Sneeze-Proof Your Home

Household allergens can be a nuisance and a threat to health; here’s how to fight them.
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Springtime allergy sufferers know they sometimes pay a price for venturing out into the warming world—pollen from grass, trees, ragweed and other plants threatens to trigger sneezes, runny noses, itchy throats and watery eyes. But is your home a safe refuge? Allergens lurk there too, so heed these tips from ENT and Allergy Associates (ENTA) about how to minimize these hazards on the home front:

Dust And Dander

Living with dust is inevitable. Comprising dead skin cells, human hair, animal fur and paper and textile fibers, dust gathers on nearly every household surface, bookshelves, bedding, stuffed animals and carpets included. These fine particles attract dust mites, microscopic insects that feed on dust components and thrive in humid environments. Though they neither bite nor sting, their waste products contain proteins that can cause sneezing, wheezing, coughing, and watery eyes.

What to do: Clean areas where dust mites thrive. Use a damp microfiber cloth to trap dust instead of a cloth or feather duster, which tend to simply brush particles aside or into the air. Clear spaces of clutter, wash or replace curtains and drapes, clean bedding once a week in water that’s at least 130 degrees and encase mattresses and pillows in dust-mite-proof covers. Stuffed animals should be washed as well. Many vacuum motors can inadvertently disperse dust, so be certain to use devices equipped with high-efficiency particulate air filters, ENTA’s Hollin Calloway, M.D., says.

Mold And Mold Spores

Mold and mildew exist indoors in damp environments, particularly bathrooms, kitchens and basements. When mold spores (the seeds of the mold) become airborne and are inhaled, they can cause immediate or delayed allergic reactions such as sneezing, itching, runny nose, congestion, hives, shortness of breath and other asthma symptoms.

What to do: Mold thrives when indoor humidity is above 50 percent, so regulating moisture in your home is key, ENT doctors note. Use an air conditioner or dehumidifier to lower humidity in damp areas such as basements and laundry rooms, and always turn on an exhaust fan or open a window during baths and showers and while cooking and washing dishes. Leaks in a home’s roof, walls or plumbing should be fixed immediately, and regularly clean these often-overlooked mold “hot spots:” soapy film on bathroom tiles, refrigerator door gaskets and drip pans, rubber seals inside the door of front-loading washing machines.

Pollen

Yes, pollen is an outdoor problem: The particles from grass, trees, flowers and other plants can cause sneezing, nasal congestion, runny eyes, itchy throats and coughing and can even aggravate asthma symptoms. But it can become an indoor issue as well, particularly when pollen sticks to hair, skin and clothing—or pets’ fur—and hitchhikes its way inside.

What to do: We can’t avoid going outside altogether, so it’s inevitable that you’ll bring back microscopic particles into the home. If you’ve spent a great deal of time outdoors, immediately change and place clothing into a hamper or washing machine; rinse off or shower if you want extra protection. Fresh air is great for circulation, but open windows will let in pollen. Rely on air conditioners when pollen counts are high.

Pests

Bugs are unsightly and can do damage to property, but they can also make us unwell. We know that many insects that bite or sting, such as mosquitoes and bedbugs, can cause itchiness, redness and swelling; others can produce more serious symptoms. Proteins found in cockroach saliva as well as the insect’s body parts can aggravate asthma symptoms, leading to wheezing, nasal congestion, coughing and sinus infections.

What to do: Maintaining a space that’s clean and free of clutter is the simplest way to keep pests at bay. Kitchen floors, stoves, counters and sinks should be cleaned regularly, and food containers and trash cans should be sealed. Cockroaches are attracted to damp areas, so fix any leaky faucets. As with any allergen, avoid direct contact when cleaning out pests such as cockroaches.

Cleaning Products

Ridding your home of allergens can help keep you symptom-free, household cleaners like bleach and ammonia contribute to or exacerbate sneezing and wheezing? People with allergies can react to chemicals in cleaning products, leading to conditions such as skin rashes and difficulty breathing.

What to do: Avoid anything that has a noxious odor, such as ammonia, and products that produce particulates, including air fresheners. Products by Seventh Generation, for instance, use a plant-based formula that is safe for a variety of surfaces and free of synthetic fragrances and dyes, ENTA doctors note. Non-aerosol sprays and products with natural ingredients—plain soap and water, vinegar, baking soda and lemon juice—are also recommended. Keep in mind that though many natural cleaners will clear allergens, they’re not disinfectants. When using substances such as bleach, which is effective in eliminating tougher allergens like mold, remember to use a mask and gloves to limit exposure.

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