There are some simple but effective measures that allergy sufferers can take to lessen reactions to some of the most common allergens in the home: dust and dust mites, molds and animal dander.
The first place to combat dust and the microscopic creatures called dust mites is in the bedroom.
Mattresses and pillows should have encasings designed to trap dust mites. An encasing is a fabric-coated zip-up bag that goes between the mattress and sheets or between the pillow and pillow cover. It should not be removed or washed, as that will release the trapped mites. Other bedding should be washed weekly, with a caveat: Water hotter than 150 degrees will kill mites, but most home washing machines don’t reach these temperatures. You can take your bedding to a commercial machine or use a laundry additive formulated to denature the dust mite allergen. Don’t dry your sheets outdoors; use the dryer. Bedding can collect pollens and spores if left outside.
Next, purchase a high-efficiency particle arresting, or HEPA, air purifier for your bedroom. HEPA filters are recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency (www.epa.gov) as the most effective home air-cleaning system for trapping most types of dust. They come as stand-alone units or can be installed in central heating-air conditioning units for a few thousand dollars.
If you can’t afford one, place dust filters over your air ducts. You can also have your air ducts cleaned professionally.
Ideally, allergic children should be kept away from stuffed toys. If, however, they can’t bear to part with them, wash the toys (if the labeling allows) and keep them in zipped plastic bags, out of the child’s room. Open the bags for playtime, but don’t let the child bring the stuffed animals into the bedroom.
Carpets should be removed. If that’s not possible, invest in a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter. Vacuum at least twice a week and wear a dust mask when doing so.
For windows, replace curtains or drapes with blinds. Vertical blinds will reduce the area on which dust gathers. Wipe down blinds weekly with a damp cloth.
Other tips: Don’t cram your closet with clothing and shoes. For the living room, try to purchase leather furniture; avoid buying overstuffed furniture. Get rid of knickknacks or put them in a glass case.
Fighting mold allergies is next on the list. Mold is caused by excessive humidity or dampness. You can use a hygrometer to determine humidity; it should be about 40% in a bedroom. If it’s too high, a dehumidifier can help. (A bonus of lowering humidity is that it will also hamper dust mite growth, because the mites like moisture.)
Some molds can be cleaned away with a mild bleach-and-water solution or with such cleaners as Tilex. Clean showers and bathroom tile once a week. After showering, dry the walls with a cloth or towel. Don’t place wet towels in a hamper.
When mold is suspected in walls or under floors, call an environmental contractor. A remediation company may need to be brought in.
Yet another common allergen is animal dander: the dead skin, hair and skin oils that animals shed.
Though pets are essentially allergen factories, “most people will get rid of boyfriends and girlfriends before they’ll get rid of a pet,” says Beverly Hills allergy specialist Dr. Stuart Epstein.
But if you decide to part with your pets, be advised that your allergies won’t disappear instantly: Allergens can remain for up to six months after an animal has left.
In the more likely event that you keep your pets, it’s a good idea to shut them out of the bedroom. If they must sleep there, give them a bed away from yours. If possible, keep your pets outside.
Washing pets in a product such as Allerpet can help reduce the amount of dander.
Keeping an eye on the animal’s weight will also help, because obese pets shed more than fit ones, Epstein says.
Many people are also allergic to animal saliva; if you’re one of them, don’t let your pet lick you, and don’t touch places on its body where it has just licked. And always wash your hands with soap and water after touching your pet.