If you suffer from perennial allergic rhinitis – in other words, your allergy symptoms are present year-round – your triggers may be coming from inside your home, school, office, or even your car.
The first step in relieving your allergies is understanding them so they can be treated effectively. It’s important to pay close attention to what your symptoms are and when and where they occur. An allergy specialist will use skin or blood tests to narrow down your allergies so you can more reliably avoid them.
Allergies occur when your body overreacts to an allergen (also called an antigenic protein). Once the body registers the presence of this foreign substance – which is not inherently dangerous – it tries to fight off the “invader” as if it were a bacteria or virus. The body then goes into attack mode and releases antibody proteins known as Immunoglobulin E – IgE for short – which binds to the allergen. Once this connection occurs, mast cells in the skin, mouth, nose, gut, lungs, and blood are then “told” by your body to start producing histamines. These histamines increase blood flow in the affected area and cause inflammation. They also send a signal to thin walls in the body called membranes telling them to produce mucus to purge your body of the allergens. That’s how you end up with a stuffy nose, watery eyes, cough, asthma and wheezing.
What could I be allergic to in my house?
If you feel like your itchy watery eyes, sneezing, stuffy nose, and wheezing are just as bad if not worse when you are indoors, you might have some of these allergy triggers to blame:
Indoor allergy triggers include:
- Dust mites
- Pet dander
- Cockroach droppings
- Other airborne irritants, such as smoke
Dust mites are microscopic organisms that live in household dust. Even if you clean your home often, the dead skin flakes that you and your pets shed throughout the day are enough for these tiny creatures to feed on.
The bad news is that dust mites are nearly impossible to eliminate and they are a year-round problem. However, if your allergy specialist has identified dust mites as one of your or your family’s allergy triggers, you might consider taking some of the following precautions to reduce the number of dust mites in your home.
Dust mite allergy prevention
Dust mites are commonly found in pillows, mattresses, box springs, stuffed animals, carpeting, upholstered furniture, and foam rubber bedding. Try the following to ease your symptoms:
- Identify where your allergy triggers are lurking. (For example, if you are allergic to dust mites and your allergies are worse in the mornings, your bedroom is the first place to tackle. If you tend to sneeze while spending time in the basement, you might want to look for moisture and mold.)
- Use dust covers on bedding to keep mites contained.
- Wash bedding once a week in hot water that is at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit.
- If you have a big enough freezer, eliminate dust mites by freezing those items that can not be washed overnight.
- Replace dust mite friendly wool and down bedding with synthetic materials.
- Consider replacing wall to wall carpeting with hard flooring whenever possible.
- If allergies are severe remove as much fabric as possible from your bedroom, including curtains that are difficult to wash.
- Clean floors often to prevent dust build-up.
- Use damp mops and rags to remove dust, so that it sticks to the cloth, rather than stirring up dust with feather dusters and dry cloths.
- Use a closed-system vacuum cleaner with fully-sealed filtration to trap particles. Wipe it down with a damp cloth before and after use to prevent the spread of dust in areas you’ve just cleaned.
- After dusting or vacuuming, stay out of the area for at least 20 minutes to allow dust to settle so you are less likely to breathe it in.
Pollen can easily be tracked into your home on clothing and shoes. If you live in a warm climate, grass and tree pollen might be an issue for most of the year. These invisible particles are airborne and can travel for miles, sticking to clothing or hair which can transfer to your furniture or carpeting when those exposed come indoors.
Indoor pollen allergy relief
- Ask people to remove their shoes before coming inside.
- Place air purifiers throughout your home.
- Wipe down pets’ paws and fur with a damp towel before they come in from outside.
Pets and allergies in your home
Experiencing sneezing, a stuffy or runny nose, shortness of breath, watery, itchy, red eyes, or even a skin rash or hives around cats and dogs (or other pets, including rabbits) can be tough when you love animals. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a hypoallergenic cat or dog. The truth is, you need to limit your exposure or treat your symptoms according to a doctor’s advice if you’re allergic to pets but cannot bear to part with them. Otherwise, they can cause constant symptoms – and co-workers or schoolmates with pets can also expose you to allergens even if you don not have a pet at home.
A pet allergy means you are allergic to the proteins in a pet’s skin, saliva, and/or urine and has nothing to do with fur (though saliva, for example, may remain on fur that has been licked and shed). Symptoms can be more severe in winter months when your home is sealed and there is little fresh air moving through.
