

Additionally, participants appear to have self-reported what they believe triggers their symptoms. Therefore, taking these things into account, people with respiratory symptoms, irritable skin, poor concentration or difficulty sleeping should not necessarily assume that these symptoms are due to household allergies. If symptoms persist it may be advisable to see your GP.

Do these preventative measures work?

A recent high-quality systematic review looked at the evidence on whether controlling exposure to house dust mites improved asthma symptoms in people who were sensitive to house dust mites. Chemical and physical preventative measures were examined, including mattress covers, vacuum-cleaning, heating, ventilation, freezing, washing and air filtration. Measures of asthma included subjective wellbeing, medication use and various established measures of airway function.

The review, which included 3,121 patients from 55 studies, concluded that these measures had no effect on asthma symptoms (i.e. they were no more effective than doing nothing) and that such measures could not be recommended.

This high-quality review focused on symptoms of asthma caused by dust mites and not the more general symptoms of a runny nose and sneezing as described for “home fever”. It also does not specifically address each of the Allergy UK recommendations. However, it raises an important question. If controlling exposure to dust mites in these ways fails to improve asthma allergic reactions caused by house dust mites, would they be effective in preventing “home fever” also caused by dust mites?

Currently it is not known whether these preventative measures are effective in preventing “home fever”. This should be kept in mind before making potentially costly changes to your bedroom or house to reduce dust mite allergens.

Analysis by Bazian
Edited by NHS Website

Links to the headlines

Millions suffer ‘home fever’ as allergy epidemic begins to bite

The Independent, 14 November 2011

Further reading

‘Home fever’ is the new hay fever

Allergy UK, November 14 2011

Indoor Allergy Week 2011 – The rise of ‘home fever’

. Allergy UK report, November 14 2011

Are you allergic to your house? 10 ways to fight back against the scratching and sneezing

The very thought of them makes you scratch and itch – and now the dust mite is behind a rise in household allergies.

Allergy UK says cases of perennial allergic rhinitis, or home fever, have risen 10% in a year, with 12 million people allergic to their own homes.

Unlike regular hay fever, which is triggered by high seasonal pollen levels, home fever is caused by ­allergens like dust mites, moulds, cleaning products and pets.

Since these are present all year round, it can hit sufferers any time.

Out of 1,600 people polled for a survey, 57% said they were allergic to dust mites.

And 45% were allergic to pets, 31% to mould and 30% to chemicals in cleaning products.

Allergy UK’s Maureen Jenkins says: “With the most common symptoms of an indoor allergy or home fever being a runny nose and sneezing, people all too often confuse symptoms with a common cold or flu and don’t treat the cause of the problem.”

While there’s no cure for home fever, here are Maureen’s tips to fight back:

1 Room spray

This is one of the most common causes of allergic reactions and is even known to trigger asthma attacks. Room sprays are unnecessary if you keep your house clean, don’t smoke indoors and open your windows regularly.

There’s also an alternative – create your own with a pint of warm water mixed with a tablespoon each of ­bicarbonate of soda and lemon juice.

2 Dust mites

Beds provide the ideal ­environment for dust mites to thrive because in them they can feed on skin cells, obtain warmth from our bodies and gather water from our sweat.

Their droppings are ­invisible to the naked eye but are responsible for causing the majority of allergic reactions.

To eliminate them, use allergen-proof barrier covers on all mattresses, duvets and pillows. Wash your sheets and blankets every week, at 60 degrees or above.

Also, change your mattress every eight to 10 years, and replace pillows every 12 months.

3 Pets

Tips to cut down pet allergy problems (Image: Getty)

Cat and dog dander, which are flakes of dead skin that collect on fur and other surfaces, contain allergens that can cause serious asthma attacks.

Pets also carry outdoor allergens back inside on their coats.

Keep your pets in ­well-ventilated rooms and never let them sleep on the beds or furniture.

Wipe pets down after long walks and wash their bedding weekly.

You could try a pet cleanser, such as Petal Cleanse made by ­Bio-Life, which removes allergens from coats.

4 Mould

This is a type of fungi that grows best in damp and poorly ventilated areas.

To stop it developing, simply reduce humidity by increasing ventilation.

Use trickle vents in double glazing or just open your windows.

Extractor fans in bathrooms and kitchens are also useful at getting rid of steam.

Avoid hanging damp washing in the house. Also, try an air purifier to trap mould spores.

