As springtime settles in, pollen counts soar, and your eyes continue to itch like mad, you might feel tempted to hide inside to shield yourself from seasonal allergens. In some cases, though, hiding is not the answer. That’s because many of the allergy symptoms you typically blame on the outdoors may actually be due to indoor culprits.
Here’s how to tell what’s really causing your sniffling and sneezing, and what you can do to find relief and keep your home allergen-free.
Indoor allergens Attack 365 Days of the Year
According to a 2008 study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, more than 50 percent of all homes contain at least six detectable allergens. And, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “the air within homes and other buildings can be more seriously polluted than the outdoor air in even the largest and most industrialized cities.” In other words, there’s a pretty good chance you live in a home (or work in an office) that’s just as symptom-inducing as a field of springtime flowers—and might be at least partly to blame for allergy symptoms you experience.
So what are these indoor allergens? According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), the biggies include pet dander, dust mites, and mold. That said, indoor air quality can also be affected by that new carpet you just had installed, chemicals in cleaning products, or fats and smoke released into the air while cooking. Plus, every time you traipse inside after spending time in the great outdoors, you track outdoor allergens in with you, transferring them onto whatever you come into contact with.
Where indoor allergens accumulate
Though you can’t necessarily see allergens, you certainly know when they’re around. When you pull a blanket out of the closet and suddenly start sneezing, for instance, you probably just released extra dust (and dust mites!) into the air.
According to the AAFA, indoor allergens most commonly lurk in your pet’s fur, carpeting, soft furniture like sofas and mattresses, stuffed animals, bedding and other linens, and any damp spaces where mold might grow, like indoor plants (all that moisture is a breeding ground for allergens). In fact, these surfaces may contain more accumulated allergens than the air itself, which is why digging through dusty boxes in your attic is likely to leave your eyes watery and your nose running.
How to control indoor allergen exposure
Here’s the thing: Dust is a fact of life. And, if you’re a pet owner, chances are you’re not looking to offload Fido just because his dander makes your nose itch a little. So how do you help prevent indoor allergens from becoming a major disruptor in your life? Cleanliness certainly helps. “Dust and small particles can build up in your home over time,” says Jennie Bergman, indoor air quality (IAC) expert at Trane Residential. Your best bet is to dust and vacuum frequently to help ward off the accumulation of dust.
Bergman also emphasizes the importance of washing bedding on a regular basis. “Wash bedding in hot water once a week to kill dust mites and stop pollutants from settling in,” she says. On that same note, you can prevent the buildup of allergens in your mattress and pillows by putting an allergy cover on them before your sheets or pillowcase.
And, if you do own a pet, AFAA recommends doing your best to keep them out of the bedroom and off the furniture. You might even consider replacing any wall-to-wall carpeting with bare flooring to prevent pet dander from settling in. Washing and grooming your pets regularly (or enlisting a professional to help) can also help reduce exposure.
Then, of course, do what you can to keep the indoor air as clean as possible. The AAFA suggests taking steps to reduce the humidity in your home, as it can reduce dust mites and mold growth. Using dehumidifiers in damp areas, like your bathroom and laundry room, can help, as can running the AC during warm weather.
Another important to-do: “Make sure to clean or swap your air filters every 30 to 90 days,” notes Bergman. “If you’re looking for an even more effective solution, consider investing in a whole-home air cleaner, which can remove up to 99.98 percent of airborne particles and is up to 100 times more effective than a standard one-inch filter.”
Preventing outdoor allergens from Infiltrating Your Home
Indoor allergens alone can spell serious trouble for plenty of people—and outdoor allergens often just compound the problem. Since you aren’t exposed to seasonal allergens all the time, you may be more sensitive to them—and you often bring them into your house with you.
Of course, as the AFAA reminds us, houses aren’t airtight. Windows and doors open and close, and every time they do, the outdoor air flows inside. Plus, when you spend time outside, seasonal allergens settle on your clothing and shoes. When you walk inside, you bring them in with you, as do your family members and pets.
“The best way to reduce pollen indoors is to remove clothes and shoes immediately and wipe down pets when returning from the outdoors,” says Bergman. If you have serious allergies and a garage that opens to a laundry or mudroom, keep an extra set of clothes inside and simply change and drop your pollen-filled apparel into the hamper before you walk into the house. Likewise, keep a clean towel available to wipe down Fido with when he walks inside with you.
Also, as much as you may hate to do it, Bergman says it’s also important to keep your windows shut as much as possible, particularly when pollen counts are high and you’re feeling symptomatic.
The Bottom Line
Though you’ll never be able to completely steer clear of allergens and other chemicals and products that affect air quality, you can do your best to reduce exposure. Simply knowing that indoor allergies can seriously affect your allergy symptoms may be all the motivation you need to start washing your sheets more often and running the vacuum a few times a week.