Allergy Proofing Your Home
Introduction: You have been told your child has allergies, and that it is best to avoid all possible allergens. How in the world are you supposed to do that? Where should you begin? Lets try to break down the problem with manageable segments.
What are allergens? Allergens are items that cause an allergic reaction in some people. Common allergens are dust and dust mites, animal dander, mold, pollen, ragweed, grasses, and trees. Some allergens like pollens are seasonal, and others, such as dust and animals are perennial, meaning they are always present and not affected by the weather or growing seasons.
What are the symptoms of allergies? Most frequently one hears of the persistent clear runny nose, sneezing, and itchy watery eyes. Allergy sufferers also get headaches and scratchy throats from the congestion and post-nasal drip. Sometimes allergies can make people feel more run down.
Why do allergens cause symptoms? Allergens cause symptoms primarily because they contribute to the release of histamine. Mast cells are cells found in abundance in everyone’s blood and contain receptors or puzzle like molecules that when attached to an irritant cause the release of histamine. Histamine causes blood vessels to leak (hence, the runny nose and eyes and congestion) and causes enlargement of blood vessels (hence, the bloodshot eyes). Allergy medications work by counteracting or blocking histamine (antihistamines such as Benadryl, Chlortrimeton, Claritin and Allegra) or preventing the release of histamine (steroid nose sprays and Singulair).
Why are dust allergies so difficult to deal with? Dust mites live on the particles of human skin that are shed continually. Both the mites and their waste products are inhaled and cause allergic reactions. Each mite excretes 20 waste particles per day. A female mite lays 25-50 eggs, with a new generation created every 3 weeks, so you can imagine how, in a very short time, there can be thousands or millions of allergy producing particles in your environment. Dust mites are in pillows, mattresses, carpeting, curtains, and many other areas. Dust and dust mites are some of the most common, widespread, and difficult to eradicate allergens.
How do I know which allergens affect my child? This is a potentially complicated issue. In some cases this is very clear. For example: exposure to a cat is directly linked to sneezing, or every spring, one experiences mild congestion and a scratchy throat which disappears as the season progresses. The more complicated cases are children who have allergic symptoms to varying degrees most of the year. These are the children who need allergy proofing! Such children are often sensitive to multiple allergens. Think of each individual’s tolerance to allergens as a bucket. If too many allergens are in the bucket, it overflows and the person experiences symptoms. Many allergens may not show up as a significant problem on allergy testing, but when combined together can cause a problem. Therefore, it makes sense to eliminate as many allergens as possible, and minimize exposures to the unavoidable things such as pollens and grasses. In our office, we do a simple blood test to determine your child’s potential allergens. Allergists will often inject a small amount of the offending allergen and look for a skin reaction.
How do I eliminate allergens? Eliminating allergens can be an overwhelming task, so it is necessary to prioritize. Children spend more than one third of their time in their bedrooms, therefore it is a logical place to begin. After the bedroom, address playrooms and family rooms where kids spend a lot of time. Remember, children spend a lot of time on or near the floor, and therefore have a greater exposure to dust. General changes for the household will include methods of cleaning. If pets cause a reaction, the family is faced with a difficult issue. If possible, try to relocate the pet to family or a friend’s home. For many families this is not an option, and by following all other allergy proofing guidelines, including keeping the pets out of the child’s bedroom, the situation may become tolerable. Please see the following suggestions for different rooms and general household changes.
- Remove “dust catchers” such as carpeting, curtains, stuffed animals, excessive bed covers&bed skirts. Replace with washable stuffed animals and washable curtains or blinds.
- Remove all wool, down, and feathers. Wash bedding weekly in hot water to help kill dust mites.
- Cover pillows and mattresses in allergy-proof covers (there are millions of dust mites in them). Some larger home stores are now carrying these special covers, or they can be ordered online.
- Do not allow pets into the bedroom at any time.
- Vacuum bags should be changed frequently for greater efficiency. Also, change to ultra filtration vacuum bags that retain the dust and allergens better (normal bags are too porous).
- ‘Dust’ with a damp cloth and damp mop after vacuuming, allow about one hour for dust to settle. A Wet Mop Swiffer is a wonderful product for dust allergen sufferers.
- Bleach (10%) is useful for killing molds in damp areas.
- Anti-allergen sprays and carpet cleaners are available with special ingredients for reducing dust mites (ex: Acarosan and tannic acid).
- HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Arresting) filters (Sears and others) are extremely good for reducing the circulating allergens in large areas. Consider investing in them for bedrooms and/or the family room. They are designed for different sized rooms, and look for one with a high rate of air re-circulation (at least every 10 minutes).
- Install electronic air filters on forced air furnaces and air conditioning systems (call your HVAC company).
- Give pets anti-allergen baths every 2 weeks (discuss with your vet).
- Do not permit smoking in your home or car.
- Dehumidify-keeping humidity <50% helps to prevent the growth of molds and dust mites.
- When humidifiers are required for colds/illness-clean frequently with hot water and either vinegar or bleach.
- Basements should be carefully monitored for mold growth.
- Remove carpeting wherever possible.
- For children with seasonal allergies as well, remember pollen counts are highest between 5-10 a.m. It is best to avoid outdoor activities and to keep windows closed at night. Daily pollen and ragweed levels are often reported on the local news. Use a bag on lawn mowers to minimize airborne allergens.