Ahhh-choo! Keeping Home Allergens at Bay

Summer is not the best season for allergy sufferers. Allergens are everywhere; there is no escaping the congestion, sneezing and itchy eyes that plague allergy sufferers. Outside allergens lurk in the mulch, leaf piles, gutters and anywhere that pollen and mold spores can be found, sending allergy sufferers indoors. Unfortunately there is a whole different source of allergens inside. Dust, mold, mildew, dander and mites inhabit the furniture, knick-knacks, draperies, bedding, carpeting, pets and what seems like every spot in between, just waiting to wreak havoc.

Although avoiding allergens seems next to impossible, it is not necessary to strip your house of everything that you love to create an allergy-free area. Allergy sufferers can improve the quality of their lives by understanding how allergens function and focusing on basic allergen control.

According to Dr. Charles Lane of Allergy Partners in Lynchburg, “Over the past 30 years, the number of people suffering with allergies is definitely on the rise.” Viral infections, as well as exposure to certain chemicals and indoor and outdoor pollutants, all contribute to developing allergic responses. Understanding the causes of an allergic response is the first step to controlling allergies.

Outside allergens include tree, grass and weed pollens and molds. To help avoid allergic reactions, clean out gutters where leaves collect and decay. Rid the garden of decaying garden debris that creates mold spores. Consider using stones as mulch instead of tree bark.

Lane explains that dust mites, mold, mildew and animal dander are the major indoor culprits. Dust mites are probably the biggest source of home allergies. The proteins in the fecal pellets of dust mites cause the allergic response, and they can accumulate in anything upholstered, in carpeting, draperies, bedding, pillows, stuffed toys and more.

Since about one-third of a person’s day is spent in the bedroom, concentrate on cleaning that room first. To avoid dust mites, place pillows and mattresses in impermeable covers to form barriers through which allergens cannot pass. Dr. Lane recommends that bedding be washed once a week in hot water above 130 degrees to kill dust mites (cold water is ineffective). Stuffed toys can also be washed; however Lane points out “a washed stuffed toy never looks quite the same.” Instead, place the toy in a plastic zip-lock bag and leave it in the freezer overnight. This will kill the offending mites without destroying the integrity of the toy.

For those allergic to cat and dog dander, minimize the allergic person’s contact with the pet and keep it out of that person’s bedroom. After children play with a pet, have them change their clothes. Just being near clothing concentrated with dander can cause an allergic response, not only to the one wearing the clothes but to anyone coming into contact with that person.

If you clean regularly, it is possible to rid the house of much of the dust and mold that causes allergic responses. Vacuum carpets, upholstered furniture, draperies and other areas that cannot be washed. Make sure that your vacuum has a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter. Keep things simple. Avoid open shelving and clutter. Store as much as possible in drawers and closets and keep closet doors closed.

Beyond Routine Housecleaning
According to Keith Kessler of Efficient Air Solutions in Lynchburg, “It is very important to clean the ventilation system.” He explains that the air in a home is constantly recirculated, and once pollutants get into the system they must be filtered out. He points out the necessity of maintaining clean, good-quality air filters. Vacuum them weekly, especially if there is a lot of activity in the household. Keep a check on humidity levels. They should be maintained between 45 and 50 percent. Dust mites need moisture to survive, and the installation of a dehumidifier can work wonders to curtail infestation. Install a centralized system or at least a room dehumidifier in the bedroom.

Consider installing a centralized air cleaner or an individual room air cleaner. Models on the market today do a remarkable job at filtering air and trapping allergens such as dander and pollen. Dr. Lane provides a word of caution when using electrostatic filters that produce ozone, however; ozone can affect asthma sufferers.

Another key element in allergen control is the heating and cooling system, and particularly the ductwork. “Ductwork notoriously leaks,” explains David Mosley of Mosley Heating and Air. He believes it is the most important feature in controlling allergens in the home. As it leaks, it draws air from non-desirous places like the attic, crawl space and walls. Damp air combines with dust and dirt, resulting in mold. Unfiltered air goes through the ducts and into the living space. Mosley recommends checking for leaks and sealing them. He says that the best way to control allergies is to “attack it at all ends.” Make sure that the air filtration system is in good working order, service the heating and cooling units on a regular schedule, and inspect duct work.

Allergy control begins at home. Focus on the basics. You can maintain quality indoor air with these measures: routine cleaning, adequate filtration systems, ensuring that your heating and cooling system is working properly, and controlling household humidity. With these simple steps, allergy sufferers can work to avoid the sneezing and wheezing that comes with every season.

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