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A Foolproof Guide on How to Allergy-Proof Your Home

Mikaela Millan

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December 18, 2022
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Anyone with allergies knows they can be a huge source of discomfort and inconvenience. Day-to-day activities may be hampered by constant sniffles, sneezing, and tearing or watery eyes. Numerous substances at home and in the environment can trigger an allergy attack and even worsen pre-existing asthma. Luckily, there are simple but effective measures you can take to allergy-proof your home and ensure a cleaner and healthier living environment.

What Are Allergies?

Allergies occur when foreign bodies cause the immune system to overreact to substances (allergens) that are usually harmless to other people((National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. (2022). Allergens. Retrieved on December 6, 2022 from https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/allergens/index.cfm)). Allergic reactions differ depending on how you come in contact with the allergen. Usually, the skin, airways, and mucous membranes are affected. Once you come into contact with an allergen, the symptoms usually manifest quickly and may take several hours to days to subside. Symptom severity also varies from a mild inconvenience to a huge disturbance in your everyday life. 

What Are the Most Common Allergens?

Numerous substances can trigger allergies, some of which you might not even be aware of. At home, the main sources of allergens include((Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America. (2015). Control Indoor Allergens to Improve Indoor Air Quality. Retrieved on December 6, 2022 from https://www.aafa.org/control-indoor-allergens/)):

  • Pets
  • Carpets
  • Furniture
  • Stuffed toys
  • Bedding
  • Damp areas
  • Indoor plants
  • Uncovered mattresses
  • Pillows and beddings
  • Pollen 

Knowing the most common sources of allergies will give you a better idea of the modifications that need to be made to ensure a healthier environment. 

This list tells us that allergens can not only be in the air, but can also settle on frequently used surfaces like your furniture and bedding((WebMD Editorial Contributors. (2022, Feb 28). Allergy- and Asthma-Proof Your Home. Retrieved on December 6, 2022 from https://www.webmd.com/asthma/allergy-asthma-proof-home)). Closed and damp environments with poor ventilation provide the ideal environment for fungus and mold to grow, which can become a problematic source of allergens((Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America. (2015). Control Indoor Allergens to Improve Indoor Air Quality. Retrieved on December 6, 2022 from https://www.aafa.org/control-indoor-allergens/)). Pets may also trigger allergies through their fur, saliva, urine/feces, and blood. 

Clearly, allergens can come from multiple sources that all need to be addressed in order to effectively allergy-proof your home((National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. (2022). Pet Allergens. Retrieved on December 6, 2022 from https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/allergens/pets/index.cfm)). 

A young woman coughing with a napkin held in hands

How to Allergy-Proof Your Home

The cornerstone of allergy management is to avoid your triggers((WebMD Editorial Contributors. (2022). Allergy- and Asthma-Proof Your Home. Retrieved on December 6, 2022 from https://www.webmd.com/asthma/allergy-asthma-proof-home)). Fortunately, there is a lot you can do at home to do this and make your home more comfortable while providing cleaner air. Here are some general tips to get rid of potential sources of allergies in your home((Mayo Clinic. (2020). Allergy-proof your home. Retrieved on December 6, 2022 from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/allergies/in-depth/allergy/art-20049365)):

  • Beddings – Cover pillows and mattresses with dust- and mite-proof casings. Sheets, pillowcases, and blankets should be washed at least once a week at 130°F (54.5°C) or higher((Mayo Clinic Staff. (2020). Allergy-proof your home – Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/allergies/in-depth/allergy/art-20049365)). Avoid using wool or feather beddings; use synthetic materials instead.
  • Floors – Use hardwood and linoleum flooring instead of carpeting. Wash rugs and floor mats weekly. Vacuum weekly with a cleaner that has a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to effectively get rid of tiny allergens. 
  • Furniture – Furniture made of wood, leather, metal, or plastic is easier to clean and less likely to collect dust and allergens than fabric. Avoid upholstered furniture. 
  • Windows and curtains – During pollen season, keep windows closed and use air conditioning instead. Clean windows regularly to prevent mold and condensation build-up. Repair any sources of leaks or water damage. Curtains made of plain cotton or synthetic fabric are easier to wash. Roller-type shades are also more convenient to clean than horizontal blinds. 
  • Kitchen – Use a vented exhaust fan to get rid of fumes from cooking and to reduce moisture. Keep sinks, refrigerators, and cabinets clean to avoid mold formation and water damage. Store food in sealed containers. Trash should be emptied daily and kept in an insect-proof lid to deter rodents and cockroaches. 
  • Bathroom – Installing an exhaust fan will reduce moisture while taking a bath. Vinyl, wood, tile, or linoleum flooring is preferred as they are easier to clean. Keep the shower, tub, toilet, and sink clean and dry to prevent mold from accumulating. 
  • Temperature and humidity – Dust mites and mold thrive in hot and humid environments. To prevent their growth, maintain a temperature between 68°F (20°C) and 72°F (22°C) and humidity less than 50%. Filters in heating and cooling systems as well as air conditioners should be cleaned or replaced monthly. 
  • Weekly cleaning routine – Use a damp mop to clean wood or linoleum flooring and a vacuum for carpeting. A damp cloth may also be used to clean doors, window sills, and window frames. Wear a mask while cleaning or ask someone who does not have allergies to do this job. 

