Just When You Thought Allergy Season Was Over…

October 03, 2012

By David Blyweiss, M.D.

In This Issue:

  • Why allergies can be worse in the fall and winter
  • Eliminating the top 5 allergens in your home
  • How to combat indoor air pollution

If you were about to breathe a sigh of relief that the two worst allergy seasons of the year are passed… think again.

For some, the worst seasons are just beginning.

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Your home houses an army of allergens. And as fall and winter kick in, and windows are closed more often than open, their impact can be even more acute.

You’ll suffer a lot less this year if you take some time now, during the season change, to rid yourself of as many allergens as possible.

And take note – some of the items on my list of the top 5 home allergens are easier to eliminate than others. But you can at least reduce their presence in your home once you know where to look and what to change.

Inside Allergen #1: Houseplants
Most people get plants thinking it will improve the air quality in their homes. But damp soil is a breeding ground for mold. Keep the soil on the dry side, and water them in smaller amounts more often, so mold doesn’t have a chance to grow.

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Also, beware of the Christmas tree! If left inside too long, it can release the motherlode of mold spores into your home. Ho, ho, ho, indeed. If you must have a live tree, cut it yourself, and keep it for a short time, before mold has a chance to grow.

Inside Allergen #2: Pets
No big surprise here. Pet hair and dander are the biggest detractor of owning pets, whether you consider yourself “allergic” to them or not. If you are going to own a pet, you’re going to have to work harder to get rid of allergens — but it’s not impossible. There are some pet shampoos that reduce dander, and there are some breeds that are considered less allergenic than others. Or, there is always good old-fashioned cleaning like crazy after them.

There is an entire industry aimed at helping pet owners suffer less. In the same way you wouldn’t skip caring for them, don’t skip caring for yourself, either, by doing the extra work it takes to reduce their allergic impact on you and your guests.

Inside Allergen #3: Candles and Air Fresheners
The very products many people use to improve the air in their home could be the biggest allergy offenders. Candles and air fresheners often include what’s known as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s), such as formaldehyde, petroleum distillates, limonene and other substances that increase asthma and allergies.

You are better off using baking soda to absorb odors. Sprinkle on your carpet and vacuum once a week. Keep a box in your closet, mix some in with your kitty litter. And if you must burn candles – for ambiance if nothing else – use soy candles instead of wax. And if they are scented, make sure it is with an essential oil that you’re not allergic or sensitive to.

Inside Allergen #4: Carpeting
If you could put your carpeting under a microscope and see the dust mites and built up allergens it contains, you would probably go rip it out yourself. But if getting rid of your carpeting isn’t an option, at least vacuum regularly – as often as once or twice a week. Invest in a vacuum with a built-in HEPA filter and a tight seal so you aren’t just stirring up the allergens. If you have severe allergies, try to hand off vacuum duty to someone who doesn’t, or wear a dust mask.

Inside Allergen #5: Bedding and Stuffed Animals
The change of seasons is a great time to air out your bed and bedding — also known as dust mite condos. Anything that can be washed should be, in very hot water, and then shaken and aired outside. Anything that can’t be should be wrapped in plastic for three days or put in the freezer for a few hours and then shaken vigorously. Vacuum your mattress. Also, encasing mattresses and pillows in impermeable casings will keep the dust mites from taking up residence.

And there is one more important step you can do to reduce the air pollution in your home…

Your heating and cooling system has a filter that provides a physical barrier between the air intake and the moving parts of the HVAC system. As air is drawn in through the intake, particulates are caught by the filter and prevented from entering the system while the air is allowed to pass through. But it also works by preventing pollutants from being blown back into the interior environment as well.

And if you want to go one step further, you can get an air purifier. There are some concerns over whether these produce unsafe levels of ozone – which is good for the atmosphere but not as much in your home. That said, the units are pretty tightly regulated and the amounts of ozone they generate are negligible.

Go ahead and get your season change cleaning underway – before the sneezes and sniffles begin. And pay regular attention to your indoor air. You may not have any control over the weather outside – and what blooms when. But within the four walls of your own castle, it’s all up to you.