Itchy, watery eyes? Scratchy throat? Stuffy nose? Sneezing? The pollen count may not be the only thing that sends you running inside for the antihistamine. According to EverydayHealth.com’s John Briley, the real cause of your allergic reactions might be a messy, cluttered living space. “Numerous allergens flourish indoors – from pet dander and dust mites to cockroaches, mold, and, yes, pollen” Briley says. The good news is that there is a lot you can do to control your indoor environment to eliminate or minimize allergens in your home.
House dust is made up of many different components – some of them alive – that can aggravate allergies. The biggest offenders include:
- Dust mites. These are creepy, microscopic spider-like critters that thrive in warm, humid places. They like to hang out in carpeting, upholstery, draperies, mattresses and pillows. They don’t bite or spread disease, but they do live off our shed skin cells and their waste is what typically causes allergic reactions in about 10 percent of the population, according to Melissa Stöppler, MD.
- Cockroaches. Cockroach feces and fragments of their body parts produce allergens that can contaminate the air in your home. According to the American Lung Association, roach allergens also trigger asthma.
- Pet dander. This is the powdery old skin scales that cats and dogs shed. It clings to carpets and fabrics and can permeate an entire house for years. Up to 40 percent of allergic individuals react to it, according to the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
Mold is a fungus that produces spores, which float in the air like pollen. There are many different molds – some visible, some invisible. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, “indoor molds grow in places where there is moisture, such as the kitchen, bathroom, and basement.”
Ornamental plants and cut flowers can be a source of irritating indoor pollen, but a more likely source is pollen blown in through open doors and windows or brought in on clothing or pets.
Removing and Controlling Allergens in Your Home
Even the tidiest home can harbor allergens, but a messy, cluttered home creates a much more welcoming environment for them. Health.com offers these suggestions for eliminating or minimizing allergens in your home:
- Vacuum at least once a week, using a HEPA filter to trap dust particles instead of spreading them into the air.
- Wash bedding weekly in hot (130 -degree) water to kill mites.
- Use a household chlorine bleach solution (1 ounce bleach to one quart water) to wipe down bathroom surfaces to kill mold.
- To prevent mold, use a dehumidifier set at 35 to 45 percent (and be sure to clean it frequently).
- Change or clean AC and heater filters monthly to control indoor pollen; remove your shoes and wipe pet paws at the door to avoid tracking pollen indoors.
- Bathe and brush pets outdoors every week to keep dander levels down, and don’t let pets sleep in your bedroom.
- Toss old newspapers, magazines, cans and bags frequently.
- Clean up crumbs and cover trashcans to avoid attracting roaches, rats and mice.
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America adds these tips for controlling indoor allergens:
- Opt for bare floors, but if you must have carpet, choose low-pile or throw rugs that you can wash.
- Control dust mites by encasing mattresses, pillows and box springs in plastic covers.
- Wash stuffed toys weekly in hot water.
- Use a damp or treated cloth to dust surfaces.
Allergen Hiding Places
Think you’re done ferreting out the allergens? WebMD.com warns they can hide in unexpected places:
- Mold spores can grow on dead leaves in potted plants.
- Books can be an inviting home for mold spores and dust mites.
- If your refrigerator has a drip pan, clean it frequently to avoid growing mold.
Take a Deep Breath!
Good for you! You’ve removed the clutter that attracts dust, mold and creepy critters. You’ve created a clean, healthy environment free of allergens. With these tips, a regular cleaning routine and an off-site storage unit, you can keep it that way.