Ellen W. Cutler, D.C.
The Facts: Substances which cause allergic reactions are called allergens. An allergic reaction is your body’s response to a substance that many people can tolerate without difficulty. Your allergic threshold can be compared to the liquid in a glass which will overflow if filled past capacity. A small glass, or low threshold, will easily be filled and overflow while a larger glass (high threshold) can tolerate a greater amount of liquid. If too much liquid is accumulated and overflows the glass, your tolerance has been exceeded and symptoms will occur. Reducing the number of allergens and the amount of each allergen can prevent symptoms. To avoid symptoms, you only need to prevent overflow.
Although there are many components in house dust to which people may be allergic, the most important is the dust mite. This is a microscopic insect-like creature which lives primarily in pillows, mattresses, box springs, carpets and upholstered furniture, and thrives in humid and warm conditions. Its diet consists of shed scales from human skin. Waste particles produced by these mites are the main substances to which allergic people react. Each mite produces about 20 waste particles a day. Female mites can lay 25 to 50 eggs, with a new generation produced every three weeks.
In the Bedroom
It is particularly important to clear the sleeping environment of allergens because symptoms tend to worsen at night.
Wash all bedding blankets, sheets, pillowcases and mattress pad in hot water weekly to kill dust mites. Avoid wool and down covers. Comforters should be washed every two weeks or encased in allergen impermeable covers. Avoid feather comforters and pillows and, if possible, remove carpeting, which is a major hiding place for dust mites.
Keep surfaces smooth and uncluttered with few small objects such as books, knickknacks, CDs, tapes and stuffed animals which can all collect dust. Place them in drawers if possible.
Check the bed for possible allergens. FabricsÑone boy was allergic to his polyester blanketÑdetergents and chlorine bleaches are possible irritants, One man was allergic to electricity and had severe problems until he removed clocks, lights and other electrical devices near his bed.
Animals in the bedroom may have left urine, saliva and hair. Perfumes and potpourri may cause symptoms.
To prevent or eliminate molds, humidity should be kept as low as possible. Central air-conditioning is the most effective way of controlling humidity, however vent openings are prime locations for the buildup of molds, so be sure to keep them clean. Use special filters to help trap air- borne allergens and clear mold spores from the air. Books, leather products, wood paneling and wallpaper paste all support mold growth and should be avoided or treated with appropriate mold-killing solutions.
In the Bathroom
Clean visible mold from walls and ceilings.
Use an exhaust fan or open windows to remove humidity after showering.
Use a squeegee to remove excess water from the shower stall, tub and tiles.
Wash shower curtain, bathroom tiles, shower stall, tub and toilet tank with mold-killing, mold-preventing solutions.
Do not carpet the bathroom.
Although they may appear clean, damp towels rapidly-within 30 minutes acquire colonies of bacteria and other living organisms. Wash towels weekly if not more often.
Removing Allergens from the Environment
Air Filters The most effective filter is a high efficient particular air (HEPA) filter. HEPA systems require no maintenance and their efficacy only increases with use.
Vacuum Cleaners It is important to know if your vacuum really eliminates dirt and dust from your home or merely re-circulates tiny particles. These particles can linger in the air for up to an hour where they continue to provoke allergic and asthmatic reactions. Vacuums are available with HEPA filters that can trap particles as small as .3 microns, far smaller than a hair or dust mite.