I suffer from respiratory allergies. For the last 15 to 20 years, I’ve been using environmental adaptation to help reduce my allergy attacks and I thought I would share some of the techniques that have helped me. I’m allergic to just about everything so I use almost of these methods, but control techniques vary based on the allergy. Furthermore, how well each suggestion will work depends on the individual’s allergic response and their own commitment to the process. It’s rare that one intervention alone makes a big difference in allergy symptoms, but implementing several of these techniques can make a big difference. Here, I focus on suggestions for reducing allergen exposure that do not restrict an individual’s activities. One of the most common recommendations for people with seasonal allergies is to stay indoors, with the windows closed, and the air conditioner running. To me this is counterproductive, the point is to live your life fully not avoid activities for fear of allergies.
1. Wash all laundry and bedding in hot water. Hot water temperature kills dust mites and mold spores and removes pet dander. [Allergy: Dust Mites, Mold, Pet dander]
2. Don’t dry your laundry on an outdoor line. Sunlight may be a great disinfectant, but the pollen that blows in the wind becomes trapped in the fabric. [Allergy: Weed, Tree, and Grass Pollen]
3. Don’t dry your laundry on indoor lines. Drying your laundry indoors allows household dust and dust mites to re-settle on your clothing and can increase the humidity and promote mold growth.1 [Allergy: Dust, Dust Mites, Mold, and Pet dander]
4. Wash fabric curtains in hot water weekly. Curtains are one of the best reservoirs for dust mites because the sit undisturbed for long periods of time and it is easy to forget to wash them. [Allergy: Dust, Dust Mites, Pet Dander]
5. Choose different window coverings. Chose blinds that can be wiped down, micro-fabrics that resist dust and stand up to many washings, or make your own curtains out of suitable materials. My loving mother made faux-leather curtains for me, the material is available at any fabric store, comes in a variety of colors (white, black, ox-blood, tan, brown, etc.), and is easily wiped down with a damp cloth. The best part is they also make great blackout curtains for the bedroom. [Allergy: Dust, Dust Mites, Pet Dander]
6. Get a de-humidifier and keep the humidity under 40%. Most people know that mold needs moisture to grow, but dust mites also need humidity to thrive. Keeping humidity levels low has been show to significantly reduce household allergen levels.2 [Allergy: Dust Mites, Mold]
7. Make sure exhaust fans (and dryer vents) are vented outside the house and use them. Using properly vented exhaust fans while cooking and showering reduce the humidity in the house. [Allergy: Dust Mites, Mold]
8. Keep indoor temperatures under 70 degrees. Dust mites proliferate in high humidity and high temperature. [Allergy: Dust Mites]
9. Use an allergen-specific air filter for the furnace/air conditioning unit and change the fan settings to continuous run instead of “auto” (which only runs the fan when the furnace/air conditioner is running). To determine the efficiency of the filter, check the “MERV” rating, higher scores mean better filtration. A comprehensive article on furnace filters can be found at Allergy Be Gone. Be sure to change the filter monthly. [Allergy: All]
10. Vacuum daily with a bagged vacuum that has a HEPA filter. The key to this approach being successful is daily use. Be careful replacing the bad (bagless vacuums are not recommended because they tend to spread particulate matter back into the air). Also, if you are like me and are very allergic, use a dust mask when vacuuming or have your partner do it when you are out of the house. Even the best vacuums stir up particulates. [Allergy: Dust, Dust Mites, Pet Dander]
11. Don’t keep houseplants. Soil acts as a great medium for mold spore proliferation and the moisture in the soil can increase household humidity when there are a lot of plants. [Allergy: Mold]
12. Don’t keep aquariums. It was very hard for me to give up my aquarium, but I ended up having to do it for my health. Aquariums greatly increase household humidity levels and are completely counterproductive to running a dehumidifier. [Allergy: Mold, Dust Mites]
13. Choose unupholstered furniture, leather, or microfiber. When choosing furniture like kitchen and dining room chairs, choose unupholstered chairs or chairs with removable cushions that can be washed or. Upholstered furniture is a key place where dust mites live and breed, because it’s difficult if not impossible to clean all of the crevices and deep into the cushions. For areas where comfort is important (living room couches, etc.) choose leather or faux leather when possible, or microfiber is necessary. Microfiber is stitched particularly tightly to help prevent dust mites from readily crossing the barrier into fill, but is not dust proof. [Allergy: Dust, Dust Mites, Pet Dander]
14. Avoid carpet. (particularly wall-to-wall with padding and high pile) harbors dust and dust mites and vacuums are not able to get through to the padding. Whenever possible, choose throw rugs that can be washed or taken outside and beaten out in place of wall-to-wall carpeting. If possible, go with hardwood, tile, or any of the new non-absorbent floor covering options on the market. When we shopped for our new house hardwood flooring was a priority, but one room was an addition that had carpet over pressed-wood. We couldn’t afford to replace the floor with wood so we took up the carpeting and put down faux-wood vinyl tiling. It was on sale at 99¢ per square food and looks pretty realistic (my stepfather only noticed it wasn’t real because the joints were not quite the same as with modern wood floors). It’s not our permanent solution but it will hold us over while we save for a real wood floor. [Allergy: Dust, Dust Mites, Pet Dander] Carpeting
15. If you can’t avoid carpeting, try applying a 3% solution of tannic acid. Tannic acid has been shown to destroy the dust mite allergens and may destroy cat dander as well. Check for color safeness before applying to carpeting that may stain. Spray lightly over dry carpeting, wait for 3 hours until carpet is dry and then vacuum the carpeting. This solution is only temporary and will need to be reapplied approximately every 90 days.3 [Allergy: Dust Mite and Pet Dander]
