If you are one of the millions of Americans who have allergies, this month's topic, Allergens: Controlling The Big 4, may help you manage your allergy symptoms. Avoidance is a key word for preventing allergy symptoms. In fact, the feature article in this month's Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine said this: "The best way to prevent allergy symptoms and minimize your need for allergy medicine is to avoid your allergens as much as possible and to eliminate the source of allergens from your home and other environments." Below are suggestions on avoiding the four main trouble-making allergens: pollen, mold, pet allergen, and dust mite allergen.
Pollen has been headline news recently because it has been a record-breaking Spring and pollen counts have soared off the charts. To see the daily pollen count for where you live, click here. Pollen sticks to everything and hangs in the air so it easily gets into your home when doors and windows are opened or by hitchhiking on your clothes, your hair, or your pets. If you are one of the 35 million Americans suffering due to pollen, these steps to avoid pollen and help prevent allergy symptoms are important for you:
- Keep doors and windows closed as much as possible in your home and your car especially during the Spring & Fall pollen seasons. If you really feel the need for the first fresh air of Spring, try a window screen filter to capture pollen that would otherwise come right in with the fresh air.
- If you have pets that are constantly in and out, they are tracking in pollen on their feet and their fur. Wipe pets off with a damp cloth or pet wipes as they come in.
- Stay inside as much as possible, but if you have to be outdoors, wear a mask.
- As soon as you come in, especially if you have been outside for an extended period of time, remove pollen-covered clothes and carefully put them in the dirty clothes hamper or laundry room without shaking them around. Wash them with in an allergen reduction laundry detergent designed to bond with allergen and wash it away. When you come in, or before bedtime, shower and wash your hair to remove pollen that is sticking to you.
- Some pollen is going to get into your home no matter how careful you are. So filtering your home's air to remove pollen can help prevent inhalation and possible allergic reaction. There are several methods and the more ways you filter the air, the more pollen you can remove. The most effective is a HEPA air purifier. To be designated as a HEPA filter, airborne particles as small as 0.3 microns must be captured with a 99.97% efficiency. There are some air purifiers such as Austin Air, Blueair, and IQAir that capture even smaller particles and some air cleaners come with additional filters for the removal of chemical fumes and strong odors. HEPA air purifiers utilize a fan to circulate air from every corner of the room through the machine's pre-filter and HEPA filter. Leaving the unit running on high 24/7 pulls the most air through the filters to remove the most airborne particles. Check your pre-filter often during peak times and change when it starts looking fuzzy gray or white which is usually in 3 months or less. This gives you optimum filtration and also protects and prolongs the life of the HEPA filter.
- Other methods of indoor air filtration are furnace filters and HVAC vent filters. Manufacturers recommend changing furnace/AC filters every 3 months. Check them more often during peak pollen times. Constantly running the fan on your system means air is being pulled through the filters continuously. The heat or air can still cycle on and off with your thermostat, but the filter only works to capture pollen when air is passing through it. If you choose an allergen reduction furnace filter, at least 90% of pollen passing through is captured. For the remainder and other particles picked up in your ductwork that enters your home through the HVAC vents, you can cover the vents with filter material. To avoid restriction of air flow from your HVAC system, only cover the vents in 1 or 2 rooms. Start with the bedrooms of the allergy sufferers in your family. Changing these vent filters is recommended every 30 days when you will probably be able to tell the filter is turning gray.
- Another way to reduce exposure to pollen is by helping your body's filters work better. Your nasal passages contain cilia, tiny hairs, that move foreign particles along in a thin lining of mucus. When working properly and not overburdened with excessive pollen, the mucus harmlessly goes down your throat and is disposed of by your body. During pollen season, your body may need a little help. Nasal/sinus irrigation rinses foreign substances out of your nose and sinuses. You can choose a neti pot that uses gravity to pull water through your nose and sinuses or a method that uses positive pressure to push water gently through the nasal and sinus passages. A third type, which also uses postivie pressure, mimics the natural motion of the cilia by sending pulsating streams of water through your nose and sinuses. All three methods are effective; the choice is simply a matter of personal preference.
Mold is literally everywhere conditions are right, and mold is not very picky. If there is a place with moisture, not much light, and the tiniest food supply, mold can thrive. Outdoors it serves the purpose of eating decaying organic material, but in the home, mold is certainly not welcome. It is very important to keep a vigilant watch for moisture and take care of problems without delay. Here are some tips for mold reduction and management:
- If you would like to know the extent and kind of mold in your home to determine if you have a serious problem, you can use a home mold test kit. The test plates are sent to a lab for analysis.
- Mold flourishes when the relative humidity in your home is over 45-50%. You can use a humidity gauge to monitor humidity, and then you know if you need to take further steps to reduce humidity. You may need to use a dehumidifier to pull excess moisture out the air to thwart mold growth.
- Check for leaks in your roof, moisture seeping into your basement, leaks from water heaters, HVAC systems, refrigerators, and under sinks. Repair leaks immediately. If you have a large leak or flooding that gets carpet and belongings wet, inspect them carefully. If you are not going to be able to effectively get them dried out, dispose of them. In the case of serious water damage, it is advisable to wear protective gear during the cleanup such as non-vented goggles, mask, and gloves. If the moldy area is large, it is often best to call in a mold remediation expert.