5 Carpets

If allergic, remove as many of the carpets in your house as possible and replace with solid wood flooring.

New carpets in ­particular are full of noxious chemicals that can be inhaled for months and could trigger allergic reactions.

If you do have carpets, regularly use a high-temperature steam cleaner to get rid of any dust mites.

6 Furniture

Avoid furniture and shelving made from chipboard or manufactured wood as these may contain formaldehyde – a chemical that can give off a colourless gas that irritates the airways.

Buy solid wood furniture if possible.

7 Vacuum cleaners

Getting the right vacuum cleaner can help (Image: Getty)

Not all vacuum cleaners suck up dust and particles properly.

Recommended ones are the Dyson cylinder and upright vacuums that carry the British Allergy ­Foundation seal of approval.

Look for this stamp wherever possible as these are tried and tested products that remove ­allergens from the environment.

8 Perfume

All perfumes, hairsprays, ­shampoos and soaps have the ­potential to cause nasty skin reactions.

Try to use unperfumed products when you can, and dab natural oils on your clothes instead of man-made ones.

9 Flowers

Indoor plants and flowers can produce pollen so avoid having them in the house if they cause sneezing.

Speak with garden experts to find the best plants for indoors. Be aware that planters, soil and old leaves can serve as great hiding places for mould.

10 Soft toys

Dust mites are commonly found in furry toys so it’s really ­important to keep them irritant-free.

Washable stuffed toys should be put through a 60 degree washing machine cycle on a regular basis.

You can also place them in a plastic bag in the freezer for at least 12 hours once a month, and then wash them at a lower temperature if needed.

● If you think you might be suffering from an indoor allergy, call Allergy UK’s helpline on 01322 619898 or visit www.allergyuk.org.

Are you allergic to your house?

Allergies or just a cold?

Some people mistake the allergy symptoms for a cold or a flu. Many people have allergies without even realizing it, or aren’t sure what they are allergic to. Knowing what you’re allergic to—if it’s indoor or outdoor, a seasonal or year round allergen—makes all the difference. You do not experience an allergic reaction on your first exposure to an allergen. It takes multiple exposures to develop an allergy.

An allergy starts when your immune system mistakes a normally harmless substance for a dangerous invader. When you’re exposed to the allergen again, these antibodies can release a number of immune system chemicals, such as histamine, that cause allergy symptoms like itchy watery eyes, runny nose and coughs.

Can cleaning really help cure?

It does if you’re allergic to indoor allergens such as dust mites, cockroaches and molds.

Common mistakes to avoid

1. Using a feather duster: People think they’re dusting, but the duster makes things fly up in the air. Use a damp cloth instead. That will trap allergens instead of knocking them in the air.

2. Issues with clutter: Lots of people clean around their clutter, but they don’t clean the source. Try tidying up or putting away some of your knickknacks so there are fewer places for allergens to collect.

3. Not checking the window sill for mold: This is an often overlooked place for mold to form, but it’s where lots of moistures accumulates. Keep an eye on these areas around your home.

For the bedroom

Dust mites love the bedroom and they are a very common allergy because there is often a large accumulation of dust and human skills cells in the bedroom. Here are some quick tips to combat what makes you sneeze:

1. Cover your mattress and pillows in dust-proof covers.

2. Wash sheets every week in hot water. 130 F is hot enough to kill dust mites.

3. Dust mites are attracted to moisture, so keep the humidity levels low: less than 50% is recommended.

4. Use a HEPA vacuum cleaner in conjunction with a steam cleaner every eight weeks.

5. Reduce the amount of unnecessary upholstered furniture like throw pillows.

6. Reduce the amount of clutter.

7. Every type of flooring is a potential breeding ground for allergens; having tile or hardwood floors reduces exposure to triggers.

8. Generally speaking replace mattresses every 10 years.

9. Keep pets out of your bedroom (cats are more allergenic than dogs).

Moldy messes

The term “black mold” can be confusing, since many indoor molds are black or greenish black. Stachybotrys is often the mold people refer to as black mold, but there are other common molds such as aspergillus that can commonly be found in homes. Molds have the potential to be dangerous if one is allergic, has lung disease, or a compromised immune system. However, we are all exposed to molds and most do not experience any health effects.

Determining the specific type of mold is generally not necessary and can be expensive since you need to have it tested under a microscope. So keep it simple remove all mold you might find.

