Allergy sufferers can’t do much to control sidewalk-coating tree pollen and other outdoor factors that trigger sniffles and sneezes.
Indoors, though, it’s a different story. Decorating choices and proper cleaning can help to minimize both seasonal allergens and year-round offenders such as dust and mold, said New York interior designer Robin Wilson, who learned tips and tricks for allergy-proofing a home after growing up in Austin with severe allergies.
FROM THE GROUND UP
When possible, choose hard-surface floors such as wood or tile, said Dr. Patricia Gomez Dinger of Advanced Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Center in San Antonio.
“If you have to make a decision between having carpet and not having carpet, not having carpet is definitely better for people who have allergies,” she said.
Carpet harbors dust mites and heavy particles, such as pollen and cockroach debris. If you opt for a carpet, choose a low-pile style. Throw rugs – especially those that are easily washable – are preferable to wall-to-wall carpet, Wilson said.
Regular carpet cleaning is crucial to minimizing allergens, said Billy Mahone III, operations manager at Atlas Floors Carpet One in San Antonio.
He recommends vacuuming at least once a week and having carpet professionally cleaned every 12 to 18 months using a hot water extraction method.
Using a sealed-system vacuum with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter prevents allergens from escaping into the air. “Otherwise it’s just stirring things up,” Dinger said.
Mahone also recommends carpet padding with a moisture barrier to block both moisture and dust: “So when you vacuum the carpet, if there is any dust in that carpet, it’s not going to seep in through the cushion and get trapped. It’s going to sit on top, and it’ll come right up with a good vacuum.”
Of course, hard floors must receive a regular cleaning, too, in order to keep the dust and other gunk at bay.
Keep from tracking pollen and other allergens inside by leaving shoes at the door. “That’s the easiest and cheapest thing one can do,” Wilson said.
THE PROPER TREATMENT
Heavy draperies and curtains love to collect dust and can be difficult to clean. Ruffles, tucks and pleats harbor dust.
Wilson recommends choosing simple window treatments such as blinds, shutters or pull-down shades, which can be cleaned more easily.
Another option: side panel curtains made of linen or cotton with mechanized shades that are recessed into a soffit. Skip fabrics that must be dry-cleaned.
Decorative elements such as valences, cornice boards and ornamental window moldings can add style without trapping dust, and they are easy to clean, Wilson said.
Wilson recommends washing window treatments at least twice a year. Remove dust from windows and treatments every week with a damp cloth or vacuum.
Windows also can become a breeding ground for mold, so repair leaks and check casings and sills frequently for moisture.
Dust mites – or more accurately, their droppings and carcasses – can cause misery among people allergic to them. More dust mites live in the bedroom than anywhere else in a house, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
It’s nearly impossible to get rid of these microscopic bugs that live in the home, but it is possible to reduce their effect on your sleep.
Decorative pillows and stuffed animals harbor dust mites, Dinger said. So do shams.
Allergy-proof cases that are zippered impermeable covers can keep the tiny critters out of mattresses, box springs and pillows, she said.
Wash sheets and blankets weekly in hot water. Cold water won’t kill all the mites.
A cluttered, messy home creates a hostile environment for an allergy sufferer.
Keeping tables and shelves free of knickknacks, piles of papers and books and other objects will reduce spots for dust and pollen to cling.
In the kitchen, sealing food containers, washing dishes promptly and keeping garbage cans clean makes the room less appealing for cockroaches. Cleaning garbage cans and scrubbing sinks also prevents mold growth.
Mold can grow on books, newspapers, clothing and bedding, too, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. And cockroaches can hide in piles of cardboard boxes and newspapers. Keeping living spaces as bare and clean as possible helps keep allergens down, Wilson said.
UP IN THE AIR
Air conditioners help reduce humidity, which helps to decrease dust mites and control mold, according to the American Lung Association.
Using a replaceable or washable HEPA filter in a central heating, ventilation and air system is a good way to control indoor air quality.
Change HVAC filters every 30 to 90 days, said Alicia Elkin of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Following manufacturer recommendations is safest.
A dehumidifier also can reduce mold growth. So can exhaust fans in the bathrooms and kitchen, which should vent out of the house, Wilson said.
Avoid using window fans, which can draw pollen and mold inside, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Keep windows closed when pollen is in the air.
Minimize the use of ceiling and floor fans, which can stir up settled allergens, blowing them into the air, Dinger said.
A HEPA purifier, which can range in cost from $100 to $800, can help clear the air when placed at the head of the bed and run at night, Dinger said. They can be turned off during the day.
Article Courtesy of The Houston Chronicle