Allergy-Proof Your Home for Fall
It’s allergy season again! Here, how to make your home a haven from pollens, moulds and dust mites.
If you or your family members suffer from allergies, you don’t need to look at the calendar to know the season has changed. Fall is prime time for sneezing, wheezing, runny noses, watery eyes and itchy throats. For people with respiratory problems like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the effects of fall allergies can even be dangerous.
As with any kind of allergy, our immune systems take exception to certain substances and treat them as invaders. In other words, our bodies are mistakenly fighting off allergens as if they were viruses or bacteria – making us quite uncomfortable in the process. These common culprits are behind the misery many of us feel this time of year:
– Ragweed. It’s the top fall allergen for a reason. The many species of ragweed start to bloom around mid-August, and each plant will release up to a billion grains of pollen before the season is through. These hardy and stubborn plants are everywhere, and don’t expect any relief if you live in a big city — pollen can remain airborne for days and travel hundreds of kilometres. Worse yet, it clings to just about everything.
– Mould. Blame the humidity and dampness: mould loves wet conditions in the summer and fall. The situation isn’t helped any by falling (and rotting) leaves and dying plant matter in our gardens. Indoors, damp conditions in your bathroom and basement during humid summer months also provide an ideal breeding ground. While you can’t see them, mould spores can easily become airborne too.
– Dust mites. They’re the reason you don’t want to put your sheets under a microscope. These tiny, spider-like insects love the humid, warm months of summer. But watch out — the first time you turn on your furnace they’ll get stirred up into the air and end up in your airway.
The symptoms aren’t pleasant, but staying indoors until the first frost hits isn’t really an option. Fall allergens are indoors as well as outdoors, and pollens and moulds can all too easily find ways to invade our homes if we’re not careful.
Click through for some tips for keeping your home allergy-free.
Keep the windows closed. Cooler weather may have you dialling down the air conditioner and opening the windows, but your screens aren’t going to block out pollen and other allergens. Experts recommend keeping the windows closed — both in your car and your home — when the pollen count is high, especially during peak hours from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm. (Ragweed produces its pollen between 5:00 am and 10:00 am, so you may want to close your windows first thing in the morning.) If it’s hot outside, use your AC instead as it will help filter out allergens in the air.
Also, bear in mind that while rainy, wet days will keep the pollen at bay, but mould spores will be worse.
Clean your air filters and ducts. Before you fire up your furnace, clean out your ducts to prevent all that accumulated mould and dust from being blown through your home. Be sure to change or clean your air filters on a regular basis (preferably once a month) to make sure they’re functioning at their best. Experts recommend high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters to keep allergens to a minimum.
If you live in an apartment or condo that has base-board heating rather than forced-air, a stand-alone filter can help clear the air (and provide some much-needed air circulation too). Make sure to buy the right size unit to suit the room in which you plan to use it.
Keep up with the cleaning. Declare war on the dust bunnies! Regular dusting, sweeping and vacuuming is a must to keep pet dander hair and dust mites under control. How often? Experts recommend once a week — and that includes upholstery, furniture and carpets. You can also cut down on pet hair and dander by regularly brushing and bathing your pets.
Tidy up. Need another reason to de-clutter? All those knick-knacks, newspapers, stuffed animals and assorted junk can collect dust and attract dust mites. They also provide handy hiding places for mould, bugs and other pests we’d rather not have as house guests. Tidy, clean surfaces free of clutter and crumbs will go a long way to providing allergy relief – and they’ll be easier to maintain.
Wash up. Did we mention the mites that live in our linens? It’s okay to skip the cold water wash and opt for hot instead. Weekly washings in hot water (at least 55 degrees Celsius or 130 degrees Fahrenheit) will kill off any mould or mites in your sheets, towels, blankets and throws.
Leave the outdoors outside. If you’re a fan of crime investigation shows, you know how easily one substance transfers to another. Lightweight, sticky pollen and airborne moulds will cling to your skin, hair, clothes and shoes — and they can easily end up on your furniture and even in your bed if you come inside to relax after playing or working outdoors.
A better strategy: leave your shoes on the doorstep, throw your clothes in the wash and have a quick shower before you do anything else.
And while we want to be more environmentally-friendly, hanging clothes and linens outdoors to dry this time of year is a no-no for allergy sufferers.
Wipe it down. Bringing stuff indoors? Give it a wipe-down first to clean off mould and pollen. (Same goes for any outdoor items you’re storing indoors for the winter.) If mould is an issue, try a solution of bleach and water (if it’s safe to do so). To ward off musty smells, add a couple of tablespoons of baking soda to a bucket of water to wash items before storing.
If you have mould in your bathroom, around your windows or on other surfaces, get rid of it with a diluted bleach or hydrogen peroxide solution.
Check your plants. Houseplants can harbour moulds too, so put your green thumb to good use indoors. Remove any dead or dying leaves before they rot and attract mites, other harmful critters or mildew. Also, check the soil for any signs of disease or mould. Make sure the pots have good drainage and avoid over-watering or standing water in pots or trays. Good air circulation is also key to keep plants healthy (you can fake it with a fan if needed).
If you’re allergic to moulds, keep plants out of rooms in which you spent a lot of time — like the bedroom or home office.
Keep it dry. Dust mites and mould love damp conditions — especially in your basement or bathroom. Experts recommend that the ideal level of moisture in your home should be 35 to 50 percent. Anything higher and you may need to dry things out with the help of your air conditioner or a dehumidifier. (If you don’t already have one, a humidity gauge can tell you the level of moisture in the air in your home.)
Avoid other triggers. Smog and indoor air pollution (like air fresheners, strong-smelling cleaners and perfumes) can make allergy symptoms worse because they irritate the lungs. Experts warn that people with asthma or COPD should pay extra attention to their health during allergy season — and have an action plan in case symptoms get worse. (For more information, see Tips for surviving fall allergies.)
Regardless of the season, your home should be a place where you can relax comfortably — not a space that will aggravate health conditions or allergies. Overall, keeping things clean, dry and controlled will help provide relief for allergy sufferers until the fall season passes.
Sources: Canadian Lung Association, WebMD, CNN.com