That itchy feeling you can’t quite scratch? It’s probably some type of allergen because they are, legitimately, everywhere. While it may be disgusting to think about, it’s important: Allergens can have some very real physical reactions, like itchy, red eyes, for starters, and shortness of breath and wheezing for the asthmatic.
Some 24 million people in the US have asthma, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, and 60 percent of cases are allergic asthma, meaning it’s reactionary to your environment, like allergies caused by dust mites and pet dander. Most sufferers experience coughing, wheezing, chest-tightening, or shortness of breath. (Check with your doctor, allergist, or pulmonologist to find out what could be specifically triggering you.)
While some allergens will be impossible for you to control, you can make changes in your own home that will improve your health and reduce reactions. We chatted with allergic asthma specialist Dr. Beth Eve Corn, and interior designer, author, and asthma-friendly home expert Robin Wilson to get their tips to reducing allergens in every room of your house. Plus, these tips are helpful even if you don’t have any extreme reactions and symptoms, because dust mites are gross.
“One of the key things is to recognize when you are trying to allergy-proof your home, is that you really can’t,” says Wilson. “What you are really trying to do is minimize and reduce the allergens that might trigger an allergic reaction situation. […] There are a lot of products on the marketplace, but the key is to focus on simple tips to clean your home.”
“Top to bottom cleaning: So many people today clean their floors, and then their ceiling fan—that’s twice the work,” says Wilson. Start high, then end up on floors. While completely ridding your home of allergens such as dust mites and pet dander may not be possible, you can take steps to limit exposure to these triggers in your home.
- Be sure to wash everything, including the walls, as often as possible.
- For quick dusting around your house, use a dryer sheet or electrostatic cloth to pick up dust.
- Avoid feather dusters as they simply move dust around.
- Check your ceiling fan and other fans for dust, as they can spray dust around the room.
- Start from the ceiling and move your way down to the floor.
- Wear a dust mask around your nose and mouth to reduce exposure to allergens as you are cleaning.
- If you only have 10 minutes, first start with the places where dust gathers—in air vents, on ceiling fans, and under rugs and dressers.
- Replace air conditioner/heater filters on a quarterly basis.
- Use an air purifier and vacuum with a HEPA filter to help capture airborne particles such as dust and pet dander.
Go pet-free if possible. If that’s not an option, there are a few things you can do:
- Keep pets out of bedrooms and off upholstered furniture.
- Clean areas where your pet spends a lot of time.
- Wash your pet’s bedding in hot water as often as possible.
- Bathe your pet once a week.
It is best to skip carpeting and large room rugs completely, a great alternative is a simple area rug which is much easier to clean. Whether your floor is carpet, rug, tile, or hardwood, try to clean it on a weekly basis if not more frequently.
- Choose furniture with removable cushions for an easier clean.
- Countertops should be an easy-to-clean material that does not harbor allergens.
Work Work Work
Decluttering an office is important, but what cannot be thrown away should be kept in closed cabinets, drawers, and bins.
- Start with an annual review of files to remove or shred old, unnecessary documents.
- Don’t forget to remove dust from forgotten places—behind cabinets, bookshelves, around computer equipment like cords or surge protectors, and on piles of books and papers.
- Open windows to air out the office or consider installing a fan or air purifier if you have no windows.
- Be sure to clean or dust window blinds and sills, and other places where allergens collect.
Most Importantly, Bedrooms
Keep bedrooms clear and clean: the less clutter, the less dust build-up.
- Allergy-free pillows are a must.
- Rule of three for your bed: Wash zippered mattress covers every three weeks; Wash zippered pillow cases every three months; Replace pillows every three years.
- Encase mattresses and pillows in washable, allergen-proof and dust-mite proof covers.
- Wash in at least 130 degree water on a weekly basis.
- Remove stuffed animals from sleeping areas as they can contain dust mites: Wash them in pillowcases at least once a month to limit wear and tear, or as an alternative, place them in the freezer inside a plastic bag for 24 hours to reduce dust mites.
- Clean closets twice a year by removing everything, cleaning thoroughly, mopping, or steam cleaning the floor, and putting back only what is needed.
- Hang clothing inside out to shake off dust.
What else should you do? “It’s very important to to find out what you are allergic to by seeing an allergist or pulmonologist who can actually test you with a blood test or a simple skin test to let you know what you are allergic to, thereby tell you how to minimize your triggers (and put you on the right medication protocol for each individual patient),” says Dr. Corn.
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