Control Indoor Allergens
Practical Tips to Reduce Indoor Allergens and Improve Your Comfort
The majority of our time is spent indoors. And while our homes have always been considered a respite from the outside world, research shows we might need to look a bit closer at our indoor environment.
The air quality in our homes and workplaces has a big impact on our overall comfort. Exposure to dust, dander, pollen, and other common indoor allergens can leave us feeling pretty lousy. The sniffing, sneezing, and itchy, watery eyes you think are caused by the great outdoors may just be triggered by the microscopic allergens you don’t see but that share your home.
We’re giving you simple and easy tips to reduce indoor allergens to prevent allergy symptoms and improve indoor air quality for a healthy home.
What are Allergens? The human immune system produces certain antibodies that identity and treats certain substances (allergens) as harmful. When you are exposed to these allergens, the immune system goes into overdrive, causing an allergic reaction.
Allergic reactions range from the mildly uncomfortable (runny nose and watery eyes) to the potentially fatal. In this blog, we’re going to cover the allergens that are certainly unpleasant but don’t pose a life-threatening risk to our health.
Good indoor air quality is important for your health in 2017, the National Institutes of Health published a report confirming the link between dust mites, fungi, and other common indoor allergens and an increased risk of rhinitis, asthma, and other respiratory diseases.
It’s clear the quality of the air in and near our homes, offices, and other structures affects the health and wellness of the people inside. In the short term, poor indoor air quality can make us feel unwell. Allergy symptoms alone can interfere with sleep, work, and exercise. Over the long term, indoor allergens like mold can cause serious chronic health conditions.
The most frequent allergy symptoms caused by indoor allergens include:
- Runny nose
- Itchy eyes or nose
- Swollen or watery eyes
Understanding the Most Common Indoor Allergens
So, what are the allergens causing those sneezing fits and itchy eyes? Here are the most common: Household Dust
You might be surprised (and a little put off) to learn what it’s that household dust that collects in your home. Dust is a mixture of substances we bring home on our clothing and shoes, skin that’s shed from our bodies, and dirt and pollen that floats in our windows, doors, and vents from outside.
Here’s a breakdown of what dust contains:
- Clothing fibers
- Dead bugs
- Dust mites
- Skin cells
- Tiny bits of plastic
Molds are microscopic fungi that thrive in damp environments. Indoor mildew and mold typically grow around indoor leaks and pooled water. There are hundreds of different kinds of molds, and if you happen to be allergic to the type of mold present in your home, you’ll experience an allergic reaction or asthma.
If you sneeze uncontrollably when you visit a home with a cat or dog, you might have a pet allergy. Some people are allergic to a protein certain pets carry in their saliva. Others are triggered by something called dander.
Pet dander is the tiny, microscopic bits of skin that your dog, cat, and other furry and feathery pets shed. It’s hard to see, but it’s there, even on pets that are said to be hypoallergenic. All pets have dander.
According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, 8 percent of adults in the United States have a pollen allergy or hay fever. Pollen is the tiny dust produced by trees and flowers that fertilizes other plants of the same species. Pollen allergies can last a few weeks or occur all year long, depending on the part of the country and what happens to be pollinating at the time.
Dust usually contains dust mites, but they are not the same. Dust mites are microscopic pests that are all around us. They aren’t like other pests that bite or sting. It’s their droppings and body fragments that trigger allergic reactions.
Where do dust mites come from?
It’s not pleasant to imagine, but it’s true. Dust mites are hiding in most of the soft surfaces in our home including mattresses, couches, carpets, and curtains. They thrive in warm, humid environments and feed off the flakes of human skin we shed.
Someone with a dust mite allergy will experience the typical allergy symptoms and possibly an itchy, red, skin rash.
7 Ways to Limit Indoor Allergens and Prevent Allergy Symptoms
1. Dust frequently
A dry dust cloth or feather duster only pushes dust around. For durable hard surfaces like furniture and countertops, use a gentle multi-surface cleaning spray and absorbent microfiber cloth to lift and remove dust for good.
2. Use a HEPA filter vacuum
High-efficiency particulate air or HEPA filters are more effective than other types of filters because instead of collecting dust and dirt and kicking it back out, they trap even the smallest molecules and remove them from the air. (HEPA filters come in some air purifiers and HVAC systems as well.)
A lot of companies advertise HEPA vacuums. To be sure a HEPA filter meets the highest standards of efficacy, look for the serial number confirming it’s been tested and proven to trap at least 99.97 percent of particles of 0.3 microns in size. We recommend vacuuming high-traffic areas weekly and more frequently during the pollen season.
3. Bathe pets often
If you let your pets outside, it’s a good idea to bathe them at least once a week if anyone in the home has a pet allergy. Ask your veterinarian or check with your local pet supply store for special shampoos and treatments to cut down on dander. It helps to brush and bathe pets outdoors to keep dander, dirt, and fur outside.
4. Leave shoes and bags at the door
All of the invisible allergens floating around in the outside world enter the home with us, on our coats, backpacks, purses, and shoes. Set up a convenient storage area close to the front door, back door, or mudroom to deposit these items and prevent excess allergens from invading your space.
5. Get rid of excess moisture
To stop mold spores from growing in the home, get rid of their habitat. Fix water leaks promptly and use a dehumidifier in humid spaces like bathrooms and basements. Clean small areas of mold with a diluted bleach solution and water to remove it. For large areas of mold growth, call a professional.
6. Close the windows during pollen season
It’s hard to resist opening the windows and screen doors on a beautiful spring day. But keeping them closed is one way to stop pollen. Keep the air conditioning on to cool down and set it to use recirculated air. (Do the same when you’re driving.)
7. Wash sheets and pillows once a week in hot water
Proper and frequent washing of bed linens is the key to eliminating a large percent of the indoor allergies lurking in the bedroom - the place where we spend a good portion of every day. We recommend washing bedding every week.
How to properly wash and care for bedding to reduce common indoor allergens
To help make your bedroom a peaceful sanctuary free of triggering allergens, follow our handy guide to proper bed and bedding care.
- First, remove everything on the bed from top to bottom: comforters, quilts, or duvets, blankets, sheets, mattress protectors, and pillow covers and cases.
- Wash bedding on the hottest water setting (unless the laundry instructions recommend otherwise.) If your machine has a sanitize cycle, you can use that as well.
- Check the label on your pillow for washing instructions. Depending on the fill, it can be machine or professionally washed around once a month.
- Consider using a steam cleaner to sanitize your mattress (and other upholstered furniture) a few times per year to kill dust mites and other pests.
- Allow clean bedding to dry completely before remaking the bed.
Before making the bed, don’t forget to:
- Vacuum the mattress with a HEPA filter vacuum.
- Replace the zippered, allergen-resistant pillow protector on every pillow every other washing.
- Replace the waterproof, allergen-resistant mattress pad (and box spring cover) every other time you change the sheets.
It helps to have a few sets of sheets, pillowcases, and comforters on standby. This way you don’t have to wait for the laundry to get done to remake your bed.
Indoor allergens can wreak havoc on your health. But there are ways to combat them and breathe a little easier every day. In the bedroom, a bit of care and frequent laundering will keep your bedding looking and feeling its best for years to come. For more ways to get a good night’s sleep, explore the Kasentex blog for the latest product guides and bedding news.
A New Jersey-based blogger who enjoys writing about family, home design, and holistic health and wellness.