When people start sniffling and sneezing, they assume they have a cold. But often they're actually allergic to dust mites, animal dander, or mold. "Indoor allergies are associated with the development of asthma, so it's important to identify and treat them appropriately," says Alan Goldsobel, clinical professor of allergies and immunology at Stanford University School of Medicine. To make your home a sniffle-free zone, you need to eliminate the allergens that have moved in. Try these five easy ways.
- Build a barrier
Dust mites are one of the most common allergens found in homes, according to Linda B. Ford, M.D., a spokesperson for the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. These microscopic creatures live in beds, carpets, pillows, and upholstered furniture, feeding on our dead skin cells. But it's their droppings that some people are allergic to. "Getting rid of dust mites completely is diffi cult, so you need to put a barrier between you and them," explains Goldsobel. Cover your mattress, box spring, comforter, and pillows with special allergy cases. They're woven in such a way that the dust-mite droppings can't get through. (Look for AllerCare products, $10 to $100; bedbathandbeyond.com.)
- Wash in hot water
A new Korean study showed that washing linens in 140°F water killed nearly all dust mites, whereas warm (104°F) or cold (86°F) water eliminated only 10 percent or less of them. For fabrics that can't tolerate hot water, use warm or cold, but you'll need three rinses to effectively remove the dust mites. And since strong scents can aggravate allergies, use a fragrancefree detergent like All Free Clear ($6; at grocery stores). Pop non machine-washable items-like a stuffed animal-into a Ziploc bag and leave in the freezer overnight. The lack of humidity kills mites.
- Make a clean sweep
Vacuum all floors weekly, especially carpets, which "are a reservoir of dust mites, mold, and animal dander," says Ford. HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air filter) vacuums trap particles and don't spew them back into the air. Also make sure your carpet cleaner contains tannic acid, a chemical that helps destroy dust mites.
- Admire nature from afar
Tulips, daffodils, magnolias and hyacinths are beautiful signs of spring, but they're also sources of pollen and mold spores. If you take off your shoes each time you enter your house, you'll avoid tracking in any outdoor allergens.
- Manage your pets
When your dogs or cats come in after spending time outside, wipe down their fur so they don't carry in mold or pollen. "Plus, studies show that bathing pets at least twice a week can help decrease their dander," says Ford.