Whether we start sneezing in a dusty room, or get itchy from wearing a wool sweater, allergies affect most of us sooner or later. Fortunately there are ways to control these symptoms. Seasonal or year-round allergies affect an estimated 86 million people in the U.S. If you are one of these individuals, you know the symptoms - nasal congestion, sneezing and itching of the eyes (in about half of cases), nose, throat or skin. For those with asthma, an allergic reaction can also trigger an asthma episode. Allergic symptoms range from mild to debilitating.
A general rule of thumb relating to eye problems is: "if it itches, it's allergy; if it burns or stings, it's probably dry eye; and if the eyelids stick together in the morning, with crusts on the eyelashes, it's bacterial conjunctivitis." Some of these conditions don't call for a doctor's visit but severe pain or loss of vision warrants an immediate call to the eye doctor.
Exposure to any number of different allergens can cause allergy symptoms. These allergens are everywhere, with a surprising number in your home. Knowing what causes your allergies will help you to focus your efforts in controlling them. Consult with your health care provider. He or she will begin by taking a detailed history of your symptoms and when they occur. Are they seasonal or year-round? Are they worse when you are indoors or outdoors? Are they more of a problem during the day or night? To confirm suspected allergies, allergy testing may be conducted by an allergist.
The best way to prevent allergies is to avoid the allergens that trigger your symptoms by making changes to your indoor environment, and by choosing your outdoor environment more carefully. Reducing exposure to the offending allergens through indoor environmental controls is usually the least expensive and, in many cases, the most effective method for managing allergies. Even if your allergies require medications and/or immunotherapy, environmental controls should always be an integral part of your treatment plan. The most common of the indoor allergens are house dust mites, cockroaches, indoor molds and animal dander.
Dust mites are microscopic creatures that live in our homes. Their waste products and decaying bodies are a year-round problem. To reduce your exposure to dust mites, it is most important to focus on your bedroom. You spend more time in this room than any other in the house, so it is here that your efforts will have the greatest impact. Some of the likely sources of exposure are your pillow, mattress and bedding where they tend to live. The following steps are essential to reducing this exposure:
Regular vacuum cleaning
- Encase your mattress and box spring in an allergen-impermeable cover - or replace the mattress.
- Encase your pillow in an allergen-impermeable cover or wash it weekly in hot water (130 degrees F is necessary to kill mites.)
- Wash sheets, blankets and comforters weekly in hot water.
- In a child's bedroom, stuffed animals can be a significant source of dust mite exposure. Sleeping with stuffed animals should be limited for a child who has a dust mite sensitivity. If one or two are necessary, they too should be washed regularly in hot water.
- Reduce indoor humidity to less than 50% (dust mites thrive in areas of high humidity.) Studies have shown air-conditioned homes have ten times fewer dust mite allergens than non-air-conditioned homes. You can also use a dehumidifier in the bedroom.
- When possible, remove carpets and use washable rugs, especially in the bedroom.
- Avoid sleeping or lying on stuffed furniture.
is important. It should preferably be done by someone other than the allergic individual and while he or she is not out of the room. If this is not possible, the allergic individual should wear a dust mask while vacuuming. Essential is a vacuum cleaner with a good filtration system and/or special vacuum bags that have two layers to keep dust from escaping. These bags are available for most brands of vacuums from allergy supply companies. Cockroaches
have become increasingly recognized as a potent indoor allergen
, especially in inner cities. If someone in your household is sensitive to cockroaches and roaches are present in your home, it is essential to eliminate them. After removing them, keep them away by cutting off their food supply. It is also important to do a thorough leaning of the areas they inhabited. The allergens from cockroaches are their waste product, decaying bodies and saliva. Once the roaches are gone, these will continue to cause allergic reactions if they are not removed by cleaning.Pets
produce dander (flakes of dead skin), saliva and urine, all of which can be allergenic. The most effective way to get rid of these allergens is to remove the pet from the home and many allergists would argue that this is essential. Although giving away a pet can be an upsetting experience, it is often the only solution that eliminates the allergic person's discomfort and allows him or her to live a healthier life. This is particularly important for those whose allergy triggers asthma. If removing your pet is not an option then the next most effective solution is to keep the animal out of the allergic individual's bedroom. If you have forced air heating or air-conditioning, cover the air ducts that lead into that person's bedroom with a filter or, even more preferable, close off the duct with plastic and heat the room with an electric heater. Having a non-allergic person wash the pet weekly (washing in water works as well as expensive pet shampoos) also helps.Indoor mold
sources include damp basements, showers stalls and curtains, room humidifiers, refrigerator and dehumidifier pans, and houseplants. Mold grows best in places that are damp and dark. To reduce mold growth in these areas, provide lots of light and adequate ventilation and make sure bathrooms are properly vented. Dehumidifiers can be helpful, especially in damp basements. A simple method to remove mold is to clean surfaces with a solution of one part bleach to 10 parts water.