Allergies & Asthma: Prevention
There are some simple strategies you can use to prevent allergies at home, work school, outside and when you travel.
- Dust to control mites. Dust mites are one of the most common allergens found in homes, according to 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. By dusting surfaces and washing bedding often, you can control the amount of dust mites in your home. Since getting rid of dust mites completely is difficult, it's best to put a barrier between you and them. Cover your mattress, box spring, comforter, and pillows with special allergy cases, which are woven in such a way that the dust-mite droppings can't get through.
- Vacuum often. Although cleaning can sometimes trigger allergic reactions, with dust in the air, vacuuming all floors, especially carpets, once or twice a week will reduce surface dust mites. Wear a mask when doing housework and consider leaving for a few hours after you clean to avoid allergens in the air. You can also opt for a vacuum that has an air filter to capture dust. 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.
- Reduce pet dander. If you have allergies, you should avoid pets with feathers or fur like birds, dogs and cats. Animal saliva and dead skin, or pet dander, can cause allergic reactions. Additionally, dogs and cats that frolic outdoors can collect pollen in their fur and transport it into your home. If you can't bear to part with your pet, at least keep it out of the bedroom. Especially during hay fever season, bathe your pet as frequently as possible or wipe him down when he comes in from the yard with a premoistened cloth, such as Simple Solution Allergy Relief from Pets.
- Protect against pollen. Experts estimate that 35 million Americans suffer from allergies because of airborne pollen, The number one anti-allergy move is to keep triggers at bay, so be sure to leave your windows and doors shut during pollen season. Run the air conditioner on the "recycle" setting, which filters indoor air, trapping any particles that did sneak inside. Also rinse or replace the filter every two weeks to remove dust and keep it running efficiently.
- Clear the air. Almost half of seasonal allergy sufferers are also bothered by irritants such as fragrances and cleaning products. To breathe easier, invest in a HEPA air purifier, which filters out aggravating indoor pollutants. A good pick: Honeywell HEPA Tower Air Purifier ($250; target.com).
- Rethink your bedtime routine. Hopping in the shower in the morning is one way to kick-start your day, but switching to a nighttime routine during the spring and summer can curb your symptoms. You'll wash away the allergens that stick to your hair and face, so they won't rub off on your pillow and irritate your eyes and nose. At the very least, gently clean your eyelids.
- Avoid mold spores. Mold spores grow in moist areas. If you reduce the moisture in the bathroom and kitchen, you will reduce the mold. Fix any leaks inside and outside of your home and clean moldy surfaces. Plants can carry pollen and mold too, so limit the number of houseplants. Dehumidifiers can also help reduce mold.
- Be school savvy. Children in the United States miss about two million school days each year because of allergy symptoms. Parents, teachers and health care providers can work together to help prevent and treat childhood allergies. Monitor the classroom for plants, pets or other items that may carry allergens. Encourage your child to wash his/her hands after playing outside. Investigate treatment options to help your child manage his/her symptoms during the school day.
- Exercise outdoor smarts. Stay inside during peak pollen times, usually between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., when humidity is high, and on days with high wind, when dust and pollen are more likely to be in the air. If you do venture out, wear a facemask to limit the amount of pollen you inhale. Shower after spending time outside to wash away pollen that collects on your skin and hair.
- Keep your lawn trimmed. The shorter blades won't trap as much pollen from trees and flowers.
- Fine-tune your fitness routine. You breathe at least twice as fast when you're working out, which means you'll inhale even more allergens if you exercise outdoors. Morning exercisers are hit hardest because airborne allergens peak during the early hours, starting at 4 a.m. and lasting until noon. Because pollen rises as morning dew evaporates, the ideal time for an outdoor workout is mid-afternoon. Where you work out can also matter: Exercising on the beach, an asphalt tennis court, the track at your local high school, or in the swimming pool are better options than working out on a grassy field.
- Run right after it rains. The moisture washes away the pollen for up to several hours. But once the air dries, take cover: The additional moisture generates even more pollen and mold, which can hang around for several days.
- Slip on shades. Not only do wraparound sunglasses shield you from harmful UV rays, they'll also prevent airborne allergens from getting in your eyes. Another way to ward off symptoms: Use allergy-relieving eyedrops, such as Visine-A, a few hours before heading outside. This will combat histamines, which are the compounds that cause your eyes to water and itch.
- Drink up. Fill up a water bottle or hydration pack to bring on your run, walk, or bike ride. Fluids help thin mucus and hydrate the airways, so you won't get as stuffed up. Use what's left to rinse off any pollen that's on your face and hands.
- Hit the laundry room more frequently. When you get back from a walk or barbecue, take off your shoes and change into a clean set of clothes. Then toss the old ones right into your hamper or laundry so you won't track allergens throughout the house. And wash your sheets once a week on the hot cycle.
A Korean study found that washing linens in 140°F water killed nearly all dust mites, where as warm (104°F) or cold (86°F) water eliminated only 10 percent or less. For fabrics that can't tolerate hot water, you'll need three rinses to effectively remove the dust mites. And since strong scents can aggravate allergies, use a fragrance-free detergent. Pop non machine-washables-like a stuffed animal-into a Ziploc bag and leave in the freezer overnight. The lack of humidity will kill any mites.
- Travel wise. Remember: Your destination's allergy climate may be different than the one where you live. When you travel by car, bus or train, you may find dust mites, mold spores and pollen bothersome. Turn on the air conditioner or heater before getting in your car and travel with the windows closed to avoid allergens from outside. Travel early in the morning or late in the evening when the air quality is better. Remember, too, that air quality and dryness on planes can affect you if you have allergies.