The only thing worse than allergies is indoor allergies. Americans spend about 90 percent of their time indoors, where the concentration of pollutants can actually be two to five times higher than outdoors. Yikes!
If you or your family have been sneezing, wheezing, or itching indoors, allergies could be to blame. Common indoor allergens such as mold, dust, dander, and mites can trigger uncomfortable – and potentially dangerous – allergic reactions.
While it is impossible to get rid of allergens entirely, you can take some simple steps to reduce your exposure at home.
Dust mites are microscopic insects that feed off human skin flakes. They are among the most common in-home allergens. These tiny bugs thrive in warm, moist environments, which means bedding and soft furniture are often filled with these invisible pests. Although they don’t bite, they can inflame the nasal passages, leading to itchy, watery eyes and nasal congestion.
Mold is another common household allergen because it tends to grow in damp, dark places like basements, behind drywall, and in small, poorly-ventilated bathrooms. Like dust mites, mold can cause respiratory problems along with dry, itchy skin. Some types of mold, like black mold, are more toxic than others.
Indoor pollen levels can also be higher than you might think, particularly if your family tends to enjoy the outdoors during the spring and summertime, as all that outdoor pollen is easily tracked indoors. Pets can also carry pollen inside, which is why some people mistakenly think they are allergic to dogs when it’s actually the ragweed or another irritant that’s hitching a ride with Fido.
Homes in southern areas may harbor cockroaches that secrete allergens in their saliva and feces. It’s a common myth that the chemicals used to eradicate cockroaches cause allergic reactions, when in fact the bugs themselves are the culprits.
If your household includes four-legged members, you may be exposed to more allergen triggers than you think. Cats and dogs shed invisible dust and dander particles that can become airborne and travel throughout your home with ease. Even the protein in animal saliva, urine, and feces can cause an allergic reaction in some people.
Some places in the nation are more challenging to inhabit than others for those who suffer from allergies. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) calls these cities “allergy capitals.” Springfield, MA, Louisville, KY, and Richmond, VA made the list in both 2019 and 2018. If you live in an allergy capital, you’ll want to take extra measures to protect yourself from pollen, like keeping your windows closed and washing your bedding weekly.
Indoor allergens trigger the same reactions that you can expect from outdoor irritants, with one major exception — allergens in your home can cause year-round allergy symptoms that are normally associated with hay fever or seasonal, allergy-induced asthma.
Symptoms of indoor allergies can range from mild to severe, and some people even require prescription medication to get relief from the swelling within their breathing passages caused by dust mites, mold, pollen, and other irritants. Kids are particularly susceptible to poor indoor air quality because of their developing alveoli (tiny air sacs in the lungs), so long-term exposure can lead to respiratory issues.
Home allergens tend to be concentrated in the areas where we spend the most time. Given that we spend an average of 7 to 9 hours in bed each night and bedrooms are filled with soft surfaces where dust mites, pollen, and pet dander accumulate, bedrooms tend to be the top allergen hotspot in many homes.
Basements are also known to harbor mold, irritants, and dust, particularly in climates that are prone to dampness and flooding, like the Pacific Northwest.
The living room can be another allergen hotspot, especially if there is carpeting and soft window treatments that cause particles to accumulate, leading to almost uncontrollable dust in the house.
While bathrooms usually don’t have many soft surfaces, high humidity levels from showers and baths, poorly-sealed tiles, and a lack of ventilation can create the ideal breeding ground for mold.
Carpets can help keep your floors warm and comfortable, but they tend to exacerbate allergies. They can trap irritants like pet dander, dust, and pollen, only to re-release them again every time someone walks on the carpet. Worse yet, it’s virtually impossible to vacuum up particles that become trapped in the carpet underlay.
If possible, focus on replacing the carpet in your bedrooms with impervious floorings such as hardwood or low-maintenance vinyl. The only exception is your entryway. Studies have shown up to 85 percent of dust, dander, and pollen comes in on the bottom of the shoes. Placing a small, washable mat near your door can help trap dust, pollen, and other irritants before they are tracked into your living space. If you have carpet, be sure to vacuum at least once a week with a HEPA-certified vacuum, and steam clean it at least several times a year.
Since you can’t wash your mattress, the next-best thing is to regularly vacuum it and let it air out in a dry environment. You can also encase it in a specially-designed, dust mite-proof mattress cover. These washable covers are also available for your pillows to prevent build-up and make it easy to allergy-proof your bedroom.
Replace heavy, thick curtains with ones that you can remove and clean regularly, and install wipeable roller blinds in place of those hard-to-clean mini blinds.
Use a strong, high-quality vacuum to clean any remaining carpets and soft surfaces like sofas and chairs, and remember to clean the dust off from behind electronics like your television, speakers, and fridge.
Strong scents are a common irritant, so be sure to choose only unscented cleaning products and avoid the use of artificial air fresheners that can trigger breathing problems among people who suffer from asthma. Natural fabric sprays can also help remove allergens from the couch and furniture.
Purchase a high-quality air filter for your HVAC system and remember to change it out regularly (usually every two months) in order to cut down on the allergens that are re-circulated throughout your heating and cooling vents.
Air pollution levels change dramatically on an hourly basis and can also be different from one street to the next. We recommend using a free air quality app to stay up to date with the air quality around your house – this will help you take preventative measures like closing windows & switching on an air purifier when the air quality gets particularly bad outside.
A dehumidifier is a small machine that removes excess moisture from the air, making it difficult for mold and mildew to grow. It can also keep dust mites at bay, since these creatures thrive in damp environments. Be sure to talk to your doctor if you’ve experienced sinus issues, as the dry air can actually exacerbate some sinus problems.
There are several DIY ways to get rid of cockroaches, and some are even all-natural, like diatomaceous earth, essential oils, or over-the-counter solutions. However, the effectiveness of these home remedies is debatable, and some may even trigger or worsen allergies. The best way to deal with a cockroach infestation is through a professional pest control company.
Turmeric is known as an anti-inflammatory food for good reasons. Its active ingredient, curcumin, has been linked to help reduce symptoms of inflammation-driven diseases, and can help minimize the swelling and irritation caused by seasonal allergies.
Some mold, like mildew, lives on damp surfaces and is relatively easy to clean with a 1-to-8 bleach/water solution. Other types are more insidious and can live in drywall, carpet, insulation, or other hard-to-reach places. This type of fungus takes elbow grease to remove and depending on the severity of your allergy, it may not be a good idea for you to be in close proximity. An experienced home inspector can check your house for signs of mold and other allergens and make a recommendation on how to proceed.
If you or your loved ones suspect in-home allergens could be a problem in your house, speak with your doctor about allergy testing. The most common is a “skin prick” test that involves exposing a small patch of skin to several allergens in order to confirm or rule them out as triggers. An allergy test is typically administered by an allergy specialist, or allergist, who treats allergies, asthma, and other immune system-related issues.
While it’s impossible to get rid of allergens entirely, you can control their impact at home. Once you’ve identified your triggers and learned where the allergen hotspots are in your home, you can act accordingly to stop the spread of dust, dander, pollen, mites, and other unwelcome guests. By taking these steps, you will ultimately create a home environment that is healthier and more comfortable for you and your family.
Do you have indoor allergies? What has worked for you to reduce allergens in your home? Comment below.