At this time of the year, we often forget about allergies. I can’t because I have indoor allergies. I’ve never been tested, but when I sit on couches and mattresses or other “fabric-y” surfaces, they hit me.
For anyone who suffers from indoor allergies, no time of the year is safe. If you experience indoor allergies or know someone who does, here are some tips for preventing them within your home.
The Usual Suspects
When we think of allergies what may come to mind are the seasonal advertisements with evil pollen invading someone’s (perhaps computer animated) nose. Seasonal allergies exist, but this focus distracts us from a potential source of allergies that is more insidious: our own homes. These indoor allergies can make us feel trapped by our reactions, and they can have long-range health and vocal consequences.
The main culprits are:
- Animal dander and insect remains
- Mold spores
Most people have no reaction to these substances (that’s why they’re allergens rather than toxins), but if you have reactions or someone you know does then something must be done. You owe it to yourself.
If you have indoor allergies, there’s a good chance that moisture in your home is a factor. The moisture itself is not the cause per se, but it’s an enabler. Mold, insects, and dust-mites are all attracted to high humidity, and effectively getting rid of it can stop other problems from arising.
The two chief sources of humidity are your bathroom and kitchen. In the bathroom, make sure that the exhaust fan is working and is on for showers and any other activities that produce steam. If there’s no fan, keep a window open (if it’s not sub-zero outside of course) or otherwise make sure that the moisture doesn’t linger after the activity. Wipe up any water that’s accumulated to prevent mold from growing and spread shower curtains and towels to enable faster drying.
In the kitchen, it’s mostly the same. If you’re lucky enough to have a real exhaust fan over your stove that leads outside, then use it to keep steam from building up. Otherwise, use portable fans and windows to keep the air circulating.
If you can’t use windows for one reason or another or you live in a high humidity area, then another option is a de-humidifier. The most basic choice is your air conditioner or heat pump. Just by design, the A/C reduces moisture in the air. Just make sure that the moisture is collected where it won’t accumulate and cause mold to grow.
If that’s not an option, a dedicated de-humidifier may work for you. These can get pretty pricey, though, so try other methods first. If you do decide to buy one, check to see if there are any rebates from your local power company for Energy Star compliant de-humidifiers. During the summer here in Pennsylvania, I saw such rebates at the local Home Depot.
Eliminate or Wrap Fabric
Allergens such as mold and dust-mites like to congregate in places like couches and carpets. You can do yourself a favor by eliminating couches and chairs that are composed of fabric and removing rugs, carpeting, unwanted stuffed animals, and ancient pillows and so on. Stacks of paper can have the same effect, so years of stacked up newspapers should be recycled.
You can wrap certain items in allergen resistant covers. For example, mattress covers can be bought for a reasonable price, and they prevent dust-mites from accumulating there. These don’t have to be ugly plastic-y things: one I bought for my mattress looks like a normal sheet.
If any of this is impractical for your living situation, then the third of these first steps will be even more important.
Clean Thoroughly and Regularly
We all maintain different levels of tidiness, but basic actions like vacuuming can help enormously.
Your vacuum is your allergy-busting friend. Look for vacuums that have replaceable HEPA filters.
Be thorough with this. Hit hard-to-reach areas. Use the upholstery extension for your chairs, couches, mattresses, pillows, counter-tops, base-boards and so on. If you can reach it (and it won’t be destroyed), vacuum it.
If you’ve got a lot of dust build-up, then it’s wise to protect yourself some sort of protective mask. No matter how good the vacuum is, there’s a good chance that you’ll disturb a lot of allergens while you are cleaning. That turns into no fun really fast. The masks are cheap and worth the trip.
Pillows, sheets, and blankets should be washed in hot water to remove dust-mites. Sturdy stuffed animals should be washed.
Eliminate Food Sources
In your kitchen and bathroom, remove anything that allows mold and insects to eat. Soap scum, crumbs, and puddles are invitations.
Mildew is Mold
That black stuff in your kitchen or bathroom is shooting spores into the air, which are potential allergens. Moreover, mold destroys the surface that it’s on. Look for mold build-up and be ruthless. Use a cleaner with bleach to remove the mold and clean the surrounding areas to kill the spores. Use all proper precautions – gloves, eye protection, and ventilation – when working with chemical cleaning agents.
If That Doesn’t Work
Be careful that you’re not making the situation worse by using cleaners that contain perfumes or other smells. Some people react badly to air fresheners and things like that (I’m one of them), so look for hypo-allergenic detergents and keep cleaners simple.
You can take the additional measures of using nasal irrigation and air filters. Air filters are pricey, so they are additional steps rather than first steps. Check out Consumer Reports for their recommendations on air filters. There are a variety of types and you need to be informed before you lay down your cash for one.
If you have severe allergy problems, then you should see a doctor. They may recommend testing and may suggest treatment like allergy shots. For a singer, who relies on a certain level of mucous, this is preferable to the drying action of anti-histamines and decongestants.
What Do You Think?
As I said, I suffer from indoor allergies, but taking these actions has helped a lot. Is there something that works for you that I didn’t list? I’d love to hear it.
Photo by Ranveig