By The Allergy, Asthma & Sinus Center
Have you ever wondered if it’s possible to avoid spring or year-round allergy triggers? You’re not alone! While you might not be able to avoid all of them, you can take specific measures to significantly lessen your exposure to the most common ones, namely, house dust mites, mold, animal dander, and pollen. Knowing what your allergy triggers are is the first step in creating an effective avoidance plan. Schedule a skin test with us to determine your precise allergens. Once you’ve identified them and how you’re exposed to them, you can begin managing your allergies.
House dust contains many different particles that can trigger an allergic reaction. One of the most common particles is a protein found in the bodies and feces of dust mites. Dust mites are microscopic, insect-like creatures that thrive off animal and human dander. They live in even the cleanest of homes, though they are less likely to survive in dry climates and at high altitudes. Dust mites can be found predominately in pillows, mattresses, carpet, upholstered furniture, stuffed animals and clothing. The true allergen from the dust mite is not the mite itself but its body proteins and waste particles. Although these particles settle onto surface areas, they are easily disrupted and dispersed into the air whenever we vacuum, move a pillow, or hug a stuffed animal, which makes them very easy to inhale and thus cause an allergic reaction.
The bedroom is where you can make the most significant reduction in exposure to dust mites. Since dust mites thrive in pillows and mattresses, use dust-mite proof covers that completely enclose each pillow and the mattress, even on pillows labeled “allergy free.” Comfortable covers that do not interrupt sleep patterns can be purchased. Feather pillows and “down” comforters should be avoided at all costs.
Dust mites can be killed and their waste removed by machine washing sheets and pillowcases in the hot water cycle and by using a dryer. Sheets and pillowcases should not be dried on a clothesline because mold and pollen will settle onto them. All bedding should be stored in plastic containers or in tightly closed drawers or closets.
Carpet presents a big problem in dust mite avoidance. If possible, bedroom carpeting should be removed. Studies clearly show that removal of carpet decreases dramatically the exposure to dust mites. If removing carpet is impossible or impractical, it should be vacuumed at least two times a week.
High room humidity not only increases the dust mite’s ability to reproduce, it encourages the growth of mold. Consider purchasing a humidity gauge to ensure the levels stay at less than 50%–40 % is optimal.
Here are other important dust mite-reducing measures for the bedroom:
• Do not use ceiling fans.
• Close or place a guard over the bedroom vent.
• Remove all stuffed animals. If they must stay, machine wash them in the hot cycle. Freezing them or placing them in the sun will kill the dust mites, but it will not remove their waste. Only washing at temperatures higher than 130 degrees will eliminate both the mite and its byproducts.
• Remove clutter and simplify the area around the headboard and bedside tables. Fewer items collect less dust.
• Dust daily with a damp cloth or a commercial dusting product.
• Bookcase headboards with decorative items should not be used.
• Avoid placing the head of the bed near or against a window.
• Pull the bed away from the wall to vacuum and dust the area once a month.
• Keep closet doors shut.
• Venetian blinds and wicker furniture should be avoided. They are difficult to keep dust-free.
Dust avoidance involves diligence, but by exercising control over your environment, you can help control your allergies.
Mold, a very prevalent organism, forms spores that “pop off” into the air where they can be inhaled and cause allergy problems. Mold usually grows anywhere there is adequate heat, darkness, and moisture.
The mold count is usually highest in the air:
• when the weather is hot and muggy
• immediately after a rain
• in barns with hay and mulch
• in piles of leaves and compost
• in damp basements and bathrooms
To avoid mold:
• stay out of barns where hay is stored
• avoid raking leaves
• eliminate damp areas around the home
• remove mold sources, such as old carpeting and furniture that has gotten wet or has been stored in a moldy environment
• clean leaks and flooded areas within 24 hours
• do not steam clean carpets or use carpet in the bathroom
• clean bathroom surfaces with an oxidizing agent such as diluted chlorine bleach (1 cup Clorox® to 1⁄2 gallon of water)
• avoid potted plants, old books and live Christmas trees
We can never completely avoid mold; however, with knowledge of mold growth and an understanding of mold prevention, avoidance can be properly implemented and can make allergic individuals more comfortable.
Pollen is produced by plants and is dispersed in the wind. In our geographic area, pollens that cause people the most problems include tree pollen in February through May; grass pollen in April, May and June; and weed pollen from mid-August until the first hard frost. The shape of pollen makes it very easy for the pollen to be spread through the air on windy days. Ragweed pollen has been found as far as 40 miles from its originating site. It is not uncommon for tree, grass, and weed pollen to be found in the air as high as two miles up and as far as three miles out to sea. This makes avoidance of pollen very difficult. However, understanding that pollen is dispersed more abundantly in the morning hours and on windy days allows us to plan outdoor activities appropriately. Also, immediately after a rain the air is relatively clear of pollen, but be aware that the mold content in the air may increase.
By knowing the season and the specific months in which you usually have problems, it is easy to plan indoor activities during that time of year. If your problems occur for only six or eight weeks, then you should avoid outside activities if possible during that time of year. Change clothes after outdoor activities, and shower before bedtime to avoid taking pollen to bed with you. Avoid being outside while grass is being cut. If that is impossible, a mask and sunglasses should be worn to protect the nose and eyes. Always use air conditioning in the house, keep the windows up in your car, and use the recycled air button on the car air conditioner. Certain new models of automobiles have pollen free filtration systems—a feature to consider in the purchase of a new automobile.
Seasonal pollen cannot be controlled but exposure to it can be reduced by using air conditioning, planning, and limiting outdoor activities.
The easiest allergy avoidance measure to take with pet allergies is often the most difficult—removing the beloved animal from the home. Their dander, or skin flakes, as well as their saliva and urine can cause allergic reactions. Once these particles are in a room, it can take up to two months (for a dog) to four months (for a cat) to eliminate them.
If it is not possible to keep the pets out of the house, they should at least be excluded from the bedroom. HEPA (high energy particulate air) filters should be used in the bedroom, even if the animal is never in there. Animal dander will find its way into the bedroom from clothing and simple air movement.
Keeping pets on a non-carpeted floor and bathing them on a weekly basis will markedly reduce exposure to animal dander, saliva, and urine. Washing a cat may be a challenge (since most cats hate to be washed), but considering the impact allergies can have on someone, any measure to decrease exposure should be taken.
Reducing your exposure to allergens through avoidance and environmental control is the most basic, cost effective, and least invasive treatment an allergic person can have. Take control and actively participate in the management of your allergies. But if these avoidance measures aren’t practical or, as in the case of a family pet, aren’t feasible, you may want to consider immunotherapy (or allergy shots). They’re the closest thing to a cure and a realistic alternative to anyone who may suffer from multiple allergies. Call us today!
Dr. Phil Jones is a board certified allergist with The Allergy, Asthma & Sinus Center. For more information, visit www.allergyasc.com.