Nineteenth century British writer Jane Austen said, “There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort.” Some of you may love the notion, but the fact is indoor allergies can make for a miserable environment, even when you are not aware that is the cause of your discomfort.
Does closing up the house and turning on the heat make your head or nose stuffy? Does it cause you to suffer more frequently from sinus pressure or headaches? Is your skin feeling dry or itchy? These are symptoms of allergies and the truth is many allergens can be found in your own home.
It is time to discuss one of the most common causes of indoor allergies: dust mites.
Dust mites are microscopic arachnids that live deep in fabric fibers, such as carpeting and cloth furniture. Their size makes them impossible to see and, thanks to their adhesive-like feet, they can burrow deep in fibrous materials. The good news is they are not indicative of an unkempt house, and they will not bite or live on you. The bad news is they expel digestive enzymes that can cause allergic reactions and they are difficult to eliminate.
Before you set your house on fire, there are ways to fight the dust mite invasion:
- The ideal allergen-free home has hard surface flooring, central air conditioning, leather or vinyl furniture, a HEPA furnace air filter, a dry basement with drains in the floor, and a central vacuum system.
- Use dehumidifiers and air conditioning in damp-prone areas, such as basements. Dust mites have no means of drinking, so they get their hydration from the humidity in the air. A relative humidity of 30-50% is ideal for discouraging dust mites.
- Enclose your mattresses, box springs, and pillows in appropriate “allergy-proof” cases. Your bedding is most vulnerable to dust mite invasion, so protect where you sleep.
- Wash all bedding weekly in hot water. Though national guidelines recommend water temperatures of no higher than 120⁰, temperatures of 130⁰ are best for killing dust mites. The lower temperature will also work when used with multiple rinse cycles. Steam cleaning is also effective. Dry cleaning is helpful for killing but not for removing dust mites; lingering dust mite particles still may cause allergic reactions.
- Remove extra fabrics from your bedding, such as stuffed animals, throw pillows, and bed ruffles. If the feng-shui of the room will suffer from this, consider hot washing these materials on a regular basis as well.
- Vacuum and dust often. Regular house cleaning is usually not much of a match for these guys, but the more often it is done, the more effective it will be against them. Remember to wash those curtains!
- Mite-killing treatments such as sprays and denaturants do exist, but they can be expensive and are not proven to be particularly helpful. Try the previously listed methods first.
Dust mites are not the only cause of indoor allergies. Other common allergy causes are animal dander, mold spores, and pollens. Allergic reactions can stem from only one or any combination of these triggers.
No, living in a sterile room with concrete furniture is not the answer; there are some things you can do to make you house more allergen-resistant:
- Identify musty, moldy areas of your home and treat them. Bleaching and scrubbing are effective forms of treatment on mold, but can be limiting. Extensive mold in carpeting may require carpet replacement (ideally with a hard surface flooring). Mold thrives in humid or damp areas, such as bathrooms or basements. Consider installing exhaust fans or using dehumidifiers in damp areas of the house.
- Close your windows and turn your air conditioning on to reduce the dampness in your home. The air conditioning does not need to be on a low temperature, so even the exhaust setting should help.
- Animal dander intolerance can develop at any stage of life, and you don’t have to be “itchy/sneezy” to have a pet allergy. Many individuals with chronic headache, post-nasal drip, cough, congestion, or sinus pressure are allergic to their pets. Unfortunately, the most effective defense against animal dander allergy is removal of any pets from your home (after removal, it often takes up to six months to rid the house of any allergens). This is, understandably, not a choice for many patients. Another option is to enjoy your pet in certain areas of the house other than your bedroom. Areas with less fabric (i.e. hard-surface flooring, vinyl or leather furniture, etc.) are often better to prevent dander from hanging around, so consider this when decorating or choosing areas, and give your pet a 10-15 minute bath once or twice a week.
- Tobacco smoke increases allergy issues within the home. The ideal remedy for this is to quit smoking.
The experts at Grand Rapids Allergy have experience in identifying and treating allergies. If these tips are not effective enough in your fight against indoor allergies, give Grand Rapids Allergy a call, and be sure to pick up that dust mite cover, while you’re at it.
Make your home that place for real comfort again!