These suggestions will hopefully make a significant impact in your home, making it allergen-free. While these are just general tips, there are also specific measures you can take to target certain allergens that are the most prominent in your home. 

Additional Strategies for Dealing with Allergens in Your Home

The most common seasonal and non-seasonal allergens are dust mites and cockroaches, pet dander, and pollen((National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. (2022). Allergens. Retrieved on December 6, 2022 from https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/allergens/index.cfm)). These can not only trigger your allergies, but it can exacerbate asthma as well((WebMD Editorial Contributors. (2022). Allergy- and Asthma-Proof Your Home. Retrieved on December 6, 2022 from https://www.webmd.com/asthma/allergy-asthma-proof-home)). The method of managing these troublesome allergens is to minimize possible areas where they may collect and maintain as clean an environment as possible. Here are specific strategies to target the three most common indoor allergens. 

Dust Mites and Cockroaches

Commonly found in house dust, dust mites are microscopic pests that feed on dead skin and dander of both humans and pets((National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. (2022). Dust Mites and Cockroaches. Retrieved on December 6, 2022 from https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/allergens/dustmites/index.cfm)). They usually inhabit mattresses, bedding, upholstered furniture, carpets, and curtains. Cockroaches are also another common allergen, with research suggesting a link between their presence and increased severity of asthma symptoms((Arruda, L. K., Vailes, L. D., Ferriani, V. P. L., Santos, A. B. R., Pomés, A., & Chapman, M. D. (2001). Cockroach allergens and asthma. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 107(3), 419–428. https://doi.org/10.1067/mai.2001.112854)). Urban areas and older dwellings are where you more often find cockroaches. 

To prevent these pests from triggering allergies at home, here are some tips to effectively eradicate them((National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. (2022). Dust Mites and Cockroaches. Retrieved on December 6, 2022 from https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/allergens/dustmites/index.cfm)):

  • Use a dehumidifier or air conditioner to keep humidity levels low. 
  • Encase pillows and mattresses with dust-proof covers. 
  • Regularly wash bedding and blankets in hot water (130°F/54.5°C or more). Non-washable bedding can be frozen overnight.
  • Never use a dry cloth to remove dust as this causes allergens to spread further. Instead, use a damp mop or rag. 
  • Wear a mask while cleaning the house. Stay out of a vacuumed area for 20 minutes to let dust and allergens settle. 
  • Keep food and garbage in closed and tight-lidded containers. 
  •  Repair any leaks or damaged pipes.
  • Avoid bringing food to other areas of the house. 

While it may not be realistic to completely eliminate these pests, hopefully, these measures will significantly reduce the presence of dust mites and cockroaches in your home. 

Dust particles

Pet Allergens

Millions of people around the world own pets despite being allergic to them((National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. (2022). Pet Allergens. Retrieved on December 6, 2022 from https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/allergens/pets/index.cfm)). Cats and dogs are sometimes culprits of allergy attacks due to their fur and the substances that get trapped in them. They can cause sneezing, a runny nose, and red, itchy eyes. Allergies are often caused by microscopic proteins from the dead skin shed by pets. These tend to spread when dogs and cats lick themselves, and the allergens can be present in their saliva, urine/feces, and blood. 

