The Great Indoors: An Allergen Haven?

By this time of year, many people are glad to see Winter's grumpy face retreat into the background and Spring's warm smile appear.  But of course, Spring brings its own mischief for people who suffer from allergies.

In the coldest of climates, furnaces have been running pretty much non-stop and even in the warmer states at least a night- the heat is turned on and turned up.

Most everyone's home has been closed up and sealed tight to prevent cold air from entering or warm air from escaping which creates a perfect environment for indoor allergens.

The number one allergen is dust mites. These awful little creatures thrive in warm, humid places. Other allergens are house dust, cockroaches, mold spores, pet dander (dead skin cells) and even indoor plants.

You've probably heard of dust mites and have seen the magnified pictures that resemble alien looking spiders.  You can't see them but they have 8 legs, are blind and naturally live indoors. If you have them (and you probably do) it doesn't mean your house is dirty, it just means that they are nearly impossible to eradicate completely. But you can cut down on how many you have and improve your indoor allergies.

They can't drink liquids so they survive on humidity. Their legs have little pads that help them attach to fibers in carpets, upholstery, mattresses, feather pillows, and stuffed animals. The less humidity in the house- the deeper they retreat into these places. What do they eat? They depend on human secretions and skin cells we shed. They love bedrooms where they can breed on mattresses, pillows, box springs, curtains, carpets, and any other fibers in the room.

Children are particularly susceptible to indoor allergens and you may notice that your child has watery eyes and trouble breathing when they've been in the house for a long period of time.

What can you do to help eliminate dust mites? One option is to move to a place where the elevation is over 5,000 feet above sea level, dust mites are rarely found there. If that isn't possible you can try the following to reduce the dust mite population.

-       Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter.

-       Consider getting rid of your carpeting.

-       Keep indoor humidity below 55% and use vents in the bathroom.

-       Vacuum upholstery regularly.

-       Use allergen "proof casings on the mattresses, box springs and pillows.

-       Wash your sheets and pillowcases in hot water every week.

-       Avoid throw pillows or coverings that can't be washed.

-       Buy machine washable stuffed toys and wash once a week. Dry them thoroughly.

Another common indoor allergen is dust. I live in the country on sandy soil. Dusting could be a full time job in our house it never seems to be completely eliminated.

However, dust isn't just dirt blown in from outside. It includes a combination of many natural bi-products such as dried food particles, mold spores, pollen, fabric fibers, animal danger and insect parts. If you are accustomed to spraying furniture polish then wiping surfaces to get rid of dust, try spraying your cloth instead then wiping. Too much oil can create a sticky buildup that attracts dust quicker. Citrus oils tend to repel dust a little longer. Microfiber dusters work well since they pick up dust without any spraying.

Cockroaches are a mighty indoor allergen. They can be a major irritant to asthma and nasal allergies. They like kitchens, particularly areas where water splashes or leaks. They also like to travel, and where there is food they'll find it. Children's bedrooms are notorious for hidden, forgotten or dropped food.

Houseplants look beautiful but they can also produce mold spores, another indoor allergen that affects some people more than others. You don't need to get rid of your houseplants, but make sure that you remove dead leaves and avoid over-watering. If your plant sits in a saucer, clean it periodically to remove dirt, water and mold buildup.

Pet dander, not pet fur, causes a lot of people to have allergic reactions. The problem is the proteins found in saliva, urine and dander that become airborne and settle on furniture, carpets and curtains. Clean and vacuum often and wash hands after playing with the pet.

How many times have you read about the importance of reading to young kids? Well books can contain book lice (yes there is such a thing). Books can also harbor dust mites and mold " particularly old books that sit on bookshelves and never leave. Don't stop reading to or encouraging your child to read but you may want to decrease the humidity and vacuum book surfaces every so often. Storing books in a closed container can also help.

Bathrooms can be really troublesome to children and adults with allergies. Mildew in showers, on countertops, bathtub linings and grout can produce mold spores. Black mold can form in hidden areas where moisture builds up such as in walls and under linoleum. Check for any leaks and clean surfaces regularly with a bleach solution. If you don't want to use bleach (many people are very sensitive to it), you can scrub the mildew with hot soapy water. Use a scrub pad to work the mildew off and rinse with clear water. Make sure all the soap is removed. Mix a solution of 50 /50 water and rubbing alcohol. Apply it to the mildewed area and let it air dry.

This applies to kitchen surfaces as well. If your refrigerator has a drip pan, clean it regularly to avoid standing water that can cause mold. Clean out any old foods that may have become moldy. Cover trash cans and store foods like flour and sugar in containers with a lid. Keep countertops and floors free of food.

This sounds like a lot of work and it is. But indoor allergies are common irritants that can cause asthma and watery itchy eyes along with runny noses, sneezing and even eczema. Your family may be one of the lucky ones that are allergy free. But if you see that one or more members seem to always have some kind of allergic reaction going on, even when they are not outside, check the indoors.

Source: Louise Chang, MD

Don't Miss

Latest News

Video Center