If you find mold by your indoor vents this suggests that there is a problem with moisture and condensation. In addition to removing the visible mold with a bleach solution (alternatively can use a vinegar solution) the vent and surrounding ducts should be examined professionally. This will help determine the source of excess moisture and let you find out if there is a larger mold source, which can often be the case.

Tips for the kitchen

As creepy as it is to hear, cockroach saliva, droppings, and shed skin have been linked to asthma and allergy symptoms. One more reason to keep your kitchen tidy!

1. Regularly give your fridge a clean and scrub to avoid accumulating old food that could be a breeding ground for mold.

2. Scrub deep and clean caulking by the sink or any wet areas.

3. Make sure that you’re checking and fixing any water leaks.

Bathroom fixes

1. Look out for leaks, as mold grows around the caulking the shower or bathtub.

2. Keep carpet out of the bathroom, but smaller washable rugs that you can throw in the wash are okay.

3. Keep surfaces and the air as dry as possible.

4. Once a month, scrub down your shower curtain or put it in the wash.

Allergies true or false

There are a lot of commonly held misconceptions out there about allergies. Let’s bust a few myths.

1. True or False. Nasal decongestants are an essential long term treatment for allergy relief.

FALSE: Over-the-counter nasal decongestants, can provide excellent short term relief, but are only recommended for a few days use at a time. Long term use can lead to dependence and even worsening of the congestion. Nasal steroid sprays, if used properly, can be used for long term relief.

2. True or False. Sticking to hypoallergenic products is the best way to avoid an allergic reaction.

FALSE: The term “hypoallergenic” isn’t actually regulated. Getting tested, knowing what you’re allergic to, and avoiding that specific allergen is the best way to avoid an allergic reaction. On a similar note “all natural” does not imply “allergen free.” We can develop allergies to natural plant products.

3. True or False. People with higher stress levels report more allergy symptoms.

TRUE! Getting a good night’s rest, exercising regularly and having a well-balanced lifestyle to reduce your stress may also help improve your allergies.

4. True or False. Eating local honey is the best natural remedy for treating allergies.

FALSE! Some people believe this sweet treat is a natural remedy for pollen problems. But most pollen allergies don’t stem from the type found in honey. That means that a jar of it won’t help you build up your immunity. So, enjoy honey’s taste, but know that even local kinds probably won’t ease your symptoms. The most natural remedy would be a saline sinus rinse. The only way to truly build up a tolerance to the allergen as a potential cure is to undergo allergy immunotherapy. That means getting regular injections or tablets under the tongue. People interested in this option should see an allergist.

5. Children should not take allergy medication. The best remedy is for them to fight it off naturally.

FALSE! Natural solutions are great, but allergy medications specifically formulated for children can be safe and effective for children, provided that this is discussed with the child’s healthcare provider. The decision to use medications depends on the severity of symptoms and how they impact the child’s quality of life.

6. Drinking alcohol makes allergy symptoms like stuffy nose and itchy eyes worse.

TRUE! This is commonly reported. Beer, wine and liquor contain histamine, produced by yeast and bacteria during the fermentation process. Histamine, of course, is the chemical that sets off allergy symptoms. Wine and beer also contain sulfites, another group of compounds known to provoke asthma and other allergy-like symptoms.

7. True or False. Allergy tablets labeled non-drowsy usually still make sufferers drowsy.

FALSE! Non-drowsy formulations are usually well tolerated without sedating side effects. A minority of people may feel drowsy with certain tablets labeled as “non-drowsy” but there are several different allergy tablets to choose from. Talk to an allergist for additional options if these don’t work for you.

Control Indoor Allergens to Improve Indoor Air Quality

Allergy and asthma control begins at home. Many people with allergies stay indoors when pollen and mold is high. But dust mites, pet dander and even cockroaches can cause problems indoors.1

The Environmental Protection Agency recommends three ways you can improve indoor air quality2:

  • Control your contact with indoor airborne allergens
  • Ventilate your indoor areas well
  • Use air cleaners to clean indoor air

Eight out of 10 people in the United States are exposed to dust mites. Six out of 10 are exposed to cat or dog dander. Cockroaches cause allergic reactions in people who live in the inner cities or southern parts of the United States. 3

Better air quality in your home, office, school and car can reduce allergy and asthma triggers.

What Size Are Allergens?

