For those prone to allergies, the home can be a veritable minefield of environmental allergens that can trigger reactions ranging from sneezing, scratching, and watery, itchy eyes to asthma symptoms. Potential allergens in the home (outside and inside) include mould, plants (pollens), animals (saliva, pet hair and dander), cockroaches and house dust mites, to name just a few.
While some people may require treatments to help manage allergy symptoms, preventive methods – such as minimising allergens in your home – can be very effective and are certainly a good idea for anyone prone to seasonal sneezing and itchy, sore eyes.
Here are a few tips to get you started:
1. Find the ideal humidity level
Indoor humidity levels in the home can play an important role in family health, particularly where asthma and/or allergies are present. Most people find that a relative humidity between 30 to 60 per cent is the most comfortable, with indoor humidity ideally between 30 to 50 per cent.
Low levels of humidity lead to very dry air, which increases the prospect of catching airborne viruses such as the flu – possibly due to both their ability to survive longer in dry cool conditions and the dry air irritating nasal passages.
However, high humidity in the home creates an environment for two of the most common allergens – mould and mildew – as they thrive in damp, poorly ventilated environments. So, fix any leaky roofs and pipes as quickly as possible, and avoid placing carpet over concrete floors. Consider investing in a dehumidifier for areas that tend to accumulate more moisture – such as bathrooms – but empty them regularly, and keep them clean, or they can just become a new home for mould and mildew. Keeping the home at a happy medium is key to reducing allergens. Setting the humidifier to 50 per cent will help you avoid the worst of the allergens from both environments.
2. Consider taking up the carpets
Carpets can be a magnet for allergens, which can be kicked into the air each time the carpet is walked over. A helpful step for severe allergy sufferers is to replace carpet with hardwood or linoleum flooring. If you miss the soft, cosy feel of carpet, invest in a rug that can be washed regularly.
If removing the carpet isn’t an option, ensure it is vacuumed weekly and regularly shampooed (with a non-toxic shampoo). If you’re in the process of choosing a carpet and want to keep allergens at bay, opt for low pile instead of high pile.
3. Use non-toxic products
Harsh chemicals found in common household cleaners can aggravate or trigger symptoms for allergy sufferers, especially those with asthma. Most cleaning products contain a toxic mix of chemicals, which can cause irritations, especially carpet cleaners and air-fresheners that settle and mix with dust particles. Switching to green, environmentally friendly cleaning products with plant-based ingredients can significantly reduce the allergen count in your home.
“Ensure surfaces that are touched regularly in your home or workspace are sanitised accordingly. These include doorknobs, handrails or bannisters, tables, chairs, light switches, remote controls and bins,” says Mark Quinn, CEO of eco-friendly cleaning brand OzKleen.
4. Wash it away
Porous materials such as bedding, pillows, throws and rugs can be a haven for dust mites – the most common allergen source in humid areas such as coastal cities and towns. Levels tend to be lower in drier inland areas, but they can still be a problem. Start with the bedroom, the bedding in particular, as this is often where we spend the greatest number of consecutive hours.
Wash sheets, pillowcases, and other bedding weekly on a high temperature, preferably 60 degrees. This will kill dust mites and wash away the allergens that they produce. Drying bedding in a hot dryer can also help prevent dust mites.
Invest in dust mite resistant covers for the mattress, pillows and quilts. Some health funds may provide a rebate for the purchase of these items. All covers must be washed every two months.
Remove soft toys from the bedroom. If they cannot be removed, wash them in eucalyptus oil weekly to kill dust mites and remove the allergens. If they can’t be washed put them for a spin in a hot dryer or freeze them overnight, this will kill dust mites but won’t eradicate the allergens.
5. Minimise pet dander
Cats and dogs are a major source of allergens at home. Many people think that pet allergies are caused by their fur, but the real source of pet allergies is often a protein found in the sweat glands in all cats and salivary glands in all dogs. Although the amount of allergen released can vary between breeds, there are no hypoallergenic breeds.
If pets only cause minor problems, keeping them out of bedrooms and living areas may reduce exposure to allergens. The effectiveness of washing animals frequently and using HEPA air filters is still being debated.
6. Double up on doormats
Each time you walk inside the house, you carry pollen, dust and debris on your shoes, which can increase contaminants inside the home considerably.
To eliminate this risk as much as possible, get a doormat for outside and inside your front door to make sure shoes are clean before they’re removed. Getting into the habit of leaving shoes wiped clean and by the door is an effective way of stopping allergens from spreading through the house.
7. Get rid of mould
Mould spores can float in the air like pollen and trigger allergy symptoms. Mould develops in warm, damp places, such as the back of the sink, cracked tiles and the shower curtain. Take time to inspect the bathroom and kitchen, scrubbing away dirt and sealing any cracks to prevent build up.
If you notice mould, mildew or a musty smell in your home, take these steps to get rid of it:
– remove visible mould by cleaning with bleach or other mould reduction cleaners
– ensure adequate natural ventilation, including the use of extractor fans
– seal leaks in bathrooms and roofs
– clear overflowing gutters and blocked underfloor vents
– remove indoor pot plants (which may promote mould growth)
– avoid working with garden compost, mulch or mowing lawns.
8. Minimise exposure to pollen
The height of the grass pollen season occurs between late September and December in Australia. The pollen count in the air is typically highest between 6am and noon.
Although pollen is usually deposited within a short distance of its source, it can be blown long distances on windy days.
When pollen granules come into contact with water, starch granules are released that are small enough to be breathed into the airways, triggering allergic rhinitis (hay fever) and asthma in some people.
If you have a pollen allergy, keep windows closed when pollen season is at its peak, rely on air conditioning or fans for airflow. Shower and change your clothes after being outside on high pollen count days and avoid being outside when the lawn is being mown.
Do you suffer from allergies? How do you keep yours at bay?
– With PA
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