Limiting Exposure to Allergens in the Home
Attacks of allergic diseases of the nose, sinuses and lungs may be caused by breathing in allergens and irritants in airborne particles that are invisible to the naked eye and float in the air for long periods. Airborne particles from house dust frequently cause allergic symptoms, and contain a mixture of many kinds of particles from the mattress, pillows, bedding, furniture stuffing and carpets. In susceptible individuals house dust causes allergy because it also contains mold spores and allergens from house dust mites, furry pets and cockroaches. Reduction of house dust may lessen the severity of established allergic disease, particularly if your allergist has identified asthma and allergy to house dust mites, mold or animals. Following are suggestions for doing this.
1. Initially, all furniture, rugs and drapes should be taken from the patient's bedroom, and the clothes closets should be emptied (keep clothes elsewhere, when possible). Wash or vacuum the walls, ceilings, woodwork and floors in the room, closets, and bed frames. Vacuum cleaners with highly efficient filtration systems are recommended, particularly if a cat has been in the house. Pillows and bedding stuffed with feathers should be replaced with synthetic fiber-filled pillows and bedding.
Cover the pillows, mattress and box springs with dust-proof encasings (covers). Wash bed linen and blankets regularly and dry them in the sun or tumble dry at 130° F for 20 minutes. Dry cleaning followed by a regular cold cycle wash before using the blankets is also effective. Prepare all beds in the room the same way.
Toys and wall decorations which will accumulate dust should be minimal. Use washable toys with nonallergenic stuffing whenever possible; Soft toys can be placed in a freezer overnight once a week to kill dust mites. Closets should contain as little as possible. Cotton or rag rugs and plain light curtains (both washed weekly) are preferred. Old carpet is frequently a prolific source of mold, particularly if it has ever become very wet, and should be removed, preferably leaving a bare surface of tiles or floor boards. If the carpet cannot be removed, steam clean it regularly. Dust mites in the carpet can be killed with benzylbenzoate powder if the carpet is not heavily soiled.
2. The bedroom should be cleaned daily and given a thorough cleaning weekly.
3. All cleaning in the house should be done with a vacuum, wet mop or wet dust cloth, never with a dry broom, dry dust cloth, or dry mop. Old overstuffed furniture should be replaced with wood or vinyl/leather-covered furniture. The remaining upholstered furniture should be vacuumed at least once a week, preferably at a time when the patient is out of the house.
4. If you are known to be allergic to household pets, the pets should not be allowed in the house. Cats are among the worst of the allergy-causing animals, because their allergens spread throughout the house in the form of invisible dust which is impossible to eliminate from the carpets, drapes or furniture until the animal is permanently removed. Bathe pets and wash their bedding once a week, if possible. If no-one in the house is known to be allergic to cats or dogs, keeping the animals in the house may not necessarily cause allergy or asthma.
5. No smoking should be allowed in the house. Avoid strong odors: e.g., perfume, sprays, fresh paint, and solvents, as they may act as non-specific irritants.
6. In summer, a refrigerated air conditioning unit or heat pump with a non-disposable electrostatic filter (such as the Newtron filter) is preferable to evaporative cooling. Alternatively, a well-maintained evaporative cooler with clean filter pads and clean water running through it is preferable to wide-open windows. The inside of heating and cooling ducts should be cleaned thoroughly at least once every two years. Be sure that filters are changed or cleaned regularly. If the house has a forced air gas furnace, installation of an electrostatic filter on the air intake side of the furnace may be helpful.
7. In a house with refrigerated air conditioning, a large capacity portable HEPA-type air cleaner can further reduce allergen levels in the bedroom. This cannot be used in a house with an evaporative cooler: in this case the cooling duct vent in the bedroom could be blocked off and a window air conditioner with a HEPA filter could be effective.
8. Bermuda grass lawns should be cut every 4-5 days, sprinkled daily during the growing period (April to November), and fertilized. Consider killing your Bermuda grass in the summer, since it is a bad allergen. If sensitive to mold, do not have potted plants in the house.
9. If cockroaches are present in the house, kill them regularly with baited traps (not chemical sprays, which are less effective). See the excellent University of Nebraska Pesticide Safety Education Program and select Cockroach Management for do-it-yourself control information.