Allergens are substances that cause allergic reactions and trigger asthma symptoms in some people. The air spreads allergens around. They settle onto furniture and floors. They vary in size and are measured in microns (also called micrometers).4

Is It Possible to Control Indoor Allergens?

You can control indoor allergens with cleaning and reducing allergens in your home. The main sources of indoor allergens are:

  • Pets
  • Wall-to-wall carpet
  • Soft furniture
  • Stuffed toys
  • Bedding
  • Damp areas
  • Indoor plants
  • Mattresses that aren’t in allergy covers
  • Pillows and bedding you can’t wash in hot water

There may be more allergens on surfaces than in the air. Surface allergens enter the air easily when you disturb them by dusting or sitting.

Will Air Cleaning Devices Help?

Air cleaning devices might help. But the best way to improve your air quality is to get rid of the sources of allergens and irritants from your home. Take measures to avoid and reduce your contact with allergens. Also increase the flow of outdoor air into your home and reduce humidity as much as possible.

Reducing humidity decreases dust mites and mold growth. Air conditioners help reduce humidity too. They can also prevent outdoor allergens. Keep your windows and doors closed. Turn your air conditioner on recirculate. These steps can help reduce outdoor allergens like pollen and mold.

Air cleaners with CERTIFIED asthma & allergy friendly® filters can filter almost 98% of allergen particles in the air. Look for CERTIFIED asthma & allergy friendly® devices.

What Steps Can I Take to Control Indoor Allergens?

Control dust mites. Keep surfaces in your home clean and uncluttered. Bare floors and walls are best, especially in the bedroom where you spend one-third of your time. Avoid wall-to-wall carpet, if possible. If you must have carpet, use low-pile carpets or throw rugs you can wash. Also avoid heavy drapes and overstuffed fabric furniture. Replace drapes and blinds with roll-down shades or washable curtains.5

Use zippered allergen-resistant or plastic covers on your pillows, mattresses and box springs. These covers are very effective in controlling your contact with dust mites. Encasing mattresses works better than air cleaners to reduce allergy symptoms. Wash your bedding, uncovered pillows and stuffed toys in water 130 degrees Fahrenheit or hotter each week. Dry them in a hot dryer cycle to kill dust mites.

Vacuum once or twice a week. Vacuuming helps keep allergens low. But poor quality vacuums could put dust into the air. Look for CERTIFIED asthma & allergy friendly® vacuums. These vacuums have been tested and found to prevent allergens from going back into the air.

If you have allergies, wear a mask while doing housework. Use a cloth that is damp or treated with polish for dusting. Leave the house for several hours after cleaning it.

Prevent pet dander. Most doctors suggest that people who have allergies to animal dander not have pets with feathers or fur. There is no such thing as a hypoallergenic pet. People with pet allergies are allergic to animal dander which are shed skin cells that all animals have. Some animal dander has fewer allergenic proteins. This may lead to fewer or no symptoms.

Keep pets out of your bedroom. Close the doors to bedrooms when you are not home to keep pets out. Cover vents with dense material like cheesecloth. Animal allergens are sticky. Wash and change your animal’s favorite furniture and toys often.

Replace wall-to-wall carpet with bare floors or a low-pile carpet. Bathing and brushing your pets often may reduce symptoms. But avoid grooming your pets if you have animal allergies. If you must groom them, wear a mask.

Long-haired pets can also bring pollen inside in high pollen seasons like spring and fall.

If you suspect you have a pet allergy, see a board-certified allergist for allergy testing.

Prevent pollen from getting inside by keeping windows and doors closed. Use air conditioning in warm weather to control dust mites and reduce humidity. Change filters often.

Avoid mold spores. Reduce moisture around the bathroom, kitchen and other areas where there is a lot of water. Here are some ways you can reduce mold:

  • Don’t run your showers for a long time before bathing.
  • Use dehumidifiers to reduce both mold and dust mites.
  • Use humidity monitors.
  • Limit yourself to a few house plants.
  • Fix all leaks and other causes of damp areas.
  • If you see mold on a surface, clean it immediately. Wear a mask and clean the surface each week to keep it from returning.

Control cockroaches. Do not leave food or garbage uncovered. Use poison baits, boric acid and traps instead of chemicals. Chemicals may irritate your sinuses and asthma.

Medical Review September 2015.