Coping with pet allergies
If you already have a pet and re-homing it is simply not an option, try these tips to reduce your pet allergy symptoms:
- Limit your exposure to allergens from pets as much as possible.
- Keep pets out of the bedroom and off of your bed.
- Wash your bedding once a week.
- Keep pets away from rugs and upholstery as much as possible.
- Place a special blanket on furniture pets sit on, and wash it often.
- Bathe your pet once a week.
- Vacuum pet hair from floors and furniture as often as possible using a closed system vacuum cleaner.
- Use air purifiers with HEPA filtration to trap some of the airborne allergens your pets track throughout the house.
- Put purifiers in the rooms in which you and/or your pet spend the most time.
- Avoid putting your face near an animal you are allergic to.
- Wash your hands and face after you come into contact with pets.
- Brush pets and rub them down with a moist cloth, especially if the ha’ve been outdoors.
Mold spores can not only be tracked in from outdoors but can be found in upholstered furniture, garbage bins, mattresses, air conditioning units, humidifiers, wallboards, wood, fabric, damp basements, closets, bathrooms, refrigerator drip trays, and even houseplants. Once these spores are inhaled, they can trigger an immune system reaction that causes a cough, itchy eyes, nose, and throat, sneezing, postnasal drip, and even dry, scaly skin. In some people, a mold allergy is linked to asthma symptoms and restricted breathing.
Like all allergies, the best way to avoid them is avoiding your triggers. Medications can help keep reactions under control once they happen and should be recommended by your doctor based on your personal allergy profile.
The good news is that only certain kinds of mold cause allergies -- and being allergic to one type of mold doesn't necessarily mean you'll be allergic to others. The most common molds that trigger allergies include Alternaria, Aspergillus, Cladosporium, and Penicillium. Your allergy specialist can perform a mold-specific allergy test.
Preventing mold allergies
Mold thrives where moisture collects, so it’s important to identify the places in your home where mold is most likely to grow.
- If you need to use humidifiers, limit them to very dry places.
- Check humidifiers, dehumidifiers, and pipes for mold often.
- Clean appliances that hold water once a week.
A big mistake you can make is to assume that you will never have a cockroach problem. We tend to think of roaches as a problem of filth, but the truth is that anyone can be exposed to them, and it appears that their saliva, droppings, and bodies can trigger year-round allergy and asthma symptoms, especially in children.
The most common symptoms of cockroach allergies are an ongoing stuffy nose and/or cough, frequent ear and sinus infections, itchy eyes and nose, as well as wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. They can also cause skin rashes.
Cockroaches can get into homes and apartments through cracks or on outdoor plants (including things like Christmas trees) and are attracted to even the tiniest crumbs of food. It’s important not to dismiss them as a possible allergy trigger just because your home is clean. Your doctor can test you for a cockroach allergy.
Preventing cockroach allergies
To avoid having to deal with cockroach allergies, try the following suggestions:
- Keep rooms where you eat and prepare food as clean as possible.
- Vacuum, mop, and wipe up liquid spills and crumbs immediately.
- Keep a lid on your trash can so that they can not gain access.
- Monitor bowls of food left out for pets.
- Reduce clutter in your home to rob cockroaches of their hiding spaces.
- Check sinks and pipes for any leaks since cockroaches thrive in damp spaces.
- Use cockroach baits or boric acid to help eliminate roaches in your home (but keep in mind that these can be hazardous to pets and children).
Indoor allergy irritants at home
Other potential indoor allergy triggers include
- Hair styling products
- Paint, cooking fumes
- Cleaning products
- Candles and air fresheners
- Exhaust from cars warming up in an attached garage
While woodburning stoves and fireplaces might add the ambiance you are looking for, it is important to make sure they are not triggering allergies and asthma symptoms. The combustion of wood can produce hundreds of different chemicals you may be sensitive to – including carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, dioxin, toluene, and other fine particles.
Unfortunately, you do not need to have a fireplace or woodburning stove of your own to suffer the effects. When neighbors burn wood, it can have a serious effect on air pollution both outdoors and inside your home if you leave windows open.
There are several things you can do to limit your exposure to wood stove and fireplace pollution:
- Inspect all firewood for signs of mold before bringing it indoors and never use damp wood to start a fire.
- Inspect your chimney damper to ensure proper ventilation, so smoke is shuttled outdoors.
