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Allergy and Asthma: Managing Environments

Updated on February 18, 2018
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Reducing your exposure to potential allergy triggers in your close environment is one measure to reduce your allergy symptoms. Even the best kept households have many potential allergens lurking about. Here are some tips to controlling these allergens in and around your house.

It's nearly impossible to comply with all of these measures. Instead, focus on the allergens or the areas around your house that cause the most allergy symptoms for you. Use the strategies below to limit your exposure to food allergens, drugs, stings, dust, mold, dander, cockroaches, pollen, and other irritating substances in your environment.

Avoiding Food Allergens

The only way to prevent food allergies is by strictly avoiding the offending food. This can be quite a challenge since it's often difficult to identify the forbidden food. Those diagnosed with food allergies, need to develop skills in the areas of label reading, food preparation precautions and tactics for safe dining out. For those who are at risk for food allergies, such as infants, prevention of food allergies can be important.

Be prepared for unexpected exposures by carrying an emergency epinephrine treatment kits. Always seek immediate medical attention for any food related allergy symptom, no matter how mild.

Detouring Offending Drugs

Medications are intended to ease or cure problems associated with illness. But for some, allergic reactions to drugs can cause more harm than good. Fortunately, true drug allergies occur in less than 3 per cent of the population and are usually limited to a few classes of drugs.

The classes of drugs that trigger allergies most often include aspirin, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen, and penicillin-derived antibiotics. Frequently, drug allergies cause a red, itchy skin rash. Occasionally more serious anaphylaxis can occur. Since it is impossible to predict the severity of the reaction, contact your health care provider immediately if you experience any of these symptoms while taking a medication.

If you have a known drug allergy, always inform your pharmacist and health care provider. In most cases, a safe alternative medication is available. In addition, wear a medical alert bracelet to warn others about the allergies you have.

Don't Get Stung

As with other allergies, avoidance is key to reducing allergic reactions to insect stings. This involves staying away from known nesting sites and hives of bees and wasps. When outdoors during spring and summer seasons, wear shoes and clothing that protectively covers your arms and legs.

Those with severe symptoms to stings, should always carry an emergency epinephrine treatment kit for prompt treatment. In addition, preventive treatment with venom immunotherapy might be considered. This therapy involves a series of treatments of graduated doses of the stinging venom. This serves to alter the immune system response and reduce the severity of allergic reactions to the sting.

Minimize House Dust

Rather than a single substance, house dust consists of human and animal dander, insect parts and waste, molds and fungus spores (especially in damp areas) and plant particles, all of which trigger allergic reactions.

Dust mites are microscopic insects that feed on skin cells shed by humans. House dust contains thousands of mites and their waste products, which are responsible for many indoor allergies. Although mites multiply rapidly year round, they are most plentiful during the months of September and October. Mites can bed down in many places but prefer mattresses, stuffed furniture, rugs, stuffed animals and pillows.

To control house dust and dust mites, regular, careful cleaning is necessary. Concentrate on areas where you spend the most time, such as the bedroom or living room. In addition, minimizing the furnishings and room accessories that attract mites is helpful.

Limit Dust Mites

  • Cover mattresses, box springs and pillows with dust proof covers.
  • Wash sheets and bedding weekly in hot water, ideally greater than 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Select washable floor and window coverings and wash frequently.
  • Use non-allergenic pillows.
  • Remove decorative pillows or stuffed animals.
  • Vacuum and mop floors at least weekly.
  • Choose simple, wood frame furnishings as opposed to overstuffed chairs and couches.
  • Keep closet doors closed.
  • Strive for uncluttered decor.

Control sources of mold

Molds are microscopic fungi that reproduce by releasing spores into the air that can trigger asthma or allergies. If you have been diagnosed with a mold allergy, the following tips are essential to reducing your symptoms.

Inside Control of Mold

  • Use exhaust fans help to eliminate moisture and molds in bathrooms.
  • Eliminate carpets in bathrooms or damp basements.
  • Paint rather than wallpaper rooms with high humidity, i.e.. bathrooms and basements.
  • Use dehumidifiers or air conditioners to keep the humidity level in your home below 50%. Keep them clean and change the filters frequently.
  • Clean surfaces where mold grows and use an inhibitor to prevent future mold growth. Phenolated disinfectants, such as Lysol, are effective and inexpensive cleansers.
  • Leave a low-wattage light bulb turned on to reduce humidity in closets and basements.
  • Replace live houseplants with artificial plants.

Outside Control of Mold

  • Keep large shrubs and trees pruned to allow for adequate drying and sunlight.
  • Minimize ground vegetation.
  • Avoid using bark-type mulches.
  • Keep your yard raked, and do not leave piles of damp leaves or mulch.
  • Wear a high quality mask to protect yourself from mold exposure while working in the yard. Or better yet, enlist the help of others to do lawn and yard maintenance.
  • Use clothes dryers rather than hanging outdoors, where clothes can attract mold spores.