Päivi M. Salo, et al. Exposure to multiple indoor allergens in US homes and relationship to asthma. JACI. Mar 2008. (Retrieved April 24 2017)

Sporik, R. Exposure to House Dust Mite Allergen, NEJM. 1990, 323 (8), p.502. (Retrieved April 24 2017)

How To Reduce Allergens In Your Yard This Fall

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, IL Prepping your yard this fall can give you a head start on spring landscaping, but it can also mean suffering from seasonal allergies. Ragweed pollen and lingering mold can create double the symptoms for some allergy sufferers.

“The daunting task of yard work can be favorable for allergy sufferers if they know how to reduce allergens in the areas surrounding the home,” said allergist Richard Weber, MD, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI). “Many people think you can only control the environment inside the home, but there are also precautions you can take to help eliminate allergens outside as well.”

While completely avoiding pollen and mold is an impossible feat, the following tips from ACAAI allergists can help you breathe a little easier.

Timing is Everything – The mid-day and afternoon hours might seem like the best time for yard work, but it’s the worst time if you have pollen allergies. Pollen counts are the highest during this time, making early morning and evening hours more suitable. Weather can also play an important role. Rain showers can temporarily clear pollen from the air. Thunderstorms, however, can increase airborne allergens, and the standing water left behind is the perfect breeding ground for mold spores.

Dress to Protect – You don’t need to impress while working in your yard, instead dress wisely. Buy pollen masks and gardening gloves at your local hardware store. These will help keep your hands clean and allergens from entering your airways. Wearing large sunglasses will keep pollen and mold from aggravating your eyes. A hat will reduce pollen from sticking to your hair. Also opt for long pants and shirts to prevent skin irritation, while keeping allergy-causing stinging insects away.

Choose Wisely – The worst allergy offenders might be in your own yard. If you are considering adding new trees, grasses and plants into your landscape, be sure they aren’t the worst offenders. While everyone’s allergies are different, these are typically safe:

Trees

  • Apple
  • Dogwood
  • Pear
  • Plum
  • Begonia flower

Plants and Flowers

  • Daffodil
  • Lilac
  • Magnolia
  • Rose
  • Sunflower

Be Quick to Clean – Mold and pollen can collect on fallen leaves. Be sure to rake leaves often and wear a pollen mask while doing so, since raking can stir allergens into the air. Continue mowing your lawn throughout the fall and keep your grass short. Maintaining your lawn will keep grass from flowering and producing pollen. If raking and mowing are too bothersome, ask a family member to do it for you. Once you are finished with yard work, remove your shoes before entering your home and be sure to shower right away. Your shoes, clothing and hair can all be allergen magnets.

Taking allergy medication long before you head into the great outdoors can help suppress allergy symptoms. ACAAI allergists recommend taking your medication two weeks before symptoms start, and continue well after the first frost. For those with severe seasonal allergies, an allergist may prescribe immunotherapy, also known as allergy shots, which provide great relief.

Indoor Allergens

Indoor Allergies Causes

An allergic sensitivity is a reaction of the immune system to a foreign “invader,” a substance that is not native to your body. Exposure to this invader, an allergen, triggers the reaction.

When the allergen particles come to rest in the linings of the eyes, nose, or airway of a susceptible person, an allergic reaction can occur.

  • When the immune system has been previously “sensitized” to a specific invader, it overreacts to the invader; this overreaction to a harmless substance is known as a hypersensitivity or allergic reaction.
  • This reaction sets in motion a series of responses that culminates in release of chemicals called “mediators.” Histamine is an example of a mediator.
  • It is the effects of the mediators on cells and tissues that cause allergic symptoms.

Dust mites

  • Dust mites are common indoor allergens. They can be found in most homes, usually in beds and bedding, upholstered furniture, or any cloth material.
  • Often, when people believe they are sensitive to dust, they are actually sensitive to the dust mites and their waste particles and fragments of dust mites that have died that can be found in household dust.

