Allergen Avoidance Begins at Home

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Category: Allergic Rhinitis and Sinusitus Published on Thursday, 03 July 2008 Written by Yong Tsai, MD
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We spend about one third of our lives in our bedroom.  And because most of this time is spent in bed, the bedroom is the most important room to be rid of dust mites, pet dander, and molds.  One of the most common indoor asthma and allergy triggers are dust mites.  Even though you cannot see them with the naked eye, dust mites are a fact of life and can be found almost anywhere; in our mattress, pillows, box spring, blankets, carpet, towels, upholstered furniture, drapes, and our children's cuddly stuffed animals.  In fact, the typical mattress contains two million dust mites.  Imagine how many we breathe in every night. 

Another major indoor trigger is animal dander (skin flakes).  All warm-blooded household pets, even my white Bichon Dolly, regardless of hair length, produce proteins in their dander and saliva that can trigger allergies, which by the way, dust mites love to eat.  And cat dander residue can linger in carpets for up to 20 weeks and in mattresses for years.  Unlike the Northern United States and Canada , where molds diminish after the first snow, molds in Florida do not have a limited season.  Airborne mold spores can blow through an open window, door or vent and grow year-round particularly in dark, humid areas, such as basements, bathrooms, carpets, mattresses, refrigerators, and older homes.

So, what can we do?  We can try our best to avoid them!  We must protect our beds. Cover pillows, mattresses and box springs with special allergen resistant covers. Wash linens weekly in at least 130 degrees water. And avoid down-filled (feather) comforters and pillows.  Keep in mind that a warm humid area is not a good place for a bedroom and that a mattress should be on a frame, not the floor.  But, air conditioners and dehumidifiers can help keep humidity under 50%. Carpet and thick rugs are also an allergy no-no as they tend to trap dirt, dander, mold, and dust mites.  But if carpets are a must, vacuum weekly with a HEPA or ULPA vacuum cleaner, and try to wear a dust mask when you clean.

When you decide to decorate, consider washable curtains or window shades rather than heavy drapes or blinds as well as wood, leather, or vinyl furniture versus upholstered to keep the mites at bay. Keep rooms uncluttered and easily wipeable. And to top it off, buy one of those stylish looking HEPA air cleaners available now that can keep indoor air as pure as possible.  Finally, because getting rid of the family pet may be too emotional, try to bath them weekly, keep them outdoors as much as possible, and definitely out of the bed and even bedroom.

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