With plants blooming and lawn mowers running, spring and summer are often the seasons that people associate with allergies.
But many allergies have nothing to do with the season or what types of plants are in bloom. For lots of people, the root of allergy troubles is in their own home.
When allergens attack
Common indoor allergens include:
- Dust mite waste. These microscopic bugs live in most homes, especially in the bedroom.
- Pet dander from dogs, cats and other furry animals.
- Mold spores.
- Proteins found in the dried saliva and feces of cockroaches.
These allergens can irritate air passages and lungs, causing everything from a runny nose and watery eyes to sneezing and coughing. Allergens can also trigger asthma attacks. Children with asthma, for example, are particularly sensitive to airborne particles from cockroaches.
Allergic reactions often worsen with repeated exposure, and people who were once mildly allergic may have more severe reactions as time goes on.
What you can do
Fortunately, there are many things you can do to reduce allergens in your home. Though it's best to minimize irritants throughout the house, the bedrooms may be the best place to start. After all, it's where most people spend about one-third of their time, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA).
Start at the bottom. Avoid shag carpets, and replace all carpeting with hardwood, tile, linoleum or other flooring if you can. If you must have carpeting, vacuum it regularly, or have someone without allergies do it for you.
Protect your bed. This is especially important for reducing dust mites, according to the AAFA. Choose bedding made with synthetic materials rather than feathers or wool. Enclose your mattress and pillows in dust- or allergen-proof covers. Wash your sheets, blankets and other bedclothes frequently in water that's at least 130 degrees.
Use the right equipment. Install HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters in your furnace or room heating unit. Use exhaust fans or a dehumidifier, if needed, to keep indoor humidity at 50% or lower. In warmer months, use air conditioning to clean, recirculate and dehumidify the air.
Use a vacuum cleaner or vacuum bags that help control allergens.
Temper pet allergens. If pets are behind your allergies and removing the animal isn't an option, limit contact with it. Keep the animal out of bedrooms and other rooms where people with allergies spend a lot of time. Bathe your pet regularly.
Control cockroaches. If cockroaches are an issue, have your home professionally exterminated. Clean it thoroughly afterward to remove remaining cockroach allergens. Keep roaches from coming back by sealing all crevices, cracks and floor gaps. Keep food in sealed containers. Wash dishes immediately after use and clean under appliances where food crumbs accumulate.
Remove mold. Kill visible mold with a solution of no more than 1 cup of liquid bleach in 1 gallon water, recommends the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if a scrubbing with soap and water doesn't do the job.
Limit dust collectors. Limit the number of surfaces in your home, such as picture frames or stacks of books, where dust can collect.
Don't keep any more than one or two stuffed toys, and wash them often in hot water. For children's bedrooms, consider using wooden, metal or plastic toys that can be easily washed and stored in a container.
For window coverings, use washable, lightweight curtains instead of blinds. Replace upholstered furniture with wooden or metal chairs that you can scrub. Keep closet doors shut and limit the amount of clothing inside.
Surfaces that do collect dust, such as tops of doors, furniture and window frames, should be cleaned weekly with a damp cloth. If someone without allergies can't do the dusting, wear a filter mask.
Find out what works for you
Talk to your doctor about which allergens are especially troublesome for you, and what other measures might help you find relief.