16. Use dampened, microfiber cloths for wiping down surfaces and do it frequently. The combination of moisture and microfiber helps catch dust and particulates instead of just knocking them into the air. Use flat cloths as opposed to dusters (usually have a handle and are styled like feather dusters even though they may not be made of feathers) because dusters tend to knock more particulates into the air. [Allergy: Dust, Dust Mites, Pet Dander]
17. Dry steam clean carpeting, upholstery, and mattresses every 1 to 2 months. Using a dry-steam cleaner (or hiring professional steam cleaning) on carpeting, upholstered furniture, and bedding (mattress) can significantly reduce dust mite levels.4 [Allergy: Dust Mites]
18. Use of specially designed allergen barrier pillow and mattress covers can significantly reduce respiratory allergies but do work best as part of a holistic approach.* Don’t be misled by terminology, hypoallergenic is not the same as allergy-proof barriers. Hypoallergenic usually indicates that the materials the product is made with are less likely to provoke an allergic reaction, not that it will prevent allergens from getting into the product. Choose covers with a small pore size, preferably less than 3 microns for pet dander and mold (these are the smallest particulates, dust mites average 10 microns).5 [Allergy: Dust, Dust Mites, Pet Dander, Mold]
19. Purchase bedding that is easily washable and wash it weekly in hot water. People spend a lot of time in bed and dust mites feed off of exfoliated skin cells so bedding is a great place for dust mites to hide. Wash bedding frequently to keep levels under control. [Allergy: Dust, Dust Mites, Pet Dander, Mold]
20. Reduce clothing sitting uncovered in closets and hampers. Fabric of any kind is a good home for dust, dust mites, animal dander, and pollen brought in from outdoors. If you have closets full of unworn clothes, go through and donate/sell them. Pack out-of-season clothes in plastic containers to keep particulates and dust mites out. Promptly put away clean clothing in dressers and closets (and close the closet door) to help prevent airborne particles from settling in them. Don’t let dirty or damp laundry pile up. [Allergy: Dust, Dust Mites, Pet Dander, Mold]
21. When mowing the yard during peak pollen seasons, wear a face mask (or hire the neighborhood kid) and be sure to close the house windows. [Allergy: Grass, Tree, and Weed Pollen]
22. If you suspect a cockroach infestation, call in a professional. People who are allergic to dust and dust mites are almost always allergic to cockroaches and this can be particularly severe in people with Asthma. Cockroaches are like icebergs, you might only see a third of them, so don’t wait for the infestation to become bad – call in a professional – Then follow prescriptive advice for preventing/deterring re-infestation.2 [Allergy: Cockroach]
23. De-clutter and clean regularly. Get rid of excess fabric items (extra bed pillows, stuffed animals), nick-knacks, and other items that collect dust and dander. Reducing clutter will allow you to wipe down surfaces in the house with a damp cloth faster and more regularly. It also improves the efficiency of air filters and techniques like vacuuming by eliminating crevasses that dust and dander can accumulate in. [Allergy: Dust, Dust Mite, Pet Dander, Mold, Cockroach]
24. Groom pets frequently out-of-doors or take them to the groomers regularly. If you do grooming yourself, consider wearing a face mask and be sure to shower and launder clothing when finished. There are products available to help reduce pet dander, including hand wipes and special shampoos. I do not have personal experience with these products, moreover studies suggest that shampooing pets may help reduce allergens but need to be done frequently (1x a week) which may cause skin irritation and health problems for the pet. The pet wipes may be of help and are less likely to cause problems due to over bathing but I have not yet found published results testing these products. [Allergy: Pet Dander]
25. Consider using HEPA air purifiers. I leave this one for last because the evidence is not clear-cut and there are significant draw backs. There is some suggestion that they do work in reducing pet dander when used in uncarpeted rooms but the evidence for reducing dust and dust mites is weak at best.2 I have 2 large free-standing HEPA filters in my house, one in the bedroom and one in the laundry room where the dog crates are. They were expensive, have continuous maintenance costs (electricity, new filters), only work in the rooms they are in, and are loud. I mainly use them by the bed, and to keep pet dander from blowing from the crate area into the rest of the house. On the whole, I wouldn’t recommend them unless you are out of other options. [Allergy: Pet Dander]
Data was obtained through personal communication with my Allergist, as well as the following sources.
- Hickman (2012) Indoor line-drying: Good for your wallet but bad for your health? Mother Nature Network, obtained on Feb. 18, 2013, from: http://www.mnn.com/your-home/at-home/blogs/indoor-line-drying-good-for-your-wallet-but-bad-for-your-health
- Krieger et al. (2010) Housing Interventions and Control of Asthma-Related Indoor Biologic Agents: A Review of the Evidence. Journal of Public Health Management & Practice, 16(5): S11–S20. Available at: http://journals.lww.com/jphmp/Fulltext/2010/09001/Housing_Interventions_and_Control_of.4.pdf
- Munir et al. (1993) Vacuum cleaning decreases the levels of mite allergens in house dust. Pediatric Allergy and Immunology, 4(3):136–143.
- Vojta et al. (2001) Effects of physical interventions on house dust mite allergen levels in carpet, bed, and upholstery dust in low-income, urban homes. Environmental Health Perspectives, 109(8): 815–819. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1240409/
- Walshaw & Evans (1986). Allergen avoidance in house dust mite sensitive adult asthma. The Quarterly Journal of Medicine, 58(226):199-215.