How to beat the sneeze!

Millions of people suffer from indoor or outdoor allergies.  Learning to combat and decrease allergen exposures we can control can help us decrease our overall symptoms and lead to a healthier well being.

First we have to understand what an allergen is? An allergen is a material that can cause an allergic reaction. Allergy symptoms vary from person to person and usually do not appear immediately and even then, only after cumulative exposure over several days.  Some patients may experience a reduction or an increase in symptoms after long-term exposure.

  • Runny nose and congestion (rhinitis) seldom becomes severe before 15 to 30 minutes.
  • Asthma symptoms such as shortness of breath and wheezing may begin after 30 minutes of exposure.
  • Other symptoms include: itchy eyes (conjunctivitis), dark circles under the eyes, sneezing, hives (urticaria), rash or skin itching (contact dermatitis).

Dust mites can be a major health concern to people with indoor allergies. There is no way to completely eliminate dust mites, but controlling them can reduce a person’s risk of suffering from the health problems associated with them. While you sleep, dust mites are lurking in your mattresses and bed sheets. There are several things that can be done to reduce the dust mites’ population in your bedding.

Wash your bedding weekly (blankets, covers, sheets) – It is the simplest solution to controlling dust mites. Use the washing machine with the “Hot” water setting (130 degrees).

Pillows – It is recommended that you replace feather and down pillows with those that have synthetic materials as a filling, and replace your regular pillow covers with dust-mite proof zippered covers.

Blankets – It is recommended that you replace wool blankets with cotton or nylon. There are mite proof duvet covers that can encase “big blankets/comforters”.

Mattresses – One of the more cost-effective ways to control dust mites is to damp dust a plastic mattress cover on your bed. Alternative ways to prevent a dust mite infestation is to buy dust-proof zipped mattress covers. Research also shows that covering your mattress with fitted-sheets helps slow the accumulation of skin scales.

Flooring and Carpeting – Carpeting is one of the most common breeding grounds for dust mites. There are potentially tens of thousands of dust mites that can live in a square yard of carpet! We recommend vacuuming carpeted areas regularly with a vacuum equipped with a HEPA filter. A HEPA filter removes 99.7 percent of the airborne particles that are 0.3 micrometers or larger. A more drastic approach to combating dust mites is to replace carpeting with vinyl or wood flooring.

Air – Dust mites thrive in high humidity conditions, but this can be reduced to under 50% humidity by using de-humidifiers and air conditioners.  To remove dust mite allergen from the air, researchers suggest an air filtration system, especially ones that use a HEPA filter.

Cat allergen comes from a protein present in the dander, saliva, sebaceous glands (oil), urine and feces of cats.  It is microscopic in size and can easily be inhaled into the nose or lungs to cause allergic symptoms.  Male cats shed more allergen than female cats.  At least 2% of the population is allergic to cats, and 1/3 of these people have a cat in the house.  There are a few breeds thought to be less allergenic. These include Rex breeds, Sphynx Cats and Siberian Cats.  The following steps can be taken to reduce the level of cat allergen in the home:

  • Remove the cat entirely from the home.
  • If this is not possible, keep the cat outdoors all or some of the time.
  • Limit an indoor cat to a single area of the house, preferably an uncarpeted room.  This, in addition to vacuuming, air filtration and cat washing can reduce the cat dander by 90%.  Keep the cat out of the bedroom of the allergic patient.
  • Keep the house well ventilated.  An energy efficient house actually traps animal dander inside.  A HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter can reduce the level of airborne cat allergen by about 50%.
  • Shampoo the cat in warm water for 10 to 15 minutes once a week to remove much of the surface allergen.  Express as much water as possible before towel drying the cat.  You can dry the cat further with a blow dryer set to its lowest setting.  Cats bathed from a young age usually do not mind being washed.  A significant decrease in allergen does not occur for 3 to 8 months.
  • Remove rugs, carpeting, stuffed animals, and fabric-upholstered furniture as cat dander adheres to soft furnishings.  Vertical surfaces, such as walls, also collect cat dander.  House cleaning should include washing the walls at several month intervals.
  • Use a face mask when brushing the cat or changing kitty litter.  Wash your hands after touching a cat.  Change clothing after coming in contact with a cat.  Wash the clothing in hot water.
  • Indirect exposure to cat allergen at school exacerbates symptoms in allergic and asthmatic children.  Other classmates, who have cats, bring it to school on their clothes and expose other children they (or their clothes) come in contact with.

Dogs also are a common indoor allergen.  Like cat dander there are some steps we can take to decrease indoor exposure to this allergen. For patients with prick positive reactions, it is best to keep the animal out of the house.  Even with removing the dog from the home, it will take between 6-18 months for the dog protein to decrease to “normal” levels unless you replace carpets and upholstered furniture at the same time.  There is no truly allergenic free dog, but some breeds tend to cause fewer problems for allergy sufferers.  These include:

  1. Poodle and Labradoodles
  2. Schnauzer
  3. Portuguese Water Dog
  4. Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier
  5. Maltese
  6. Lhasa Apso
  7. Yorkshire Terrier
  8. Shih Tzu
  9. Irish Water Spaniel
  10. Kerry Blue Terrier

Further Steps

  • Keep the dog 100% out of the bedroom.
  • Limit the dog to rooms with hard surfaces for easier cleaning.  Hard surface floors are best, since carpets become a huge reservoir for animal protein.  Leather furniture accumulates far less allergic protein than upholstered furniture.
  • Washing the dog weekly may reduce the allergic protein that would otherwise be deposited throughout the home.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after direct contact with the dog so that you don’t spread the dog protein from your fingernails to yourself the rest of the day.
  • Consider purchasing a room HEPA filter that can diminish dog protein from the air.  This is especially true if the HEPA filter is in a room with a hard surface floor.

Mold can be both an indoor and outdoor concern.  In the Pacific NW, when it is damp it is also cold, mold allergy is not as common as in other parts of the U.S. However,  homes with air conditioning, where certain hobbies take place  and homes where moisture control is a problem, symptoms of mold allergy can appear.

  • Decrease moisture in home.  This is also helpful for mites, since they cannot live if humidity less than 50%.  Do not use vaporizers or humidifiers.
  • Use bleach (1 part bleach to 9 parts water), X-14 or Tilex for visible mildew on bathroom grouting or window frames.
  • Avoid compost piles, hay, and piles of raked leaves.

Outdoor allergens (trees, grasses, weeds) are another source of many allergy sufferers symptoms.  Since pollen is seasonal it does not cause year round symptoms but because of differing times of the year differing pollens “peak” (pollinate) and depending on the climate they can cause problems for 4-6 months of the year for many people.

  • Keep windows closed at night to prevent pollen from drifting into your home.  Keep your car windows closed while traveling.
  • Minimize early morning activity when pollen is usually emitted-between 5 and 10 a.m.
  • Try to stay indoors when the pollen count is high, and on windy days when dust and pollen are blown about.
  • Don’t mow lawns or be around freshly cut grass (at least 1 hour); mowing stirs up pollen and molds.
  • Don’t rake leaves, as this also stirs up molds.  Container/patio pots often also contain high levels of mold in the soil.  Use caution when re-potting.
  • Don’t hang sheets or clothing out to dry, as pollen may collect on them.