Spring allergy season is in full bloom, if you’ll pardon the pun. Allergies don’t just make you feel wretched, they’re costly:
- Prescription drugs and over-the-counter medicines are expensive, even when insurance plans remove some of the sting.
- Visiting allergy specialists frequently is costly in terms of both time and money.
- A course of allergy shots (immunotherapy) is effective for many but treatment can go on for a year or longer. Depending on your insurance, it may be prohibitively expensive.
- Time lost from work and school is perhaps the biggest cost of all.
Climate change boosts pollen counts
If your allergies seem worse this year, global warming may be partly to blame. Increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere stimulates plant growth, dumping lots more pollen into the air, says USA Today.
“Doctors say it’s contributing to a rise in seasonal hay fever and allergic asthma in the USA, where the pollen season has lengthened up to 16 days since 1995,” the newspaper says.
Lewis Ziska, a U.S. Department of Agriculture weed ecologist and researcher, told USA Today that airborne pollen doubled in the last century and he expects the pollen explosion to continue.
Control allergens at home
You can’t cool off the climate single-handedly (although the Environmental Protection Agency lists many ways you can make a difference). The key is controlling your indoor air quality and reducing allergens like pollen, dust, mold and animal dander.
Your best weapons: a rag and dust mop. “With aggressive cleaning, you can improve indoor air quality and reduce allergy symptoms,” says the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
1. Dust often
Dusting, sitting in chairs and just moving around a home stir clouds of pollen, dust mites, animal dander and allergens from mold and cockroaches into the air.
“There may be as many as 19,000 dust mites in 1 gram of dust, but usually between 100 to 500 mites live in each gram,” says the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology website.
Sounds like you shouldn’t dust. But letting dust accumulate is worse, so you actually should dust, and frequently. Dusting tips:
- Use a damp cloth and a damp floor mop.
- Wear a dust mask while you work (the kind you get at hardware stores) if you have allergies.
2. Close the windows
It’s hard to shut out fresh air in the warm months, but if pollen or mold are problems for someone in your family, keep windows closed. That goes for the car, too. Driving with windows down streams pollen into your breathing space. Turn on the AC instead.
3. Go Zen
Go on a decluttering campaign. Toss displays of books, CDs, tchotchkes and collections. You’ll reduce dust collectors in your environment, make dusting easier and get to enjoy a contemporary, Zen-like aesthetic.
4. Be skeptical about air purifiers
Reviews are mixed on whether air purifiers and air cleaners really help allergy sufferers. (There’s no functional difference between air purifiers and air cleaners, according to EnergyStar.com. They aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.)
Because they are expensive – from $100 to $1,000 and up – try the simple steps we’re suggesting first. If you’re seriously bothered in pollen season, wear protective glasses outdoors and change clothes and shower after entering the house.
Better air purifiers do especially well at filtering pollutant particles such as dust, tobacco smoke, and pollen. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other types of gaseous pollutants, however, are another matter.
But do they relieve allergy suffering? The jury is out. The New York Times tested and reviewed several but came to no conclusions and lumped them in a category with “faith-based wellness products like nutritional supplements.”
Ozone is a respiratory irritant. The Times and Consumer Reports advise against buying ozone-producing machines.
5. Get a true HEPA vacuum
Companies use the term “true HEPA” to indicate that their products meet HEPA standards. Others advertising themselves as HEPA-like and HEPA style may or may not be as good.
Use a cyclonic vacuum, which spins dust and dirt away from the floor, or a vacuum with a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter. Vacuums with HEPA filters can trap a large amount of very small particles that other vacuum cleaners cannot.
6. Use mite-proof bedding
I’ll say this up front: The conversation about mites is a little gross. I’ll make it quick.
Dust mites are a type of microscopic arachnid (related to spiders). They don’t bite. Their favorite habitat: your home, especially carpets, bedding and soft furniture.
Here’s the icky part: They eat flakes of skin and dander shed by us and our pets. An allergic reaction to dust mites is an inflammatory response to the proteins in their bodies and waste products.