Pet dander

  • For some people, pets trigger allergic reactions. They simply cannot be around animals such as dogs, cats, gerbils, hamsters, and other fur-bearing animals without developing uncomfortable symptoms such as sneezing, stuffy nose, itchy eyes, and asthma.
  • Contrary to what many people believe, an allergic reaction to an animal is not caused by the animal’s hair.
    • An allergic reaction is actually caused by substances in the animal’s saliva, urine, and especially dander.
    • Dander is dead skin flakes (like dandruff) that become loosened from the animal’s skin.
    • The allergens become crusted on the animal’s hair or skin from urination or the animal licking or scratching itself; once dry, the allergens are released into the air, where they join the other components of house dust.
  • Many different small animals that are popular as house pets trigger allergic reactions.
    • Animals such as cats and dogs are most likely to cause allergic reactions.
    • Birds may also cause reactions, although less often than other animals.
    • Animals such as fish, reptiles, and amphibians rarely cause allergic reactions.
  • An allergic reaction may be triggered by any of the following:
    • Directly touching the animal
    • Being in an indoor area with the animal
    • Being in an indoor area with furniture, carpets, bedding, drapes, clothing, animal beds or cages, even countertops and walls on which animal allergen has landed
    • Being in an indoor area with another person whose clothes carry the allergen
    • Cleaning animal beds, cages, or litter boxes
    • Touching toys, bedding, towels, or other items that the animal has touched

Molds

  • Molds are a type of fungus that has no stems, leaves, or roots.
    • Molds generally live outdoors but can normally be found in almost any indoor environment. They can trigger hay fever and asthma symptoms and reproduce by releasing spores into the air, which float around until they find a hospitable environment.
    • They easily pass through open doors and windows and settle indoors, especially where there is excess heat and humidity. They grow and produce mildew. Many of us have seen mildew growing in a shower.
    • Mold is not always visible, however; it can grow in unseen areas of the house, such as under flooring materials and behind walls.
  • To grow, mold requires water; this can be either liquid water, as from a leaky pipe or roof or a puddle, or condensation on windows.
    • It also requires something to grow on, and mold is not picky, although it is most likely to grow on wood, sheet rock, or fabric.
    • As it grows, mold releases more spores, many of which become part of house dust.
  • While molds can trigger allergic symptoms, like any other allergen, they rarely cause serious health problems, except in people who are seriously immunocompromised or on chemotherapy.

Cockroaches

  • Most of us don’t want to think about insects in our home, especially cockroaches, but they are a fact of life. If you live in a crowded urban area, an older multifamily dwelling, or a warm climate such as the southern part of the United States, you almost surely have cockroaches living in your home, even if you don’t see them.
  • Cockroaches like moist places where food is available.
    • Although the kitchen is their favorite room, they can be found just about anywhere in the house.
    • When they die, usually not in plain sight, their bodies become dried and break apart. These body pieces, as well as their dried waste, become part of house dust.

6 Things in Your House That Could Be Triggering Your Pet’s Allergies

Reviewed for accuracy on June 6, 2019, by Dr. Katie Grzyb, DVM

Did you know that your pet could be allergic to everything from their own beds to your other pets? Unfortunately, figuring out what could be causing allergies in your dog or cat can be a lengthy process—and a particularly hard one when dealing with household allergens.

Potential Household Triggers for Your Pet’s Allergies

Here are six unexpected causes of household pet allergies and how to determine if your dog or cat is reacting to them.

Dust Mites

Dust mite allergies are more common than you think, says Dr. Ashley Rossman, DVM, CVA, from Glen Oak Dog & Cat Hospital. In fact, dust mites, molds and pollens are the three major airborne allergens that pets are susceptible to, she says.

While every pet can respond differently—and with varying levels of severity—to dust mites, most pets will demonstrate allergies to dust mites through their skin, says Dr. Rossman.

“They may become itchy, the skin may become red and inflamed,” and they may ultimately suffer with dermatitis, says Dr. Rossman.

Unless you wash it regularly, your dog’s own bed can trigger an allergic reaction. “Pillows, bedding and carpets are frequent sources for dust mites, as well as hard-to-clean areas underneath sofas or beds,” says Dr. Travis Arndt, DVM, assistant medical director at the Animal Medical Center of Mid-America.

Dog Bed Stuffing

“Certain materials and fabrics in your pet’s bed can cause an allergic reaction, but it’s more likely that it is the dust mites causing your pet to have an allergic reaction,” says Dr. Arndt.

“There are hypoallergenic beds on the market, but regardless of the type of bed your pet uses, it is important to wash it frequently to get rid of the dust mites and to remove the dead skin from the bed,” he says.

If that doesn’t help, Dr. Rossman recommends checking if the bed is made with wool, down or feather-based materials, as these are more likely to cause allergic issues.

