Combating Allergies In Your Own Home

Hay fever season is upon us. Even though it's early spring, some parts of the country, especially the South, are already suffering from high levels of pollen in the air. But even if you're not spending much time outdoors, you may still suffer symptoms because there are many other sources of allergies in our homes.

There are effective strategies for reducing allergens indoors, according to Dr. Mallika Marshall. During a walk-through of a typical suburban house in West Peabody, Mass., Dr. Marshall demonstrated what can be done to help allergy-proof our homes and minimize exposure.

The most common allergens in our homes are:
  • pollen, especially in the spring and summer;
  • dust mites, those tiny critters that thrive in places that collect dust, like rugs and drapes, and in bedding;
  • mold, which can grow anywhere with excess moisture; and
  • pets — their dander and saliva can trigger allergic reactions.
This time of year, hay-fever sufferers should do everything they can to reduce the amount of pollen in the air in their homes. By closing the windows and using air conditioning, you can filter the air. It is important to use high-efficiency particulate air filters — better known as HEPA filters — that remove small particles. Also, cooling and heating ducts should be cleaned at least once a year.

If you window air-conditioning units rather than central air conditioning, one good idea is to cover the vents with cheesecloth: it will help filter out pollen.

We don't like to think about it, but there's no escaping dust mites. They are microscopic insects that thrive in dusty corners of the home, in heavy fabrics and rugs, and especially in our bedding. And a lot of people are allergic to them. Heavy drapes and Venetian blinds can collect dust, so replace them with shades. Dust itself isn't really an allergen, but it can be irritating to your lungs and nasal passages. If you're sensitive to dust, don't use fans in your house — they stir up whatever dust you have and keep it in the air.

In the bedroom, you can reduce your exposure to dust mites by using plastic covers on pillows, mattresses and box springs. Avoid over-stuffed furniture and don't use down-filled bedding or pillows. Wash your sheets and pillowcases at least once a week in hot water to keep the dust mite population down. You want to vacuum at least twice a week, and if you're really sensitive, wear a painter's mask when you do. Rugs collect dust, so along with vacuuming, wash them regularly. Hardwood floors are better than carpet, and if you must have carpeting, make it low-pile, not shag.

Technically, smoke is not an allergen, but obviously it can irritate the throat and lungs, and if you have an allergy, that will only make it worse. So how many times can we say it -- don't smoke, or allow smoking by others in your home. And in the kitchen, install a vent hood over the stove to rid your home of cooking smoke and fumes.

Mold is caused by moisture, and one obvious place to find mold is the bathroom. You want to wash your shower curtains and tiles with mold-killing solutions, and open the bathroom door after showering, to let humid air out. That's the key: keep things as dry as possible.

As a general rule, it's a good idea to keep the humidity in your home below 50 percent if you are allergic to mold spores. You'll also want to simply avoid some naturally damp parts of your home as much as possible, such as basements and crawl spaces. You can also install de-humidifiers.

Another place that's prone to mold is the laundry room. You should remove damp laundry from the washer quickly — mold grows quickly on damp clothes. And use a dryer — heat kills the mold spores. If you're storing clothes, be sure they are completely dry before putting them in sealed containers.

Finally, we love our dogs and cats, but pets' dander and saliva can also bring on allergies. One obvious way to keep that out of the home is to leave the animals outside. But of course most people aren't going to do that even if they could. Two things you can do is keep them out of your bedroom, and bathe them often. That should help a lot.
  • David Morgan

    David Morgan is a senior editor at CBSNews.com and cbssundaymorning.com.

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