More than 50 million Americans suffer from allergies, which are the sixth-leading cause of chronic illness in the United States. Not everyone who struggles with allergies are triggered by outdoor seasonal changes. Some individuals are triggered by indoor allergens around the house year-round.
Both outdoor and indoor substances can trigger hay fever, also referred to as allergic rhinitis. Hay fever can cause cold-like symptoms like a runny nose, itchy eyes, congestion, sneezing and sinus pressure but unlike a cold, it isn’t caused by a virus, but by an allergic response to allergens.
Most indoor allergen sources can be combatted by taking certain measures around the house. Treatment options are also available for those who are affected or think they may become affected.
Seasonal hay fever can occur in the spring, summer and early fall when trees, grass and weeds release pollen and there are more mold spores in the air.
While many may think allergies are only a warm-weather issue, it’s also important to consider that more time is spent indoors during the cold winter months, increasing the odds of allergy triggers. Home heating systems can also trigger allergies in multiple ways; pollen may accumulate in the air ducts and dust from a home heater could carry extra mold spores.
Common indoor allergens
Some individuals may experience perennial allergic rhinitis, which means they experience symptoms year-round. This typically means they are triggered by indoor allergens.
Biological sources of indoor allergens can include bacteria, dust mites, pet dander, plants, mold and mold spores and insects, such as cockroaches. Eight out of 10 people in the U.S. are exposed to dust mites in their homes, and six out of 10 are exposed to cat or dog dander, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
Chemical sources of indoor allergens can include:
- Strong odors, including perfumes, hair spray and air fresheners
Tips to reduce allergens at home
Reducing asthma and allergy triggers inside the home takes small changes that make a big difference.
Generally, it’s a smart idea to keep doors and windows closed during warm months and rely on air conditioners and dehumidifiers. Small-particle filters in central heating and cooling systems should be cleaned or replaced monthly, as well. When it comes to laundry, avoid scented cleaners or detergents and instead opt for fragrance-free products.
Allergy-proofing the bedroom is a good start. Here are some tips:
- Closing windows and using air conditioning during pollen season
- Decluttering, including removing items that collect dust like books, magazines and knickknacks
- Keeping easy-to-clean furniture made of leather, metal, plastic or wood
- Keeping pets out of the bedroom
- Using double-paned windows in cold climates
- Using washable curtains made of plain cotton or synthetic fabric instead of blinds, which are harder to clean
- Washing bedding, pillowcases and blankets weekly and encasing pillows and mattresses in dust-mite-proof covers
In the living room, it may be best to switch to hardwood or linoleum flooring instead of carpet, which is prone to collecting dust, dirt and other debris. Washable area rugs are another good option. Consider replacing upholstered sofas and chairs with pieces that are made of leather, metal, plastic or wood, as they are easier to clean.
A weekly cleaning routine could consist of:
- Vacuuming and mopping hard flooring
- Cleaning windowsills, frames and the tops of doors with a damp cloth
In the kitchen, be sure to regularly clean the sink, refrigerator, cabinets and counters and keep it clean of food crumbs to reduce the chance of attracting cockroaches or rodents.
Finding help for allergies
Speak with a primary care physician to find out if allergy testing is a suitable option. They may perform these tests on people who have asthma, as they can help identify triggers that can worsen asthma symptoms or bring on an asthma attack.
Types of allergy tests include:
- Skin prick tests/scratch tests
Over-the-counter allergy tests are not always reliable, so it is important to talk to a primary care physician and ask questions specific to a person’s medical history before testing. It could also help to keep a log when symptoms flare up. Note when symptoms flared up at home and which potential allergens could have triggered the flare-up. This could help identify the source of the issue and help a doctor determine an individual’s allergy triggers.
Individuals can discuss their test results with their doctor to develop a treatment plan that is right for them.
Gina Lynem-Walker, M.D., is an associate medical director at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. For more health tips visit AHealthierMichigan.org.