By now many of spring’s signature trees have shed those pretty but irritating blossoms—and the clouds of pollen that come with them. Perhaps the worst of the spring allergy season is behind us. (At least, we can hope so.)
Maybe now’s a good time to give your home a thorough spring cleaning to rid it of those remaining irritants. In fact, keeping those molds, pollens, and other triggers out of your indoor air is always among my first advice to allergy sufferers.
But before you battle indoor allergens, get the right ammunition. Cleaning products can actually trigger allergy symptoms. And mounting evidence suggests that other substances found in contemporary homes may affect our immune systems over time. Constant exposure to these mild toxins teaches the body to overreact to substances that pose no threat—in other words, they make you susceptible to more allergic reactions later on.
Your home should be a safe haven. Here are three household “prime suspects” to eliminate or at least reduce wherever possible.
Anything with a very strong odor can cause itchy eyes, breathing difficulties, sneezing, and congestion. Cleaning products that overpower grease and germs with chlorine or ammonia do the job, but they can make you feel sick in the process.
It’s not just the active ingredients in household cleaners that make our bodies react, either. Added fragrances and dyes linger after the cleaning is done, dragging out symptoms over an even longer period of time.
Unlike a cold or stomach virus, allergies aren’t caused by germs. So when you clean your home of allergens or ordinary grime, skip the disinfectants. Try these gentle but effective natural products instead.
- White vinegar cuts grease and deodorizes.
- Baking soda can be used to deodorize or as an abrasive surface scrub.
- Shaved cedar, cinnamon sticks—or bunches of dried lavender, rosemary, or mint can be pleasant alternatives to synthetic air fresheners.
- Lemon juice cuts grease and removes stains.
In many cases, plain water is all you’ll need to remove the irritants that trigger seasonal allergies. And year-round, protect yourself with a mask that covers your nose and mouth while you dust and vacuum.
Does that word bring back memories of dissection in high school biology? Believe it or not, you’re also exposed to formaldehyde in everyday life today.
It’s a common manufacturing preservative, but unfortunately, formaldehyde is also a known irritant and probable carcinogen. Formaldehyde slowly evaporates into the air we breathe in a process known as “off-gassing.” Many types of pressed wood, insulation, adhesive, carpeting, and other home construction products gradually release formaldehyde.
What’s more, cosmetics, hair treatments, body lotions, soaps, baby products, and other items designed to be used directly on the skin may contain formaldehyde. While manufacturers have changed to “formaldehyde-free” formulas in recent years, some products still test positive for the toxin because formaldehyde forms from the breakdown of other substances.
Read the ingredient list on your personal-care products, and skip anything that contains formaldehyde. Opt for simple, natural ingredients whenever possible.
And next time you replace your home’s carpeting or furniture, opt for natural fibers such as wool, sisal, or solid wood. (Your health is a good reason to go antiquing!)
Liquid hand sanitizers sound like a great idea, but they don’t rid your hands of pollen or other particles. And although sanitizers kill 99 percent or more of germs, the remaining 1 percent includes strains of influenza and the common cold. In other words, hand sanitizers are ineffective against the things that make us the most miserable.
It might not be a good idea to kill off the innocent 99 percent, anyway. Those microbes provide target practice for your immune system, giving it the training it needs to fight the real threats. There’s an allergy link, too: One study suggested that children who were exposed naturally to a range of minor germs were less likely to suffer hay fever and other atopic reactions as they reached maturity.
For hand washing, plain old soap and water does the trick. And to minimize possible allergic triggers, opt for a soap that’s free of synthetic perfumes or dyes.
Going about your business during allergy season can be challenging, but what a relief to come home to a healthful environment. Take a good look around your personal space today to see what changes you can make to increase your comfort.
After all, when you treat your immune system well at home, the allergen battle outside your doors becomes a bit more bearable.