of people have allergies caused by outdoor allergens that vanish with
the change of seasons. But some allergens just donít go away: Theyíre
lurking inside your home. Learning what they are and how to get rid of
them can help you avoid problems.
Mighty Dust Mites
Dust mites are microscopic insect-like creatures that feed off the
dead skin cells that normally fall off our bodies and collect in
mattresses, pillows, carpeting and upholstered furniture. Statistics
show that the average mattress holds nearly 2 million dust mites. For
their minute size, dust mite droppings (not the insects) can create
huge allergy problems.
"Dust mites become part of the household environment. You can
be a great housekeeper and you will have them It has nothing to do
with the cleanliness of your house," says Dr. Steven Cohen of
Allergic Diseases S.C. in West Allis. "Dust mites are primarily
found in mattresses, pillows and carpeting in the bedroom; they stick
to the fibers. And, since we spend about one-third of our lives in
bed, they can be a particular problem if you are allergic."
You can try to alleviate dust mite problems by regularly laundering
your bedding, according to Cohen. "It helps to cover your
mattress, box spring and pillows with allergen-proof covers and wash
them every week or two in very hot water," he advises.
Steam-clean rugs and carpets. The heat of the steam kills the dust
In addition, replace furnace filters monthly, unless your furnace
specifies otherwise. Look for high-efficiency filters that reduce
allergens. "Room-size air purifiers are a good idea. Many of them
have HEPA filters that decrease allergens," Cohen says. He also
recommends avoiding wall-to-wall carpeting in the bedroom. "A
hard surface floor is easier to keep clean."
Itís Not the Fur!
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, 15 to 30
percent of people with allergies have an allergy to dogs, cats or
other animals. Cats are the most common cause for pet allergies ó
approximately 10 million people in the United States are allergic to
cats. Pet allergies are caused by an immune system response to
proteins present in the animal saliva, dander or urine.
Pet allergies can be a major problem if left untreated, according
to Dr. Susan Higgins-Larkey, an allergy specialist with Allergy &
Asthma Centers in Waukesha, Wauwatosa and Milwaukee. "We love our
pets and often donít want to part with them," she says. The No.
1 piece of advice for allergy sufferers is to keep the pets out of the
bedroom, and off of the bed and any upholstered furniture or
carpeting. "If you have hardwood floors, it is easier to reduce
the buildup of dander," she says.
Contrary to popular belief, there are no nonallergenic breeds of
dogs or cats. Dander is not found in the fur, as many believe, but in
the saliva or skin flakes of the animal, Higgins-Larkey says. "It
doesnít matter how much a dog or cat sheds. Even a hairless dog or
cat produces saliva."
However, different people have different levels of tolerance to
animals. "You canít predict the tolerance level someone will
have," Higgins-Larkey says. "The best way to control the
allergy is to take away the animal. But if the person is unwilling to
do that, there are medicines and even shots that can help you cope
with the allergy symptoms." It also helps to bathe the pet
frequently and wash or vacuum their bedding or sleeping areas as often
Breaking the Mold
About 10 percent of Americans are allergic to mold, according to
the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
"In the Great Lakes area, we have greater exposure to mold than
other parts of the country. Most of it is outdoors, but indoor mold is
usually found in areas of your home that become damp like the bathroom
or basement. Indoor mold tends to feed on humidity," Higgins-Larkey
The most common reaction to mold is flu-like symptoms or asthma.
"If you find that you have a mold problem in your home, you can
take some common-sense control measures," she says. "Correct
any source of water or seepage. Repair areas that might be water
damaged and remove carpeting from concrete floors, especially in the
basement. Use a dehumidifier during humid weather and try to keep the
humidity in your home at less than 50 percent."
In the bathroom, be sure to clean bathtubs, shower stalls and
shower curtains with a disinfectant to kill mold and mildew. "The
best cleaner is a 1-to-10 water to bleach solution," Higgins-Larkey
says. Good ventilation and air purifiers are vital for limiting mold
Other things in the household environment ó smoke, fumes, and
detergents ó may cause a person to sneeze, but they are not
allergens, says Cohen. "For example, if you come over to sweep
out my garage, youíll stir up some dust and, as your nose filters
the air that you breathe, it will cause you to sneeze in order to
flush out your system. That dust is an irritant, not an allergen. The
difference is that allergies are caused by things that are alive or
were once alive." M