“I have also seen animals that have contact allergies to wool, found in carpets or sometimes bedding,” says Dr. Gary Richter, MS, DVM, CVC, CVA, who combines conventional and holistic treatment methods in his practice.

Dr. Rossman says that “100 percent cotton is much less likely to cause an allergic reaction.”

Other Pets

Your pet can actually be allergic to new animals that are introduced into the home. “Pets can be allergic to a new animal, and, just like people, they can develop allergies to dander at any point in their lives,” says Dr. Arndt.

While this isn’t a common allergy, it does happen and could be something to look into if you can’t seem to find any other causes for your pet’s allergy, Dr. Arndt says.

“Typically, allergic pets have reactions to more than one thing in the environment, so it’s best to talk to your veterinarian about finding the source of the allergic reaction before jumping to the conclusion that another pet is the cause,” Dr. Arndt explains.

Chemical Skin Irritants

Contact dermatitis can be caused by a lot of things, with household cleaners ranking high on the list, says Dr. Richter.

“This is a good reason to use all-natural cleaners, as they will be less likely to cause contact dermatitis,” says Dr. Richter.

In addition to abrasive cleaners, you should also watch out for shampoos, detergents, soaps and hair sprays as potential possible contributors to pet allergies, Dr. Rossman says.

“Some laundry detergents and soaps can make fabrics more irritating and thus generate an allergic response, so look for organic, unscented detergents that are free from dyes and perfumes to wash anything your pet sleeps on,” says Dr. Rossman.

The problem with contact dermatitis is that the cause of the problem can be very difficult to determine, as the number of products used in many homes is quite large, explains Dr. Arndt.

“One of the most surprising yet frequent causes of contact dermatitis is seen in dogs who lounge by the pool or swim,” says Dr. Arndt. “Exposure to the chlorine-treated pool water over time can cause an allergic reaction.”

Indoor Plants

There are many indoor and outdoor plants that might trigger an airborne or contact allergic reaction in your pet, says Dr. Arndt. “Any flowering houseplant has the potential to cause pets to have an allergic reaction,” he says. “Symptoms typically occur seasonally and present as itchy skin, excessive grooming, rashes, sneezing and eye discharge.”

No matter what type of houseplants you have, be aware that the potting soil may be harboring mold, which can also cause allergies in your pet, says Dr. Arndt. “To prevent mold in the soil, don’t overwater your plants, and keep them in a well-lit and ventilated room,” Dr. Arndt says.

Smoke

Pets—cats especially—can be very sensitive to smoke, as it is a respiratory irritant, says Dr. Richter. “Smoke of any kind can cause issues, including smoke from cooking,” he explains.

Pets who live in homes with people who smoke cigarettes are more likely to develop atopic dermatitis, an allergic reaction that causes itchy skin, says Dr. Arndt. “Some pets can suffer from asthma from inhaling the chemicals and irritants,” he adds.

Other signs that your pet might be having an allergic reaction to smoke include shortness of breath, watery eyes, sneezing or difficulty breathing, says Dr. Rossman. If you suspect your pet is allergic or is showing signs of breathing difficulty, talk to your veterinarian right away.

How to Determine What’s Causing the Allergic Reaction

If you think your furry companion is having an allergic reaction to something in your home, you can always do an elimination trial. “Try thinking about anything new in the home, such as a new laundry detergent, air freshener or cleaning product,” says Dr. Arndt.

If you haven’t added any potential allergens lately, Dr. Richter recommends eliminating as many possible allergens or irritants as possible and seeing if your pet gets better. “Then, you could slowly add things back in and monitor,” says Dr. Richter.

Minimizing the Allergens in Your Home

In addition to removing products that might be causing pet allergies, the best advice is to clean thoroughly, wash bedding often and clean with all-natural materials, says Dr. Richter. “Also, a HEPA filter can help pull dust and pollen out of the air,” says Dr. Richter.

Vacuuming frequently using a high-suction vacuum and disinfecting surfaces regularly are also musts if you share your home with an allergic pet, says Dr. Rossman.

“Changing furnace filters monthly, avoiding wool blankets in the home and adding plug-in air purifiers in every room can also be very effective,” says Dr. Rossman.

Be sure to talk to your veterinarian about your pet’s allergies and what might be causing them. Your veterinarian can provide more in-depth guidance and can recommend treatment and management options.

By Diana Bocco

Featured Image: iStock.com/SolStock

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