People with indoor/dust allergies often suffer the most inside their own homes or in other people’s homes. Oddly enough, their symptoms often worsen during or immediately after vacuuming, sweeping and dusting. The process of cleaning can stir up dust particles, making them easier to inhale.
Common Indoor Allergy Symptoms
- Sinus Congestion
- Runny Nose
- Post Nasal Drip
- Itchy or Watery Eyes
Indoor Allergy Triggers: Dust Mites
Many years ago, scientists discovered that exposure to house dust was the cause of allergic symptoms for certain individuals. More recently, they found that most of the allergy caused by house dust was due to one of its components—the ever-present house dust mite. These arthropods are related to ticks and spiders, are microscopic and can be found in any house— no matter how clean it is maintained. They tend to collect in materials made of cotton-like fibers (and feather), including mattresses, pillows, comforters, carpets, stuffed furniture and drapery.
Dust mites are probably the most important cause of allergy around the world, but particularly in South Florida. Although these mites are harmful to some allergy sufferers, they are harmless to those who are not allergic.
Particles of these dust mites are inhaled through the nose or mouth and can cause allergy sufferers to sneeze, wheeze and itch (among other symptoms). Dust mites rubbing against the skin can even worsen eczema (atopic dermatitis).
Many species of dust mites thrive in South Florida, but the most important are Dermatophygoides farinae and Dermatophygoides pteronyssius, and new species are continuously being discovered.
How To Avoid House Dust Mites
The first set of techniques is easy, fairly inexpensive, and the most effective. We concentrate on the bedroom because you spend 1/3 of your time sleeping and the highest concentration of dust mites is found in your bed. These measures will also help with allergies to mold and animal dander.
Wash all bedding, including sheets, pillowcases, blankets, mattress pads, in VERY HOT water every week. Water hotter than 125 degrees kills dust mites. If, for child safety reasons, it is necessary to keep hot water at 120 degrees or less, soak the bedding in bleach (Do not inhale bleach fumes) and water for 10 minutes prior to the washing. The best type of blanket to use is a Vellux(™)- type because it is so durable with repeated washings and doesn’t collect much dust. Comforters are BIG dust collectors and should be avoided. If using a comforter, get a dust-mite encasement for it (see below).
Purchase vinyl or semi-permeable dust mite encasements for your mattress, pillow, boxspring and comforter. Vinyl zippered encasements are the least expensive (less than $20) but are very effective and durable. Adults might find them a bit uncomfortable, but placing a washable quilted mattress pad on top makes them easier to sleep on. The more permeable encasements are breathable and are very comfortable. The best prices for these are usually available by mail-order companies, with most companies’ products being very similar. Shop for the best price.
Remove clutter from the bedroom by removing stuffed animals, putting away dirty clothes, and taking books and magazines out of the bedroom. For children, try to limit them to one washable stuffed animal on the bed, and remember to wash it frequently in hot water.
Vacuum the carpet regularly. The dust mite allergic person should be out of the house while the vacuuming is being done. If allergy suffererers are forced to do the vacuuming themselves, they should consider wearing a mask. Use an HEPA-quality vacuum cleaner.
Expensive but very effective— Consider removing the carpet!
Removing carpeting from a bedroom may be more expensive than other measures but, in the long run, it is quite cost-effective when considering the time and money saved from reduced medical related expenses. It is also one of the most effective means of avoiding dust mites.
If the carpet cannot be replaced now, consider replacing it in the future with linoleum or tile when it gets worn or stained. If you are moving in the near future, try to find an apartment or house that already has all linoleum or tile floors. If living in an apartment, consider asking a doctor to address a note to the landlord stating your allergy to dust mites and that it is “medically necessary” that the carpeting be removed.
For comfort, small throw rugs near the bed or other areas are effective-however, don’t forget to vacuum these rugs. Also, leaving rugs out in the sun for a few hours is effective in killing dust mites.
Leave the Air Conditioning on as much as possible. Keep the A/C on as cool as you can tolerate and afford. Dust mites and molds can’t survive when it is cool and dry. Humidifiers, however, may aggravate the dust mite and mold problem. Change filters often. De-humidifiers may be helpful, but be sure to clean up moldy surfaces with bleach-containing cleaners and to remove mold-contaminated materials (e.g., black- stained ceiling tiles).
Be careful not to inhale the fumes from bleach since they may trigger nasal or lung symptoms. Remove kitchen garbage frequently and check the pail for mold accumulation.
Additional Indoor Allergy Triggers:
Cockroaches. Cockroaches live in all types of buildings and neighborhoods. Some people develop allergy symptoms when they are around cockroaches. Tiny particles from the cockroach are a common component of household dust and may be the true cause of a dust allergy.
Mold. Mold is a fungus that makes spores that float in the air. When people with a mold allergy inhale the spores, they get allergy symptoms. There are many different kinds of mold—some kinds you can see, others you can’t.
Molds live everywhere—on logs and fallen leaves, and in moist places like bathrooms and kitchens. Tiny mold particles and spores are a common component of household dust and may be the true cause of a dust allergy.
Pollen. Pollen comes from trees, grasses, flowers, and weeds. People can be allergic to different types of pollen. For instance, some people are allergic to pollen from only beech trees; others are allergic to pollen from only certain kinds of grasses. Pollen is a common component of household dust and may be the true cause of a dust allergy.
Animal hair, fur, and feathers. Pets can cause problems for allergic patients in several ways. Their dander (skin flakes), saliva and urine can cause an allergic reaction, especially when combined with household dust. In households with birds, feathers and bird droppings can also become embedded in household dust and cause problems for people who are allergic to them.
Tips to Manage Indoor Allergies
It’s best to avoid the things most likely to cause an allergic reaction. Here are some simple steps to reduce exposure to indoor dust:
- Opt for wood flooring over wall-to-wall carpets when possible, especially in bedrooms.
- Clean your house regularly, using a central vacuum or a vacuum with a HEPA filter. If you are allergic, wear an N95 filter mask while dusting, sweeping or vacuuming. (It can take more than two hours for the dust to settle after a thorough cleaning—so, if possible, clean when the allergic patient is away, and avoid cleaning the bedroom of an allergic person at night.)
- Use “mite-proof” cases on your mattresses and pillows. Wash all bed linens regularly, using hot water.
- Keep a HEPA air cleaner running in the allergic person’s bedroom.
- Keep pets out of the allergic person’s bedroom at all times.
- Install a high-efficiency media filter with a MERV rating of 11 or 12 in the furnace and the air conditioning unit. Leave the fan on to create a “whole house” air filter that removes particulates. Change the filter at least every three months (with the change of the seasons) to keep the air clean year-round. Have your heating and air conditioning units inspected and serviced every six months.
Don’t suffer from untreated allergies. Schedule an appointment today with one of our board-certified allergists, and move towards a clearer tomorrow.