The Most Common Home Allergens—and, the Best Ways to Fight Them
If you're sensitive to indoor irritants, this can be an especially itchy-sniffly-sneezy time of year. "Many individuals spend a great deal more time indoors, so their exposure is increased to indoor allergens," says Clifford W. Bassett, MD, author of The New Allergy Solution. Read on to learn about common culprits—and smart ways to help control them.
As the thermometer drops, be aware of these eight-legged critters (lovely). "Since the floor is cold and the carpet is warm, condensation can occur, and dust mites love high humidity," says Estelle Levetin, PhD, a biologist at the University of Tulsa. Another hot zone: your bed, where you likely hang out more often during the chillier months. Dust mites feed on the dead skin cells that everyone sheds.
Get rid of 'em: "Dust mites tend to proliferate in the fall," says Andrew Murphy, MD, a fellow of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Nix buildup by vacuuming (with a HEPA-filter vacuum) at least once a week. Or better yet, switch to washable area rugs. And zip your mattress and pillows into protectors; we like Allergy Guardian's mattress encasements ($81-$128; amazon.com). Then swap out your duvet for a blanket you can wash weekly with your sheets in hot water.
There are two reasons this pesky fungus becomes problematic in the wintertime: Windows are kept shut, and humidifiers get cranked. As the moisture in the air inside your home rises, mold can thrive. You might spot it creeping across your shower curtain, for example—or notice a musty odor.
Control it: Wipe the yucky stuff from hard, impermeable surfaces (like tile) with a 15 percent solution of bleach water, says Levetin. ("For serious contamination from flooding or leaks, you'll need a professional," she adds.) You can also keep an eye on the conditions in which mold grows: Start by picking up a gadget called a hygrometer—such as AcuRite's monitor ($12; amazon.com)—to keep tabs on the humidity level in your home. You want it between 30 and 50 percent. (Most mold growth is limited at below 50 percent; the drier it is, the less likely you are to have a problem.) And be a stickler about ventilating the bathroom, says Dr. Bassett. "Always turn the fan on while you shower, and leave the door cracked, too."
When it's frosty out, some dogs or cats are less likely to lounge around the yard and more likely to play or nap indoors. That means more pet dander (the tiny particles that shed from animals' skin) in the house. "Pet dander is a sticky protein, so it grabs onto clothing, bedding, walls, windows—everywhere," says Dr. Murphy.
Set boundaries: Make your bedroom off-limits to your furry pal. "This may help lower allergen levels there," Dr. Murphy says. You might also want to invest in a HEPA air purifier, says Dr. Bassett. These devices can capture 99.97 percent of airborne particles.
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