Ah, the daffodils, the tulips, the ever-spreading pollen. If you’re one of the 40 million Americans who suffer from allergies, spring blooms may irritate and inflame your sinus, triggering sneezing, sniffling, a stuffy nose and a scratchy throat.
But before you start ripping out the flowerbeds, try allergy-proofing your home. Allergy symptoms rarely are activated by a single source, and in addition to pollen and molds, you may be allergic to household dust mites, roaches and animal dander.
“An allergy is the body’s immune system making a good immune response that you wish it wouldn’t,” says Dr. William Dolen, an allergist for Georgia Regents Health System and a professor at Georgia Regents University in Augusta.
When someone—especially someone with a genetic predisposition to allergies—is exposed to a potential allergen such as pollen or dust mites, the body develops an antibody that attaches to certain cells, Dolen explains. The next time the body is exposed to that allergen, the cells react by releasing substances such as histamine, which lead to your misery.
The obvious step is to lessen your exposure, indoors and outdoors. But before you overhaul your home, see an allergist and have a simple skin test to learn what you’re reacting to. Then, depending on your allergy, you can take the appropriate actions below.
• Encase your bedding. Dust mite droppings are a common allergen. The mites feed on dead skin cells, and mattresses can harbor ten of thousands of the microscopic creatures. “Get mattress and pillow covers that trap the dust mites and reduce your exposure,” Dolen says.
• Wash fabrics often. “Wash all bed linens every 10 days to two weeks in hot water,” says Dr. James L. Sublett, clinical professor of Allergy and Immunology at the University of Louisville School of Medicine in Louisville, Ky. Do the same with bathroom and throw rugs, and any other fabric dust collector. Wash in water heated to at least 130 degrees.
• Clear the cardboard. “Mold loves dampness and something to eat like cardboard, books, even damp towels,” Sublett says. “That musty smell is from mold starting to grow.” Clear piles of newspapers, magazines, books and boxes, especially from moist areas of your home such as the basement and bathroom.
• Toss the humidifier. “If you’re running a humidifier,” Dolen says, “you’re promoting mold growth by giving it the moisture it needs to survive.”
• Dust often. Use a wet rag or a microfiber cloth. (Dry rags stir up dust.) “Wear a dust mask when dusting,” Dolen says. You can purchase masks at hardware or large discount stores.
• Attack with bleach. Mix a gallon of water with a quarter cup of bleach to tackle areas where mold grows, such as shower and bathroom corners. “Bleach kills mold, and it’s not dangerous in very small quantities,” Sublett says.
Page 2 of 2 - • Keep pets out of the bedroom. Thoroughly clean the bedroom and never let the dog or cat in again, Dolen suggests. “If that controls symptoms, fine,” he says. If it doesn’t, you may need to consider other living arrangements for Fido or Felix.
• Change furnace filters. Filters have what’s called MERV efficiency ratings. The highest are MERV 8-12. “By using those, your heating and air conditioning will have much better air filtration,” Sublett says. Change filters every three months.
• Use HEPA filters. HEPA stands for “high efficiency particulate air.” HEPA filters trap smaller particles that otherwise would be dischanged with the exhaust. “Most new vacuum cleaners come with HEPA filters,” Sublett notes.
• Dump the vacuum outside. Dumping the dust bunnies inside only welcomes a cloud of allergens back into the house, Sublett says. Take the canister to an outside garbage can. Your nose will be grateful.
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