Winter weather drives most of us indoors, but that doesn’t mean that we get a three-month rest from allergies. There are, in fact, plenty of potential allergy triggers inside your home. So, which ones should you be worrying about?
The best way to understand potential respiratory triggers for those who have allergic nasal problems and/or asthma is to divide them into allergic and non-allergic categories. Dust mites, pet dander, mold spores and cockroaches are the prevailing indoor allergy triggers in America.
Non-allergic triggers include: chemical residue from cleaning products; small dust particles from fabric (carpets, clothing etc.); combusted particles from ovens, stoves, fireplaces, gas dryers and tobacco; dry air; cold drafts; fragrances from air fresheners (or cleaning products); and just about any material small enough to be suspended in the air.
As you can see, there’s a lot to be considered. You can get a sense of the density of indoor air pollution in your house when a ray of sunshine streams through a closed window and you see all the floating dust particles illuminated. As a child, I was always amazed at such a spectacle because my mom constantly cleaned and dusted. But it’s not a hopeless situation.
Here are 10 tips for reducing indoor allergy and irritant triggers:
1) If you don’t have dust mite-proof pillow, mattress and box spring encasements on your bed, get them! Your regular linen goes on over the encasements and should be washed in hot water weekly to keep the dust mites at a minimum.
2) If you have a pet, keep it out of the bedroom at all times. Not only can it increase the dander particles you inhale, it also provides more food for dust mites (dust mites live off skin scale, mostly human, but they do not discriminate against dog and cat skin scales).
3) Change your furnace filters monthly (unless there are other specified instructions) so they don’t get overloaded and spew out tons of dust particles each time your furnace goes on.
4) If you don’t have a central humidifier, consider getting a portable one to add moisture to the dry air associated with forced air heaters and radiators. Be certain to clean them regularly, as recommended, to avoid mold infiltration. Dry air can be a nemesis to the sinuses and throat during the winter.
5) If you use an indoor fireplace, use the type of wood with minimal smoke emissions. It costs more, but it’s worth it. Of course, it would be better to eliminate burning wood altogether. Close all bedroom doors when the fireplace is lit.
6) Use fragrance-free cleaners for floors and other surfaces. Fragrance-free laundry, fabric softeners and bleach are also recommended. That’s right—someone thought of adding fragrance to bleach!
7) Air filter devices can be helpful in removing small dust particles from the air. The most efficient ones are HEPA-based (high efficiency particulate air), but electrostatic types are the next best thing, and usually less expensive.
8) Maintain a tobacco smoke-free home at all times. Third-hand smoke is often grossly underestimated. This is the ash that forms after the tobacco disintegrates from the burning tip of the cigarette. The residue infiltrates carpets, cushions, pillows and mattresses, and may hang around for years.
9) It may be time to consider giving up on evergreen Christmas trees if you have mold allergies. The dormant mold spores on a live evergreen can become activated in the warm indoor environment and unleash millions of microscopic mold particles into your air space. An artificial tree (although associated with more dust) would be a better choice for those with mold allergies.
10) And finally, those with winter allergies should make a trip to their allergy care provider to update their action plan for rhinitis/asthma, to refill prescriptions, if needed, and to get their flu shot. This last tip won’t reduce a household trigger, but it can help you stay healthy.