Because pets can easily spread allergens that can remain on surfaces for months, it is important to clean the house regularly. These are strategies you can take to reduce allergies from pets((National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. (2022). Pet Allergens. Retrieved on December 6, 2022 from https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/allergens/pets/index.cfm)): 

  • Keep pets in a separate space away from where an allergic person sleeps. 
  • Encase bedding and pillows in allergen-proof covers.
  • Vacuum the house regularly. The most convenient time would be when the person with allergies is not present. 
  • Keep pets off furniture and out of cars.
  • Bathe pets regularly.
  • Wash your hands and change clothing after playing with your pet. 

More than 50% of households have a dog, cat, or both((National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. (2022). Pet Allergens. Retrieved on December 6, 2022 from https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/allergens/pets/index.cfm)). This makes trigger control all the more necessary in order to have an allergy-proof home. 

A dog

Pollen

Pollen is a powdery substance that plants produce as part of their reproductive process((National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. (2022). Pollen. Retrieved on December 6, 2022 from https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/allergens/pollen/index.cfm)). While it is necessary for flowers, trees, and grass to flourish, it can cause sneezing, congestion, and watery eyes for people allergic to it. To prevent pollen-related allergies, here are strategies you can employ((National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. (2022). Pollen. Retrieved on December 6, 2022 from https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/allergens/pollen/index.cfm)): 

Know What Pollen You’re Allergic To

Pollen levels vary throughout the day, but the pattern depends on the species. You need to know whether you are allergic to grass, tree, or another type of pollen. This will indicate what time of day it is safer to go out, and what times of day should be avoided.

  • Grass pollen – Usually at its highest in the mid-afternoon (2–4 pm)((Norris-Hill, J. (1999). The diurnal variation of Poaceae pollen concentrations in a rural area. Grana, 38(5), 301–305. https://doi.org/10.1080/001731300750044528)), although in some places grass pollen levels rise around 9 am and don’t fall until the evening((Latałowa, M., Uruska, A., Pe˛dziszewska, A., Góra, M., & Dawidowska, A. (2005). Diurnal patterns of airborne pollen concentration of the selected tree and herb taxa in Gdańsk (northern Poland). Grana, 44(3), pp. 192–201. https://doi.org/10.1080/00173130500219692)).
  • Tree pollen – Polle level patterns vary by type of tree((Käpylä, M. (1984). Diurnal variation of tree pollen in the air in finland. Grana, 23(3), 167–176. https://doi.org/10.1080/00173138409427712))((Latałowa, M., Uruska, A., Pe˛dziszewska, A., Góra, M., & Dawidowska, A. (2005). Diurnal patterns of airborne pollen concentration of the selected tree and herb taxa in Gdańsk (northern Poland). Grana, 44(3), pp. 192–201. https://doi.org/10.1080/00173130500219692)):
  • Alder and birch – Steady levels all day
  • Spruce and oak – High levels from early morning to early evening
  • Juniper trees – Levels peak during morning
  • Willow, poplar, and aspen – Peak around midday
  • Pine – Peaks mid-afternoon
  • Elm – Peaks early evening

Go Outside after Rain

Pollen levels in the air are usually lower after it’s rained, as the rain knocks it out of the air((Kluska, K., Piotrowicz, K., & Kasprzyk, I. (2020). The impact of rainfall on the diurnal patterns of atmospheric pollen concentrations. Agricultural and Forest Meteorology, 291, 108042. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agrformet.2020.108042)), although this isn’t guaranteed((Berggren, B., Nilsson, S., & Boëthius, G. (1995). Diurnal Variation of Airborne Birch Pollen at Some Sites in Sweden. Grana (Vol. 34, Issue 4, pp. 251–259). Informa UK Limited. https://doi.org/10.1080/00173139509429054)) and pollen levels are higher just before and during rain((Kluska, K., Piotrowicz, K., & Kasprzyk, I. (2020). The impact of rainfall on the diurnal patterns of atmospheric pollen concentrations. Agricultural and Forest Meteorology, 291, 108042. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agrformet.2020.108042)).

Keep Windows and Doors Closed

This prevents pollen from entering your home. Use air conditioners to keep cool; window and attic fans can easily spread allergens.

Bathe Pets Regularly

Pets can transport pollen from outdoors so it is recommended to wash them regularly.

Pollen under a microscope
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pollen

Summary

Allergies can range from mild discomfort to a huge nuisance. Simple but effective measures rooted in maintaining a clean and dry environment can greatly reduce the number of allergens at home. Hopefully, the measures described in this article will allergy-proof your home as well as improve indoor air quality. Taking care of your respiratory health is very important and this includes managing your allergies as well.

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