Simple Steps to Alleviate Allergies this Spring

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After a rugged winter in many parts of the country, the good news is that Spring is here!  The bad news is that allergy season is also here.  The secret to allergy-proofing your home is to identify the top triggers, then take the steps to remove the sources of allergens, which are substances (typically proteins) that cause the familiar allergic reactions of runny noses, watery eyes, and breathing problems.

Allergy Triggers

Spring brings flowers, flowering trees, grasses and weeds, all of which produce pollen, a source of irritation for many.  The pollination season begins in the warmer south and travels north through the spring months, but the pollen itself can travel up to 400 miles on the wind currents.  Molds are also a big source of allergens, but are more likely in the fall and winter seasons.

Proteins in the saliva, pet dander and urine of furry animals can cause allergic reactions in 15% of the general population, and in 20-30% of asthma sufferers.  These proteins are carried on small, invisible particles that land on the lining of the eyes and nose, or are inhaled directly into the lungs. Allergies can even flare up when the sufferer is exposed to dander carried on the clothing of pet owners.

Dust mite droppings are one of the most common allergy triggers. These microscopic, sightless, 8-legged arthropods thrive inside homes, especially in high-humidity areas and in places where human dander is found, such as bedding, carpeting, and furniture.

Allergy-Proof Your Home

  • Clear the Air: Use HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters in the air conditioning system.  Maintain the humidity level in the house at about 40%.  Higher levels encourage molds, and dry air allows dust and pollen to move easily.  Keep your windows closed when pollen counts are highest: in the early morning hours, between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., and during windy conditions.  Since pollen and mold spores can settle on clothing, remove your outer garments near the door and put them away in the closet.
  • Clean up Clutter: the less stuff in your house, the fewer places for allergens to hang out and the easier it will be to clean thoroughly once a week. Get rid of old rags, newspapers, clothes and other porous items.
  • Reduce Dust Generators: fabrics and carpeting create dust by the breaking down of fibers.  Consider replacing curtains with blinds.  Put washable slip covers over upholstered furniture.  Use washable throw rugs over wood, linoleum, or tiled floors and wash them frequently. Damp mop regularly, and clean walls and other surfaces.  Remove high-pile carpeting, especially in the bedroom.  If you must have carpeting, make it a short, tight pile, and vacuum weekly with a cleaner that has a small-particle or HEPA filter.
  • Sneeze-Proof your Bedroom: it’s important to focus on bedrooms, because both you and allergens (especially dust mites) spend more time there than anywhere else in your house.  There are things you can do to make your bedroom a comfortable living environment and to keep the allergens out.
    • Cover your Mattress: the general rule of thumb is that your mattress should be replaced at least every 10 years.  Your mattress will double in weight due to skin flakes, dust mites (and their feces) that get trapped in the fabric.  To help eliminate dust mites, purchase a new allergy-proof cover for your mattress.  These covers provide a protective barrier against dust mites and mold antigens.
    • Throw away your Pillow: did you know the pillow you are sleeping on might be filled with dust mites and dust mite feces? Pillows must be tossed once a year to maintain cleanliness and fluff.  Do not use pillows made out of foam rubber or down.  Dust mites love to live these materials.
    • Get Rid of your Bedroom Carpet: use throw rugs in the bedroom instead of carpeting, or treat your carpeting with an anti-dust mite spray or powder.  If you are not able to replace your carpet with hardwood flooring, then consider using high efficiency vacuum bags and clean your bedroom regularly. March 2013