- Install fireplace doors to protect people in your home from smoke and other pollutants.
- Only burn natural wood indoors and never add trash or paper.
- Invest in an air purifier with a HEPA filter for areas near your fireplace or woodstove so it can filter out particulate gases.
- Have your stove, chimney, and any vents cleaned and inspected at least once a year before you begin using them.
- Use flameless candles or replace woodburning stoves with electric fireplaces.
Seasonal allergies during the holidays
The holidays can be a hard time for those sensitive to indoor air pollution of all kinds. From Christmas trees that contain insects and mold spores to off-gassing holiday décor, being at home during the holidays can easily trigger allergy symptoms.
Some of the most common holiday-related wintertime allergy triggers are:
- Christmas trees and wreaths which contain sap, pollen, and terpene
- Candles and other air fresheners
- Cooking fumes from large meals
- Holiday décor that rarely gets washed
- New gifts (especially if they come from homes with pets or someone who smokes)
- Allergens tracked in during holiday parties
While you can not control your surroundings when you are out and about for holiday shopping and parties, you can get to know your triggers and follow some relatively simple guidelines for keeping things clean:
- Hose down and hang to dry any greenery you are bringing in from outside.
- If you choose artificial trees, make sure they are free of dust by wiping them down with a damp cloth before setting them up (and wear a breathing mask to avoid any dust being stirred up in the process).
- Avoid fabric holiday décor that is difficult to wash, such as tree skirts with multiple adornments.
- Skip the candles and air fresheners if you are sensitive to perfumes.
- Be sure to wipe down any gifts that have been stored in homes with pets or smokers.
- Clean your home thoroughly after holiday parties and consider asking people to remove their shoes before they enter your house.
- Think about measures such as medication recommended by your doctor if you are attending holiday parties. Homes may look clean, but allergens are nearly always invisible.
You do not need to abide by all of these rules - and some seem less than merry – but you can consider some of the stricter options if your doctor has identified certain triggers.
Indoor allergies at work
Seasonal allergy triggers are just as likely at work as they are at home. In fact, depending on the ventilation system and how often floors and surfaces are cleaned, they can be even worse. And while you may not have to worry about pets roaming around the office, if you are severely allergic to pet dander and saliva, co-workers with pets can trigger your allergies if they bring allergens in on their clothing or in their hair.
There are also innumerable chemical and other potential air pollutants you might be allergic to in your workplace, including industrial cleaning supplies or manufacturing chemicals. In this case, it will be important to work with your doctor to identify the specific trigger and document its effect on you.
Indoor allergies at school
From old furniture and ventilation systems to classmates tracking in allergens from outdoors or their pets, children can be exposed to serious allergy triggers at school.
If your child suffers from more severe allergy and asthma symptoms while at school, it could affect both their academic and athletic performance. This can be particularly frustrating if you have made sacrifices to keep your home free of allergy triggers only to have your child suffer at school.
While you can take medication once a specific trigger has been identified, you may need to talk to your child’s school administrators about helping to prevent severe allergies.
Consider inquiring with school staff about the following if your child has been diagnosed with a specific allergy:
- Monitoring pollen counts and closing windows on high pollen days.
- Installing high efficiency air purifiers with HEPA filters that are monitored and changed often.
- Repairing any leaky water fixtures that might encourage mold growth, or testing for and remediating mold growth in the school (from classrooms to locker rooms).
- Getting information about cleaning schedules as well as cleaning products that might trigger your child’s allergies.
- Having your child sit farther away from classmates who have pets if allergies are severe enough.
- Avoiding contact with classroom pets, such as rabbits.
- Whether or not other children have reported the same symptoms. There is often strength in numbers if multiple children are affected.
Track your allergies
Since allergens can be found on everything from clothing, shoes, pets, décor – and even other people – you may want to keep an allergy diary to aid in the diagnosis of your specific triggers. For example, if a child’s allergies are worse during the school year and better over breaks, you can use this information to identify where the allergens are coming from. Of course, in cases where allergy triggers are in your car or on public transportation, you may not have much of a choice other than to medicate your allergy symptoms with the help of a specialist.
https://www.aafa.org/types-of-allergies/ (and many of the links from the page)
https://www.cdc.gov/asthma/public_health.html (and the links from this page)
https://health.clevelandclinic.org/tag/allergies/ (and the links from this page)
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