Pollen, Animal Dander, Dust Mites, and Mold – Taking Control Of Common Allergens
Pollen, pet dander, dust mites, and mold have an immeasurable impact on people with allergies. These allergens seem to be present in every aspect of life, but once you learn more about them and understand how to reduce your exposure to them, you can improve your health and your life.
It’s remarkable just how much discomfort tiny pollen particles can cause. Pollen from grasses, trees, and weeds can trigger runny noses, itchy eyes, sneezing, and even skin irritation. Depending on where you live and your specific allergies, these allergens may be seasonal and only affect you during certain times of the year. For others, misery can last all year long.
Through accurate allergy testing, it is possible to identify and classify the specific allergens that are causing problems. This allows for more effective strategies and aggressive treatment that provide relief. CornerStone Ear, Nose & Throat test pollens of local vegetation and create finely tuned treatment plans.
Protecting Against Outside Allergens
Staying indoors as much as possible to avoid outside allergens can be effective, but this strategy is not always practical. This is especially true for people who work outside or just enjoy spending time outdoors. It’s possible to intercept pollen using filtration masks, and protective eyewear and clothing. After coming indoors, remove allergen- covered clothing and shower as soon as possible to limit exposure, and also isolate allergens in the home. In agricultural settings, the grasses and grains used as feed, as well as pollens on the animals, can aggravate symptoms. Pets allowed to be both indoors and outdoors also carry pollen on their coats.
Using air purifiers can help control allergens in the home. A central purification system able to cleanse all of the air circulating in a house is ideal but can be cost-prohibitive. A more affordable solution is to use a room-sized HEPA air filter, focusing on the bedroom and other rooms that you are in most often. Be certain that the filter is large enough to process the air in the room where it is located. Using a vacuum that has a HEPA filter can also help remove allergens from carpets and floors, and preventing airborne particles.
Animal dander is not hair or fur, it’s the animal’s extremely lightweight and tiny old skin scales, which they constantly shed. It can stay airborne for hours, contributing to house dust. Any furry or feathered animal is a potential source of allergens as their dander, saliva and urine can all contain the proteins that cause allergic reactions. Other animals, people, and clothing can transport animal dander through the air. In particular, extremely allergenic cat dander sticks to clothing, and personal belongings.
How Do I Reduce Exposure to Animal Dander?
- Remove the pet from the house and clean all surfaces thoroughly with a damp cloth or mop. After several thorough cleanings of the living space and its contents, animal allergens may be controlled.
- Use a vacuum cleaner with a high-efficiency air filter to trap the tiny particles of animal allergen. Water vacuums are not effective on animal dander.
- Bathe the animal weekly with AllerPet (a shampoo/conditioner). Studies have shown that this product can decrease the amount of animal dander in settled dust by nearly 50%. (Available for cats, dogs, and birds.)
- If the animal cannot stay outside of the house, keep it out of your bedroom.
- Use a room air purifier in your bedroom to remove airborne animal dander.
- Wear a mask when grooming your animal.
- Keep clothing worn when interacting with the animal out of your bedroom.
House dust mites are an insidious source of allergies. These eight-legged, microscopically-sized creatures are close relatives of spiders and ticks. Typically, 100 to 500 dust mites can live in one gram of dust, and each mite can produce 10 to 20 waste particles daily. This waste is what can cause allergic reactions. Their waste material is extremely lightweight and becomes airborne when we walk on carpets, move in our beds, or vacuum with a machine that does not efficiently filter the air.
Dust mites thrive and multiply in warm, humid places. They are not parasitic and they do not bite or burrow under the skin. Instead, they eat skin flakes and dander they find in beds, upholstered furniture, carpeting, clothing, stuffed animals, and other textile products. Dust mites exist on every continent and performing normal housekeeping procedures will not remove them. They bury deep into carpets and bedding, and it is virtually impossible to vacuum them from these areas.
How To Control Dust Mites in Your Bedroom
- Use washable, zippered covers on beds that can encase mites and the fecal material so it does not get into your breathing space.
- Wash sheets and blankets in hot water and dry thoroughly with hot air.
- Use pillows encased with zippered covers and made of synthetic materials instead of natural fibers.