Reduce Animal Dander

Animal allergies are a reaction to a protein found in the tiny particles of dead skin, urine, and saliva, collectively referred to as dander. These dander are present on all fury animals and are spread through the air constantly. If pets give you allergic symptoms, it's best to avoid them. If you already have a pet, here are some things you can do to minimize your suffering.

Minimizing Dander

  • Keep the pet out of rooms where you spend a lot of time, i.e. bedroom and living room.
  • Enlist the help of non-allergic family members to wash and groom the pet frequently. Anti-dander shampoos are best to reduce dander and will not excessively dry the pet's skin.
  • Clean regularly to remove dander from rugs, floors and furniture.

Control cockroaches

Tiny particles of debris from cockroaches can spread about the house and cause allergic reactions, particularly in children. In fact, anywhere from 30-50% of intercity asthmatic children, have allergies to cockroach debris. If cockroaches are a problem in your area, you can minimize their debris by following these steps.

Strategies to Control Cockroaches

  • Store all food, including pet food, in sealed containers.
  • Wash dirty dishes and silverware immediately.
  • Promptly clean food crumbs from counters and floors.
  • Keep your garbage can well-sealed.
  • If cockroaches are a problem in your home, eliminate them with professional extermination. (Note: allergic individuals should stay outside the home for several hours after professional extermination, the chemicals used may cause temporary discomfort).
  • Promptly recycle or discard cardboard boxes and paper bags as cockroaches like to nest in these items.
  • Seal any holes around pipes, windows, doors, and baseboards to prevent them from entering your house.

Control Exposure to Pollens

Seasonal allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, is the allergic reaction triggered by pollens from trees, grasses, and weeds. This is different from the year-round allergies that are most likely triggered by molds, animal dander, and dust mites.

During the spring, summer, and fall, tiny particles of pollen are released from trees, weeds, and grasses. While en route to fertilize other plants, the pollens often enter human noses and throats, triggering allergic reactions in hay fever sufferers. Of all the things that can cause an allergy, pollen is one of the most widespread and difficult to avoid.

The amount of pollen in the air, pollen count, varies with season, weather conditions and geographic locations. These counts can usually be obtained from your local weather service or health department. In general, when the pollen counts are in the low range, only those with extreme sensitivities to pollen will get a reaction. Pollen counts ranging from moderate to very high are likely to cause problems in all hay fever sufferers. When the pollen counts are high taking the following precautions may help ease your hay fever symptoms.

Minimizing Pollen Exposure

  • Keep windows closed, running an air conditioner if needed.
  • Clean or replace air conditioner filters regularly.
  • Limit your activities to early mornings and evenings, these are the times when the pollen counts are lowest.
  • Wear a pollen and dust mask when working in the yard and garden.
  • Keep the landscaping around your home trimmed and neat as pollen can accumulate on weeds and other debris.
  • Exercise in indoor pools or gyms.
  • Wash curtains, rugs, and sheets frequently to remove pollens.
  • Use a clothes dryer instead of drying your clothes outdoors.
  • Shower and wash hair each night to remove pollen and keep it from getting on your pillow.

Other Environmental Control Measures

Some additional environmental control measures can help reduce irritating exposures and make your home more comfortable for allergy sufferers. Irritating airborne pollutants in your home can make allergy symptoms worse. The following actions can reduce the presence of strong odors, irritating fumes and smoke for the most common household irritants.

Limit Environmental Exposure

  • Use an exhaust fan while cooking.
  • Avoid using perfumed cleansers, detergents and air fresheners.
  • Avoid using wood stoves or fireplaces.
  • Make your home a nonsmoking environment.
  • Use air filters to reduce airborne particles. Be sure to change or wash monthly.

A Note on Air Filters

High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) and Ultra Low Penetrating Air (ULPA) filters are the most efficient air cleaners available. HEPA filters which can be found in vacuum cleaners and air filters capture 99.97% of all airborne particles down to 0.3 microns. A HEPA-filtered air purifier works to clean your air of microscopic indoor pollutants such as tobacco, pollen, animal dander, dust mite, dust mite waste, mold spores and and bacteria by drawing the air in through a filter that captures the particles.

ULPA filters were originally designed to purify the air in semi conductor clean rooms, these filters are not available for home use.

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    • cecileportilla profile image

      Cecile Portilla 

      4 years ago from West Orange, New Jersey

      Great hub on allergens! Lots of good information. Selecting washable floors as opposed to carpets can really improve the quality of life for people with allergies!

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