Household allergens can cause a variety of symptoms in many people, including sneezing, watery eyes, coughing, and shortness of breath. Allergens may also be a contributing cause of asthma, especially in children. However, it is possible to minimize the effects of such allergens by taking steps to control their presence and dispersal in the home.
The most common household allergens include dust mites, mold, mildew, pollen, and pet dander (dried flakes of skin shed by pets, particularly cats and dogs). Effective control relies on a combination of measures that, when used properly, will reduce the levels of allergens.
- Increase ventilation to the home. Opening windows whenever possible promotes good air exchange and will reduce the concentration of airborne allergens, especially pet dander.
- Wash bedding and stuffed toys once a week in hot water to control dust mites and cat allergens in particular.
- Keep pets clean and well groomed to control dander.
- Use mite-resistant mattress covers and pillow covers and wash them frequently.
- Dust and vacuum regularly, and use microfiltration or HEPA filter vacuum bags. The jury is still out on whether bagless vacuum cleaners are more effective in removing allergens than those that require bags; some studies indicate that many bagless vacuums are not sealed tightly enough and can actually exacerbate the problem. Wearing a dust mask while dusting and vacuuming is also a good idea.
- Consider removing wall-to-wall carpeting and use easy-to-clean area rugs instead, particularly in bedrooms.
- Make sure bathrooms, especially those with showers, are well ventilated. Open the window and use exhaust fans that vent to the outdoors to prevent a buildup of moisture, which can encourage growth of mold and mildew. It’s a good idea to keep the fan running and the door open for at least ten minutes after showering.
- If possible, reduce indoor humidity to 50% or less by using room dehumidifiers or the dehumidifier feature available with many central air conditioning systems.
- Clean or replace furnace and central air conditioner filters on a regular basis. Make sure that air conditioner drain pans are clean and allow the water to drain properly.