- Of course, it is very difficult to prevent all mold in the bathroom because surfaces around tubs, showers, and sinks often stay damp after use and steam condenses on all surfaces. Using a protective barrier can slow down mold growth for as much as 2 years in some areas. Tubs and showers will require the barrier to be applied more often.
In high steam and condensation areas like bathrooms and kitchens, using an exhaust fan helps move the moisture out of the room. The use of a botanical mold deterrent can also help keep mold under control.
- Water condensation on windows throughout your house can lead to mold growth, so be sure to check behind curtains and drapes from time to time. Keep mold cleaned away and use a protective coating to slow its growth.
- Areas of your home that are not heated and cooled are especially prone to mold. Keep an eye on items stored in basements, attics, and garages. Cardboard boxes or books and magazines can take on moisture and provide an excellent home for mold.
- Although bleach will kill mold, often people with allergen sensitivity are also sensitive to chemicals. Vital Oxide is a great alternative to bleach that is equally effective, but odorless and so safe you could wash your hands in it. It works differently from bleach to achieve the same result.
- Damp laundry left too long will mold and clothes in damp closets can begin to have a musty odor. Washing clothes in a special detergent or with an additive will remove mold.
Our pets are not just animals, they are members of the family. So when a human member of the family has an allergic reaction to the pet, it is hard to know what to do. Often finding another home for the pet is not an option, so other measures need to be taken. Here are some suggestions for avoiding pet allergen:
Dust Mite Allergen
- If possible, keep the pet outdoors. There is a good chance this is not an option either, so the next best thing is to keep the pet out of the bedroom of the allergy sufferer. This may be hard, too, but it is very important.
- Pet allergen comes from three basic sources: the dander which is dead skin particles that are regularly sloughed off; the saliva from self-bathing that dries and becomes airborne; and, dried urine that also easily becomes airborne. Bathing your pet often will help reduce all types of pet allergen. Wipe pets in between baths to reduce allergen.
- Using carpet and upholstery treatments that remove or neutralize pet allergen are also helpful. Allergen sticks to pet hair so removing pet hair from upholstered furniture gets rid of allergen with the hair.
- Since pet allergen is light and easily airborne, air purifiers can help remove these particles from the air. A special furnace filter can help remove pet allergen as well.
- For pet accidents on carpet between cleanings or treatments, remove dried urine that can flake and become an airborne irritant with a spot cleaner.
About 20 million Americans react to dust mite allergen and are at risk of waking up sneezing with eyes watering. The problem is where dust mites like to live - your bed. They pick your bed because they can burrow down into the dark and they have a constant source of food - you. The moisture in the air and dead skin cells naturally cast off by your body provide their sustenance. But the dust mite itself is not the problem; it gets worse. The problem is their feces and dead body parts that become dried and airborne for you to breathe. Every time you turn over in your bed, dust mite allergen flies up. And you inhale it. If you are sensitive to dust mite allergen, this can cause you to have an allergic reaction. Here are some tips to reduce your exposure to dust mite allergen:
- Doctors say that the most effective step in avoiding dust mite allergen is to encase your mattress, box spring, and pillows with zippered covers made from fabrics that are impenetrable to dust mite allergen. Comforters also make a great home for dust mites, so zipping them into a mite proof cover is also advised.
- Other bedding should be washed at least every two weeks in hot water or with a cold water additive to eliminate mites and their allergen. Laundry detergents designed for allergen removal are a real plus. Mattress pads and toppers can be enclosed in the mattress encasing if you prefer instead of washing so often.
- Since dust mites also live in carpet and every time you walk across the room, allergen is stirred up, the best thing to do is replace carpet with a hard floor surface. Sometimes this is economically impossible, or you simply like carpet, so an alternative is to treat carpet to remove or neutralize allergens.
- Eliminate dust-catching fabric like cloth drapes and curtains or dust ruffles on your bed. If you can't part with them, try to wash them in hot water or using a cold water additive every two weeks.
Since dust mite allergen is heavy compared to other allergens, it does not remain airborne long when stirred up. Therefore, air purifiers are not highly effective for removing dust mite allergen from a room. Regularly treating carpet and upholstery throughout the house to remove or neutralize dust mite allergen is a more effective method.
- Keeping relative humidity below 45-50% is also important for dust mite control. A humidity gauge can help you know when a dehumidifier might be needed to pull excess moisture from the air.
- Since dust mite allergen is heavy, it tends to settle on the floor. Vacuuming often with a HEPA vacuum can remove a significant amount of allergen from your home. The HEPA filter is important so that the allergen is captured and does not simply come back out into the room with the exhaust from the vacuum.
Avoidance of allergens by removing them from your environment can make a real difference to allergy sufferers. If you have an allergic reaction when exposed to one of these four top trouble-making allergens, you can reduce your likelihood of a reaction by using these tips for avoidance. Even if you are one of the fortunate ones without allergies, you probably have a family member or friend who would appreciate this information, so please pass it on (they can save on the products below, too).