OK, enough of that.
The home assault on mites has many fronts. They’re difficult to completely eliminate but you can contain them by enclosing pillows, mattresses, box springs and comforters in cases made of mite-resistant material. You’ll find these where bedding is sold. Also, consider buying pillows and comforters made of allergy-free materials.
These products typically cost about $50 to $100 each or more. Ask a local allergist to recommend a cheap source.
7. Wash bedding often
Wash bedding at least every two weeks in hot (not warm) water.
Some laundry products say they remove mite allergens. DeMite laundry additive claims to help eradicate dust mite allergens (using water of any temperature). Amazon's product description says it contains “nonionic anionic surfactants, benzyl benzoate, tea tree oil, methyl salicylate.”
8. Use smooth-surfaced furniture
Wood, vinyl, metal, leather and hard plastics are best furniture materials if you’re concerned about resisting dust mites.
9. Pull up carpets
Vacuuming is unlikely to dislodge dust mites and animal dander deep in carpets and soft furniture. You’ll need a ruthless removal campaign. Rip out wall-to-wall carpeting and discard it. Remove from the house old area rugs, stuffed toys, overstuffed furniture, and mattresses and bedding that aren’t in mite-proof cases or can’t be washed in hot water.
Replace carpeting with washable throw rugs. If you must keep carpets, anti-dust mite powders and sprays are available for use on them.
10. Take down drapes
Heavy drapes and curtains are a dust mite habitat. Get them out of the house. Replace them with blinds and shades and dust them frequently.
11. Control humidity
Mites like it warm and humid. They die when the humidity drops below 40 percent or 50 percent. Mold loves humidity, too.
Use a dehumidifier or air conditioner. Set the humidity level to 50 percent or less. Keep your eye on indoor humidity by taking frequent readings.
Change furnace and air conditioner filters at least every three months. The ACAAI recommends filters with a MERV rating of 8 to 12.
12. Find pets another home
Pet lovers are likely to draw the line at giving up their beloved animal buddies. But allergists (doctors who treat allergies and asthma) may say they’ve got to go. I know one allergist who so hates telling patients they must get rid of their pets that she offers to find a home for any animal that must be displaced — at her own house if necessary.
13. Look into “hypoallergenic” dogs
Certain dog breeds are thought to be less apt to trigger allergies. The prime allergen from dogs “is a protein found in dog serum, and dogs excrete that allergen in sweat and shed it from their skin,” WebMD says. The protein is also found in dogs’ urine and saliva.
The American Kennel Club lists 11 breeds it says produce less dander and “generally do well with people with allergies”:
- Bedlington terrier.
- Bichon Frise.
- Chinese crested.
- Irish water spaniel.
- Kerry blue terrier.
- Poodle (all sizes).
- Schnauzers (all sizes).
- Soft-coated Wheaten terrier.
- Xoloitzcuintli (Mexican hairless).
- Portuguese water dogs (like the Obama family dogs, Bo and Sunny).
In truth, no dog may be free of potential allergens, Dr. Corinna Bowser, a Havertown, Pa., allergy and asthma expert, told WebMD. However, some individual dogs seem to be tolerated better by certain allergic humans. The question is far from settled.
14. Try special pet shampoos
Here’s a solution I can recommend from personal experience: Try bathing your cat with dander-reducing shampoo.
Some of you are snorting with disbelief, I’ll bet. Certainly, few kitties will agree to a bath. Mine sure didn’t. But I bathed her anyway after I developed allergy symptoms 14 years into her 18-year life. Her weekly baths allowed us to live in the same house.
Animal Planet, discussing the effectiveness of pet dander shampoos, calls their results “inconsistent.”
15. Try these other pet strategies
The American Lung Association offers other suggestions for pet owners:
- Keep pets out of the bedrooms of family members with asthma or allergies.
- Keep pets off furniture, particularly upholstered furniture.
- Keep pets off carpets.
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