The best way to reduce seasonal allergies and household allergies
Do you suffer from indoor or outdoor allergies?
You probably don’t need to look at the news to know that the allergy index is high these days. The cars are covered with pollen, and you can even feel it in the air. You probably want to reduce your seasonal allergies, and while you are at it, your household allergies in general. Whether you love to garden, or like to stay mostly inside, allergies can be very uncomfortable.
Or, maybe your allergies come on strong only when you are inside your home. Often, we learn to live with allergies when our suffering isn’t necessary.
We’ve enlisted an expert to show you how you can reduce your discomfort, both with seasonal allergies and also with household allergies, and actions that you can take inside your home and out.
Dr. Tim Mainardi is a physician, researcher and educator who specializes in treating a host of allergic diseases. Dr. Tim Mainardi is currently a faculty member at New York Presbyterian/Cornell Weill and is the consultant allergist for Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital. He is a leader in the New York City area in medication allergies, with a focus on chemotherapy. Dr. Mainardi believes strongly that patient education is the center of any practice, and an educated patient is a healthier patient. You can find him at Hudson Allergy in New York, NY.
1. How can home owners with seasonal allergies reduce their discomfort inside their home?
The most important first step is figuring out what seasonal allergens you are allergic to. Some seasonal allergens (like pollen) are pretty straightforward, others (like mold) are not.
For pollen allergies during the pollen season, the most important thing to remember is that pollen is outside, and can be kept there. First things first, keep the windows and doors closed. It seems obvious, but everyone likes a cool, springtime breeze in the house, and that can be a problem during the pollen season.
Second, remember that pollen is very sticky. Its sticks to clothing and even your hair. When you’ve been outside all day, make sure the clothes that you are wearing go directly into the laundry or into the hamper. Never throw clothes that you wore outside onto the bed, or you’ll risk transferring the pollen to the bed.
If you have very long hair, and have been outside for a while, its not a bad idea to jump in the shower for a quick rinse especially on high pollen days. Remember also that pollen counts are the highest in the morning. So all of this is especially important if you have outdoor activities in the morning.
2. How can homeowners with seasonal allergies reduce their discomfort outside?
First of all, try (if possible) to do activities later on in the afternoon rather than first thing in the morning. The morning is when the pollen count is the highest. If you are gardening first thing in the morning, it may help to wear an N95 mask to keep the pollen out.
An example of an N95 mask
3. What are some of the most common non-seasonal household allergies?
Most commonly, we see pets, molds and especially dust mites. Dust mites are small micro-organisms that live in bedding, pillows, mattresses and upholstered surfaces. They eat dead skin cells and they produce highly allergenic proteins.
A magnified dust mite. Yikes!
Dust mites allergies are among the most common that allergists deal with and contribute not only to typical nasal allergies, but also eczema, asthma and chronic sinus problems.
4. What are the most effective ways of dealing with these household allergies?
Dust mites and another indoor allergens can be reduced with a combination of avoidance and good cleaning. To avoid dust mite growth, purchase dust mite-proof pillow case covers and mattress covers. These covers remove the ability for dust mites to hide and will drive their numbers (and the allergens) down.
We also recommend in some cases purchasing a HEPA air filter, especially for the bedroom. Also, if you’re in the market for a new vacuum cleaner, getting one with a HEPA filter and canister works FAR better at reducing indoor allergens than the old vacuum bag.
An example of a room HEPA air filter
5. For kids, are there any strategies to reduce the chances of developing allergies?
That’s a tough one. Allergic disease is strongly familial with a powerful genetic component. Although its true that exposure to certain environments (particularly farms and other rural environments) makes allergic disease slightly less likely, there is no way really to replicate that in our suburban and urban environments.
Recent studies have shown that kids exposed to dogs early in life and those in day care are less likely to develop allergic disease, but even these studies are still controversial. Right now, just let the kids play and be kids.
6. Mosquito season is coming. What are some strategies that homeowners can use to reduce mosquito bites?
First, get rid of breeding grounds. Make sure there are no open vessels (such as planters, watering cans, etc) that have standing water in them where mosquitos can breed. This is the most effective first step.
An example of mosquito larvae in water
Second step is avoidance. Remember that mosquitos bite most during the dusk and the dawn, so if possible avoid activities at that time. If you are out in the feeding times, wear clothing that covers most of your skin. If you are having a party in the backyard, having a citronella candle helps, but even better is an oscillating fan. Mosquitos are terrible fliers, so having an oscillating fan that blows over peoples legs helps significantly.
There are natural ways of keeping mosquitos at bay: certain plants in the garden release citronella scents, and a couple of bird houses will bring in mosquitos natural enemies.
7. For people who are very reactive to mosquito bites, are there any good treatments that you could recommend?
Talk to your doctor. Some people require topical cortisol which is only mildly effective in reducing the swelling, but it can help with the itch. Non-medicinal tricks include cold compresses which work the best right after the bite. Some people swear by a mixture of baking soda and water applied to the bite, and others use vinegar. The most important thing is to not let the site become infected by scratching at it too much, so using an antihistamine to reduce itch is helpful.