It’s officially spring. Along with the flowers and sunshine, for the allergic among us it’s also the sneeziest, eye-wateringest season. That’s mostly due to surges in airborne pollen, and so when pollen is high, allergic people should stay in inside.
That’s sensible advice — if your home isn’t a major allergy zone already. Here’s how to make sure the inside of your home actually gets you some relief.
Before you start making a “Stop Allergies ASAP” list based on the recommendations below, consider what you do and don’t know.
“The first thing to keep in mind is that not everyone has the same allergies,” said Sanaz Eftekhari, Director of Corporate Affairs for the nonprofit Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA). “There are thousands of allergens — common ones are dust mites, pollen and pet dander. What you should change in your home depends on your diagnosis.”
Knowing what allergens might be common in your home could be helpful too — most homes have high levels of at least one nose-tickler, according to the NIH. You can find professional air-quality experts to do this for you, or try a DIY kit to help you figure out what the worst allergens in your particular abode are.
Common-sense observation counts too: If you already know you are allergic to dust mites, and you can write messages to your roommate in the dust on your shelves, that’s an obvious problem. If you are allergic to pet dander, giving Fido a brush-down in your bedroom is a dumb idea.
Keeping what you are allergic to in mind, here are some strategies to try for each area of your house.
For The Whole House
Keep it simple — literally. Decluttering in general will help minimise places for allergens to hang out. (Every little knick-knack expands the surface area for dust, pet dander, pollen and other allergens to collect.)
Keep newly cleared-off surfaces clean by wiping them down regularly with a damp cloth. Old cotton socks work great for this — just tuck your hand inside and go, no fancy dusters needed.
Don’t bring allergens inside (if pollen is your problem). Use two doormats — one inside, and one outside, to capture allergens at your doorways, and keep them from entering your house. Even better, take shoes off at the door, so you don’t track pollen all over the house — it easily travels in on your shoes.
You might want to change into “inside-the-house” clothes, since pollen adheres to clothes, too. Who doesn’t want to get comfy when they get home anyway? And take a quick shower before going to sleep, so you aren’t bringing pollen into your bed.
- Keep windows closed. And use the air con (same goes for when you’re in your car), which will filter pollen out.
- Get rid of your rugs. Bare floors that are regularly cleaned are a simple way to cut down on a major allergen-holder. If you must keep rugs around, “consider getting [them] professionally carpet cleaned every quarter if you can,” said Eftekhari.
Vacuum well, and regularly. Invest in or use vacuum with a HEPA filter (check to see that it’s the kind that filters allergens) so you aren’t blowing allergens around while you are cleaning.
Don’t just vacuum the floor — get window sills and corners where the floor and walls meet. And look up — ceiling corners capture dust too.
In The Bedroom
You spend seven hours (or more) in your bed each night, so this is the number one area to keep clean and allergen-free.
Use a humidifier or air-purifier while you sleep. That way the ⅓ or ¼ of your life that you spend sleeping will be in filtered air.
“I used a humidifier for the first time this year and it made a difference — my allergy symptoms are about 15 per cent improved,” said Ron Quiroga, who lives and works in Norwalk, Connecticut. He says it’s important to keep the unit clean (read your unit’s instructions for specifics) so that it works at maximum effectiveness.
Wash your sheets and pillowcases regularly (once a week). You can also look for allergy-friendly sheets and pillows.
The AAFA tests blankets, sheets, mattress pads and doonas. As part of their certification, they determine if tested items have any “physical or chemical properties that are likely to irritate asthma and/or allergy symptoms” or “contribute to the goal of reducing allergen exposure”.
Details are available for each product and the nonprofit org also checks out whether the item can be cleaned as suggested — and stand up to that cleaning over time. It's a US-based website, but at least some of the products they review are available in Australia as well.
- Wash your curtains regularly. Or better yet, use easily cleanable blinds or shades that don’t collect dust and allergens (and don’t forget to wipe them down every so often). Same goes for decorative pillows and fabric wall-hangings.
Keep your pets out of your bed and your bedroom, if you have a pet-dander allergy. If you don’t, and your worry is more about pollen getting inside, wipe poochface down with a damp cloth when she comes in from outside to remove pollen as much as you can.
And maybe wash those sheets a little more frequently if she sleeps with you, since her fur will carry pollen in even if you clean her off well. Frequent baths aren’t a bad idea either.
In The Kitchen
Keep this room clean because it’s the civilised thing to do, but also because it will keep you healthier. Don’t forget to clean ceiling fan edges and remove dust from oven hoods and from behind and under appliances; there are a lot of places for allergens to hide in a busy kitchen, even if benchtops are clean.
- Keep vermin out. Rodents and roaches both spread allergens such as pollen and are allergens themselves (roaches have a protein in their skin droppings and urine that some people are allergic to, as do mice). Take food garbage out daily so they stay out of your space. Which is just a good idea anyway, isn’t it?
- Keep bathroom and kitchen areas dry, including the fridge — this is so mould won’t grow in damp areas.
Just because you have allergies doesn’t mean you should drive yourself nuts and try to do everything on this list (mental health matters too!), unless you have severe allergic responses. Pick a few items that apply to you and your allergy and stick to them, such as washing sheets and vacuuming weekly.
“Know your own situation. Know what you’re allergic to, know your sensitivity and come up with a plan so this doesn’t take over your life,” said Eftekhari. “Not everyone needs to take all of these precautions. Just because you have an allergy doesn’t mean you have to live in a perfectly sanitary world.”