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Minimize Your Allergies by Controlling your Environment
What is an Allergy?
Allergy is a condition, often inherited, in which the immune system of the affected person reacts to something that is inhaled, eaten or touched, that doesn’t affect most other people. The patient’s immune system reacts to this substance as if it were an “enemy invader” (like a virus). This reaction leads to symptoms that often adversely affect the patient’s work, play, rest, and overall quality of life. Any substance that triggers an allergic reaction is called an allergen. Allergens “invade” the body by being inhaled, swallowed or injected, or they may be absorbed through the skin. Common allergens include pollen, dust, and mold.
Allergy symptoms that can occur primarily in the spring, summer or fall are frequently the result of inhaled pollens. Tree pollens in the spring, grass pollens in the early summer, and weed pollens in the late summer and fall provide a predictable pattern of symptoms often helpful in identifying the offending pollens. Pollen counts are higher on dry, hot, and windy days. Pollen counts decrease during rain, increase after rain, and are highest between 5:00 and 10:00 AM. Unfortunately exposure to pollen is not limited to outdoors because they are carried inside on clothing, shoes, and pets, and enter through open doors and windows.
Molds or fungi are organisms that thrive on decaying organic matter. They are present year round, especially during the spring and fall. Most molds produce spores that become airborne and may cause inhalant allergies. They thrive in warm, dark, moist areas. Places such as bathrooms, poorly vented laundry rooms, basements, kitchens, window frames, refrigerator drain pans, old books, plants, poorly ventilated closets, leaking roofs, plumbing leaks, and deteriorating carpets provide moisture that allows molds to thrive. Humid, warm air fosters mold growth. Therefore, control of your home’s temperature and humidity can have great impact on your allergen exposure in the home.
Dust mites are microscopic insects that feed on tiny particles of skin that humans shed. Like molds they tend to thrive with heat and humidity. Their favorite habitats include mattresses, couches, carpets, bedding, pillows, and children’s stuffed animals. They do poorly when the humidity is less than 50% and thrive at comfortable air temperature for humans, 65 to 84 degrees Fahrenheit.
Epidermals (Animal Dander)
Animal dander is small particles found on the surface of animals that are deposited on anything the animal touches. Animal dander is light and stays airborne even longer than pollens. Cat dander in particular is very sticky and will hang around your house for at least 6 months after the cat is removed from the environment. Cat dander is a very powerful trigger for allergic reaction for many individuals. Even if you do not have a cat at home you will probably be exposed to cat dander through friends, family, and co-workers because the dander is so long lasting and difficult to eradicate. Cat saliva and urine also induces allergy symptoms.
Environmental Control Measure Checklist
- Create at least one “allergy safe room” at home. This should be a room where you spend most of your time, most likely the bedroom. Place an appropriately sized room air filter, eliminate carpets, heavy draperies, fabric furniture, and use hypo-allergenic covers for pillow: and mattresses. Exclude pets from the room. Apply any of the following tips to this safe room as you deem appropriate. These measures can significantly reduce your allergen exposure.
- Avoid feather and wool bedding. These are places that dust mites infest. The use of hypoallergenic covers for pillows and mattresses is very effective in minimizing dust mite exposure. There are many allergy supply houses that your doctor can help you find, where hypo allergenic pillow covers and mattress covers can be purchased. Use polyester-filled pillows and replace them yearly. Wash blankets, quilts, and comforters in very hot water once a week to kill dust mites.
- Avoid clutter and dust-collecting knickknacks. Books, toys, objects, and other items placed on shelves collect a lot of dust and are very difficult to clean.
- Keep floors bare or use washable throw rugs instead of area rugs and carpets.
- Use air filters. High Efficiency Particulate Arresting Filters (HEPA) are very effective in cleaning the air in any given room. It is best to use a single unit for a particular room, and it is best to concentrate on the bedroom where we tend to spend most of our time. When you look to purchase HEPA filters it is important to evaluate the capacity that the filter can clean.
- Be sure to purchase a filter that is big enough to clean the volume of the room where you intend to place it. HEPA filters are available in most home improvement stores or can be ordered from allergy supply houses.
- Keep indoor humidity between 48 and 52%. You may need to purchase hygrometers that measure humidity and dehumidifiers, or in rare cases even a humidifier if the air is too dry.
- Put filters over forced-air heating vents and change the filters regularly
- Keep rain gutters clear and correct drainage problems around the home to reduce moisture and mold growth.
- Clean up any water spills or leaks inside of the home promptly, and repair leaking faucets, and drains. Periodically check foods stored in the refrigerator and discard anything that shows signs of spoilage or mold. Install exhaust fans in the bathroom and over stoves to remove excess moisture and other odors.
- Avoid yard work in the early morning when pollen counts are higher, and use pollen filtering masks and gloves when you do have to work out in the yard. If you do spend time outside during periods of high pollen, change clothes and shower when you return inside.
- If you are allergic to animals, it is best not to have animals in the house. Keep them outside if at all possible and also keep them out of your bedroom. Try to keep the pet confined to one room or area of your house if it must come inside. Bathe the pet frequently and wear a mask when you do so. Wash your hands after playing with the pet and don’t rub your eyes or nose until your pet has been washed.
- Keep your car clean by vacuuming the seats and carpets regularly. Try to use air conditioning instead of opening windows during pollen seasons.
- Keep your work space uncluttered and dust it frequently. Piles of paper attract dust and mold.
- Do not decorate the work area with dried plants or dried flowers.
- Use HEPA filters to clean your office work space.
Environmental control measures are an often over-looked aspect of managing allergies. The results that you obtain can be very rewarding. Many of the ideas mentioned above are simple to accomplish and while may require some initial expenditures they can have long lasting rewards in terms of keeping you healthier and feeling better. Remember that creating an allergy free haven in the bedroom can go a long way toward helping you sleep comfortably and control allergy symptoms. Also, there are a multitude of useful web sites on the internet that can be accessed merely by typing “allergy avoidance” into your search engine. In the long run, effective environmental control measures should keep you feeling better and healthier.