5 steps to protect your home from allergies

Protecting your mattress

Do you suffer from sneezing, runny nose and watery eyes at home? You may be one of the 40 million people who suffer from indoor allergies, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Fortunately, there are ways to get relief. With a little planning and a little extra work, your home can become a safe haven for your family members with indoor allergies. Follow these steps to start breathing easier.

1. Clean out dark, damp spaces.

In basements, bathrooms or other areas where moisture accumulates, mold can form and release spores that cause allergy flare-ups. You may smell musty before you notice visible mold on windows, bathtubs or in basements.

To remedy this, dry out the moisture and seal any cracks, leaks or drips. Keep the humidity level in your home below 50%. A dehumidifier (and monitor) can help control humidity. To clean mold on surfaces, use a mixture of 5 parts bleach to 95 parts water. If the mold covers less than 10 square feet, you can handle the cleanup yourself. Beyond that, you will need to call in a professional to remove the contamination.

2. Examine your bedding.

Microscopic mites feed on discarded human skin. Their favorite place to eat? Your bed. In drier parts of the country, dust mites are not a problem because there is no moisture to support their growth. For the rest of us, however, our beds can be exposed to this potential allergen.

To remedy this situation (and feel better), Buy airtight, zippered covers for pillows, mattresses and box springs. Washing bedding in hot water will also help eliminate these pests. The water needs to be at least 130 degrees to be effective, so make sure your water heater is set to that temperature while you're doing laundry.

3. Avoid animal triggers.

You may be surprised to learn that saliva and dander, not hair, are the cause of most animal allergies. The proteins in saliva stick to the hair, which then gets into your nose or lungs and causes an allergic reaction.

The easiest (but most difficult) solution is to remove the pet from your home. But if your family isn't ready to part with Fluffy, at least limit pet access to bedrooms so you can sleep well at night. Grooming or bathing your pet every three to four weeks can also help minimize allergens.

4. Clean the air.

Your home's ventilation system can be a friend or foe. Properly maintained, it can filter out allergens. However, if you don't check it and clean the filters, a central air system can circulate allergens such as pollen and pet dander. It can also be a source of mold, if a built-in humidifier pumps too much moisture into the system.

To combat these problems, clean your dehumidifier once every two weeks. Change your furnace filters according to the manufacturer's (or filter manufacturer's) instructions. Use ceiling fans to circulate air and prevent water from condensing and mold from forming. To avoid trapping water vapor, place fans in rooms of the house where there is a shower, sink or toilet. Use HEPA-type purifiers with a good CADR for even better air quality and maximum allergen control.

5. Know when to close windows.

Open windows can expose you to outdoor allergen triggers, like pollen. However, a house that is too airtight can keep potential irritants inside, and increase their concentration.

Keep windows closed during peak allergy seasons in the spring and fall , and remember to close windows before bed. Pollen levels are highest between 4 and 10 a.m. If the windows are open at this time, you may wake up with a runny nose and tears, which is not the best way to start the day.

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