The American Lung Association reports that we take an average of 21,600 breaths per day. Of those breaths, 80 percent of them happen indoors, which means that the air quality of your home matters.
Furthermore, it is estimated that 50 million people suffer from allergies. Those affected by indoor allergens may experience reactions to dust mites, pets, mold and cockroaches.
Once the allergen is inhaled, the immune system releases an antibody that causes an allergic response. These responses range from runny nose and watery eyes to sneezing, coughing, hives and trouble breathing.
Dr. John Pauls, an allergy and immunology specialist with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, says that if you suffer from indoor allergies, you should be especially careful about the air quality and cleanliness of your home.
“My first recommendation is to determine the specific things that you are allergic to, so that you can be specific about what to avoid,” says Dr. Pauls. “There are some extra steps that can be done to decrease the amount of allergens you are exposed to in your home.”
Dr. Pauls offers these home-care tips:
- Wipe furniture weekly with a dust-trapping cloth.
- Wash sheets and pillowcases regularly, using fragrance-free detergent if a member of the household has allergies.
- Remove carpeting, if possible, or regularly vacuum it with a vacuum that includes a HEPA filter or other allergen-containment system. Also, regularly vacuum upholstered furniture and draperies.
- Maintain an indoor humidity level of no more than 50 percent. Use a hygrometer for the most accurate gauge of home humidity. If humidity levels are above 50 percent, you can use a dehumidifier as well as turn on the exhaust fan when cooking; ensure dryers vent to the outside of the home; and take shorter or cooler showers to reduce steam.
- If you can’t live without your pets, keep them outside or, at the very least, out of the bedroom, and wash them one to two times per week.
- Seek out all sources of mold — usually found in bathrooms, kitchens and sometimes the underlay of carpeting — and immediately remove the mold and repair the cause.
There are a few culprits that you might not immediately recognize as a possible cause of allergies. That “hypoallergenic” dog you bought to avoid pet allergies might just be the cause of them. People with allergies are not allergic to pet fur, but rather react to the saliva, dander (dead skin) and urine of the dog.
Products used to make your home and laundry seem clean and fresh might actually be making them toxic to an allergy sufferer. Use fragrance-free products and avoid aerosol sprays.
Stuffed animals on a child’s bed, stacks of books or magazines, and dried-flower arrangements are excellent spots for dust to accumulate. These items should be kept in covered boxes or regularly rotated and dusted; if possible, remove these items from the home for easier maintenance.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), while not an allergen, one of the most common indoor irritants is environmental tobacco smoke, also known as secondhand smoke. Smoking cessation is the agency’s primary recommendation; however, if a member of your household or a guest continues to smoke, they should go outside.
“Go through your home and look for the things that might be causing allergic reactions,” says Dr. Pauls. “With some basic changes, you can take care of the cause and eliminate the potential sources.”