- Avoid using comforters and chenille bedspreads. Remove stuffed animals, carpeting, knickknacks, books, and other dust collectors.
- Keep pets out of your bedroom. Mites love to eat dander and skin flakes, and pets produce both of these.
- Use a dehumidifier to keep the relative humidity below 40% to deter mite growth. Lower temperatures are also beneficial.
- Room air cleaners are helpful as they remove the airborne fecal material. These can operate around the clock to reduce your exposure.
- Hang clothes in your closet and keep the door closed, or put them in dresser drawers. You want to reduce any dust producers or dust catchers.
How Do I Clean If I Have a Dust Mite Allergy?
Since mites thrive on house dust, reduce dust levels on all surfaces by using either a damp cloth or an electrostatically charged cleaning cloth. Most vacuum cleaners blow dirt into the air, thus increasing your exposure. Cleaning with a vacuum that has a high-efficiency particulate filter cleans the air as it leaves the machine. Nilfisk, Fantom, Miele, and Euroclean are examples of companies that make HEPA vacuums.
Thousands of different types of mold exist, but only a few dozen varieties are allergenic. Inhaling microscopic mold spores causes allergic reactions. Because mold spores are windborne, you can find them indoors and outdoors, in all climates, and in every social and economic condition. They grow in unexpected places and may be present even if not visible. Surveys have shown that high mold and pollen counts frequently occur at the same time of year, though molds are perennial (year-round) allergic offenders.
Indoor molds are likely to grow in poorly ventilated, damp areas. Handling old books and magazines, cleaning out pet litter and sleeping areas, or cleaning your closet can bring on symptoms associated with mold allergy. You should clean and regularly treat damp showers, tubs, and sinks, as well as laundry machines, refrigerators, and garbage disposals to inhibit mold growth. Outdoor molds live in soil and decaying leaves, straw, grains, and wood. Mowing grass, raking or blowing leaves, tilling the soil, and working in garages, barns, hayfields, or grain bins may cause or aggravate symptoms. Any contact with these affected items or areas can expose you to mold.
Molds also serve a role in foods. Mushrooms and truffles are edible fungi, however, many varieties are poisonous and you should never consume them. Cheesemakers often infuse cheeses with molds to create, influence, and enhance flavor. Ingested food-related molds interface at the gastrointestinal level rather than the respiratory system level and generally cause a very different type of reaction than inhaled molds. Any individual with mold sensitivities should be cautious when consuming such products.
Reducing Mold Exposure
- Decrease moisture and food source for mold on all surfaces.
- Remove excess moisture from walls, ceilings, carpets, window sills, drain pans, ductwork, vents, bathrooms, and wallboard.
- Inspect your home for any darkened or discolored areas that show signs of moisture or mold.
- Regularly check faucets, pipes, and ductwork for leaks.
- Drain and ventilate areas under and around the house.
- Remove decaying debris from the yard, roof, and gutters.
- Avoid raking leaves, mowing lawns, or working with hay, mulch or peat; if you must work with these or similar items, wear a protective mask and do NOT do such work on hot, humid days.
- Use a high-performance electrostatic air filter in the central air system.
- Be sure to use a filter large enough for the area you intend to clean.
- Check HVAC system for inefficient or insufficient filters which allow dirt to accumulate on coils, drain pans, and ductwork and become “food” for molds.
- Clean and maintain central air systems.
- Place a room air purifier in the bedroom.
- Consider air conditioning rather than ceiling fans to reduce humidity.
- Use a dehumidifier to keep relative humidity below 55%.
- Frequently use a HEPA vacuum cleaner on carpets and furniture.
- Clean visible mold from surfaces using products that reduce or eliminate fungal growth.
- Remove moldy carpet and padding.
- Ventilate cabinets and closets when possible.
- Keep shrubs and grass trimmed from around the foundation of your house.
- Wear a mask when doing any activity that could expose you to mold spores.
- Do not allow dirty dishes, dirty clothes, or refuse to collect in your home. Even keeping these items in a proper receptacle (sink, hamper, or trash can) for any length of time can cause mold.
CornerStone Ear Nose & Throat has offices in Charlotte, NC, Monroe, NC, and Indian Land, SC. Call 704-752-7575 for an appointment to help with sinus infections, sinus problems, environmental allergies and other sinus-related issues.