Begin In The Bedroom
For the biggest bang for your buck and your time, the bedroom is the best place to begin allergy proofing. This is true simply because you spend such a large percentage of your time in the bedroom. Most people sleep 7 to 8 hours a night. Then add the time spent watching TV, reading, or getting dressed in the bedroom. You can see that people easily spend one-third of their lives in the bedroom. So let's take a look at how to make your bedroom a haven from allergens.
1. Allergy-Proof Your Bed
The Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) states, "The first and most important step to reduce dust mites is to cover mattresses and pillows inzippered dust-proof covers." Dust mites and their allergen will stay trapped inside the allergy cover instead of circulating in the air you breathe all night. Dust mite allergen escaping from your mattress, pillow, and box spring is similar to baby powder poofing out of its container. Every time you sit on the side of the bed or turn over, dust mite allergen is coming out just like baby powder. Sometimes people do not understand the need to encase the box spring as well as the mattress and pillow. I have another analogy for you. Think of it as taking one ibuprofen or taking two. One will help, but for maximum benefit, take two. It is the same with your bed. Encasing the mattress and pillow will make a big difference, but for maximum benefit, encase the box spring, too.
2. Laundry Care"The next most important step," continues the AAFA, "is to wash the sheets and blankets weekly in hot water." If you have bedding that cannot withstand repeated washings in hot water, an equally effective alternative is the use of an all-temperature allergen detergent or an all-temperature additive. Remember to wash mattress pads and comforters as well as sheets and blankets. All bedding not inside the encasing needs to be washed. Anything you do not want to wash every week, such as foam mattress toppers, should be placed inside the encasing (extra deep mattress encasings are available to accommodate this). Also, other fabric furnishings in your bedroom such as curtains, bed skirts, and throw rugs need to be washed every 7-14 days.
Indoor humidity should be maintained at 40-50%. In the summer it may be necessary to use a dehumidifier, especially in areas that are not air conditioned. In the winter, you may wish to use a humidifier for comfort since very dry air can be irritating to nasal and sinus passages. To be sure you are keeping the relative humidity in your bedroom at the accepted level, a humidity gauge is very helpful.
Sometimes you may notice condensation on windows and windowsills that can lead to mold and mildew. Cleaning and drying the surface and applying Vital-Oxide will help retard the reoccurrence and growth of mold and mildew. If your bathroom is right off your bedroom, moisture from the bathroom can be a problem in the bedroom, too. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends using (and installing if you don't have one) an exhaust fan vented to the outdoors. Keeping the bathroom door closed while showering can also help keep humidity low in the bedroom.
Dust is comprised of many kinds of particles, and you may be allergic to one or more of the components. Dead skin cells, mold spores, pet dander, dust mite allergen, and pollen are all part of dust. Keeping dust at a minimum is very important for the person with allergies, asthma or sinus symptoms. It is also important to collect and trap dust, not just stir it up. When dusting furniture or other surfaces, use a damp cloth or an electrostatic cloth and other dusting tools to catch dust. Eliminate as many knickknacks as possible since they are dust catchers.
Vacuuming often - weekly is good - is also recommended, and a HEPA vacuum orallergen type bags will make a big difference. When I used a HEPA vacuum for the first time, I immediately noticed that I couldn't smell dust in the air as I vacuumed. Be sure to check your bag often - I have found that it only holds so much. And with a HEPA vacuum, remember to change the HEPA filter regularly.
When furnishing the bedroom, you can choose furniture and accessories that are friendly to allergy, asthma and sinus sufferers. If you have seating in your bedroom, the best choices are wood and leather. Curtains and bedskirts can be more trouble than they are worth since all fabric in the bedroom needs to be washed at least every 2 weeks in hot water or with an all-temperature allergen laundry detergent or additive. If you have a comforter you can't wash that often and don't want to part with, put it in a special comforter encasing (see the decorator colors available at right). If you use a duvet over your comforter, put the comforter in a zippered lightweight linerand then cover with the duvet. Choose mattress pads and blankets that will hold up under repeated hot water washings.
6. Purify Your Bedroom Air
A room air purifier is very beneficial for removing such allergens as pollen, pet dander, mold spores, and some dust particles from the air. Most people say they can tell a difference in the air quality in just a day or two. For optimum benefit, keep doors and windows closed, run the air purifier 24/7, and choose the right model for the size of your room. Breathing clean air all night can help make you feel better all day. (Please note: room air purifiers are not very effective in removing dust mite allergen because it is so heavy that usually it does not stay airborne long enough to pass through an air purifier.)
According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI), other irritants to eliminate from the bedroom of someone with allergies and asthma include tobacco smoke, aerosols, paint, perfumes, cleaning products or other strong odors or fumes. Special filters for odors and fumes are available in some room air cleaners.
Whenever possible, carpet should be replaced with hard flooring, especially in the bedroom of the "sufferer". As you can imagine, dust mites love carpet. It is second only to your bed on their short list of places to live. And wherever they live, they leave behind dried body parts and excrement. Thinking about it makes me want to tiptoe around the house. When replacing carpet is not an option, the use of carpet treatments is an effective alternative. Some products kill the mites while others neutralize the allergen. Using the two types alternately gives the most benefit.
As your heating and cooling system circulates air through the house, some of the air from other rooms will drift into your bedroom. So keep the air in your whole house as clean as possible. The use of a good allergen reduction furnace filter is an effective way to reduce airborne particles. Some people prefer to change the filter about every 3 months (at the beginning of each season is a good way to remember), and others prefer a permanent filter that lasts virtually forever but needs to be washed monthly. Another way to reduce airborne particles is tocover the vent where heated or cooled air is coming into the room. We recommend covering only 1 or 2 vents because covering every vent can put a strain on your HVAC system. So start in the bedroom and then cover the vent in another room where you spend a lot of time. This is easily done by attaching filter material to the outside of the vent with a Velcro-type fastener or by placing the filter material inside the vent cover.
Conclusion: The Bucket Theory
Think of your immune system as a bucket that is constantly being filled with allergens. When it overflows, you have an allergic reaction. So the goal is to keep the bucket from overflowing, and the best way to do that is to keep allergens away from your bucket. That is why the allergen avoidance measures suggested above work to make your bedroom a haven from allergens and may help reduce the frequency and extent of allergic reactions.