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Indoor Allergens

Each year, millions of people suffer from seasonal allergy symptoms such as nose and sinus congestion (also known as hay fever, or allergic rhinitis), itchy, runny nose, itchy, watery eyes, chronic cough and asthma. While many suffer from seasonal allergies, others suffer from “perennial” allergies. These are allergies that occur throughout the year.  Most Perennial allergies are triggered by indoor allergen, such as dust.  But dust isn’t a single substance.  What we usually referred to as “house dust” is actually made up of many different substance which individually, or together combine to provoke mild to severe allergic reactions.   In house dust you may find textile fibers, insect parts, animal dander (part of the animals skin), hair, food bits, pollen grains, mold spores, mildew, bacteria and dust mites.  All of these can contribute to the allergic symptoms provoked by house dust, but the major offenders including dust mites, animal dander, mold, mildew and cockroach parts will be discussed below.

House dust mites
House dust mites are tiny creatures, invisible to the naked eye.  They thrive on the dust particles that accumulate in your home.  The droppings and parts left by these tiny creatures are potent allergens, provoking mild to serious life threatening allergic responses.  House dust mites are found through out houses and buildings, but especially thrive on dust which contains animal parts, especially animal dander (animal skin flakes).  Dust mites like humidity.  So using dehumidifiers to keep the household humidity below fifty percent is an important way to help control dust mites.  Since dust that collects in carpeting can be difficult to reach and control, hardwood, tile and linoleum rather than carpeted floors are recommended for people with allergies.  Throw rugs, which may be washed or dry cleaned are an acceptable alternative in cold areas where bear floor is difficult to tolerate.

Because people usually spend up to one third of their time in the bedroom (sleeping), it is especially important to take measures to dust proof this room.  Synthetic, rather than natural fibers are less friendly to dust mites.  And special allergy proof encasings for mattresses and pillows are available.  Bedding should be washed weekly in hot water. Vacuums with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate) filter or a double bag, are recommended for people with allergies.  Allergic individuals should also wear dust masks, especially when cleaning or vacuuming their house.

Animal dander

Allergy to animals is very common.  While most people believe that allergies are triggered by exposure to the hair of the animal, this is actually not the case.  In people with an inherited hypersensitivity (called atopy or allergy) exposure to allergens (proteins) in the saliva, dander (skin flakes) or urine are the actual triggers of the allergic symptoms.  These proteins are carried in the air on very small and can land on the lining of the eyes, the nose, or be inhaled directly into the lungs. Usually, symptoms will occur quickly, often within minutes of exposure to the animal. Symptoms may build and become most severe eight to twelve hours following contact with the allergen. 

People who are allergic to dogs, cats and horses usually react to the saliva or dander of the animal, while those who are allergic to rabbits, hamsters and guinea pigs usually react to the animals urine. 
All breeds of dogs or cars are capable of triggering symptoms.  Though some breeds tend to shed more than others, there are no absolutely hypo-allergenic breeds of these types of pets. The most effective way to combat symptoms of animal allergy is to remove the pet from the home and avoid any contact. Keeping an animal outdoors is only a partial solution, since the yard then contains pet proteins which can easily be tracked into the house.  Before you get a pet, try spending time with the dog or cat of a friend to be sure you don’t suffer from allergic symptoms. Some studies have demonstrated that bathing dogs or cats on a weekly basis may reduce the amount of allergens that are shed in the home. While dander and saliva are the source of cat and dog allergens, urine is the source of allergens from rabbits, hamsters and guinea pigs. If you are allergic to these animals, ask someone else to take responsibility for cleaning the animal's cage.

Vacuuming is not  sufficient to remove dander and animal proteins from carpeting, since these particles sink deep into the fabric of the rug.  Vacuuming can actually stir up particles, sending them into the air and causing increased exposure.  Using a HEPA vacuum filter or double bags may help. Hardwood floor, tile or linoleum. are always preferable to carpeting in households where one or more member has allergic disease. 

Controlling cockroaches

While cockroaches prefer in warm, tropical climates, there are varieties which live in most offices and homes.  Cockroaches parts are a primary trigger of asthma symptoms, especially for children living in urban neighborhoods or other densely populated areas.

Eliminating cockroaches can be an important factor in decreasing allergic disease.  Sealing cracks and crevices around walls, windows and doors as well as blocking drains may prevent cockroaches from entering a building. Keep foods in airtight containers. Wash dishes after use in hot, soapy water.  Keep garbage in a tightly sealed container and remove garbage from the household frequently.  Remove pet food from the dish between feedings. Wiping counters, vacuuming, sweeping after meals to remove food bits from the floor can also help reduce cockroaches.  If you or a family member has severe allergic symptoms, such as asthma, you may want to consult an exterminator to find the best ways of eradicating cockroaches from your home. 

Controlling molds

Mold and mildew thrive in damp or humid areas of the house, like basements and bathrooms. These organisms produce tiny spores that are potent  triggers of allergies and asthma.
Luckily, cleaning with a bleach containing detergent can be very effective in eliminating molds and mildew.  Do not put carpeting on concrete floors and try not to store clothes, papers or other items in damp areas.  Dehumidifiers may be helpful in reducing dampness and decreasing the risk of mold and mildew growth in damp areas. But dehumidifiers should be cleaned regularly.  Try to be sure that bathrooms and basements are well ventilated and cleaned regularly cleaned to reduce mold and mildew growth.

Additional tips

While opening windows may provide good ventilation to reduce indoor allergens, it may open the way for outdoor allergens, such as pollens and ragweed to enter the home. Instead, use air conditioning to clean, recirculate and dehumidify the air.  Air filters, which may be build into some cooling and heating systems, can also provide a good source of allergen free ventilation.  HEPA filters, mechanical filtration with disposable fiberglass filters may be used, but should be changed regularly.  You may also wish to consider permanent air filters with baffles, electrostatic filters of polypropylene and polyester to clean the air in your home.  All filter plates should be cleaned or replaced frequently or they may produce irritants, such as ozone.  Although air filters and devices may be popular, none have been scientifically proven to remove allergens and decrease allergy or asthma symptoms, neither has  air duct cleaning been proven effective in reducing allergy and asthma symptoms.  These measures should not replace implementing environmental control measures to reduce allergens.
Tobacco smoke, aerosols, perfumes, paint and cleaning product with strong odors should be avoided by anyone who has allergic symptoms.

You should consult an allergy and asthma specialist if:

• Your or a family members allergy and asthma symptoms get after a new pet is brought home.
• You or a family member are experiencing seasonal or persistent allergic symptoms or are concerned about environmental triggers of allergic diseases.
• You or a family member have experienced seasonal or persistent asthma, nasal or eye symptoms from inhalant sensitization.
• To discuss the benefits to you or a family member of immunotherapy treatment (allergy shots) to reduce your allergy symptoms.


Copyright © 2008-2010 Dr. Beth Cowan