BY MARCIA SCHNEDLER ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE
Little Rock is among the top 10 asthma and spring allergies
"capitals" in the nation, according to the Asthma and Allergy
Foundation of America.
These high marks for sneezy wheezy conditions have ramifications:
Many of the same things that set off asthmatic and allergic
reactions also affect those with chronic obstructive pulmonary
disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis, lung cancer and other lung-related
problems, which are the fourth leading cause of death in Arkansas.
More than 250,000 Arkansans have been diagnosed with lung cancer and
chronic lung disease, says the Arkansas Respiratory Health
Association; more than 32,000 children suffer from asthma.
Treatment of such conditions is up to physicians. But steps can be
taken at home to minimize exposure to the triggers that set off
attacks and discomfort.
And home is definitely the place to start. We spend almost 90
percent of our time indoors, with 65 percent of that inside our
houses or apartments, according to the National Safety Council.
While plenty of irritating airborne particles are floating around
outdoors, indoor levels of pollutants are often two to five times
The triggers that set off asthmatic attacks and affect others with
allergy and lung problems can be simple things, says the American
Tobacco smoke and wood smoke.
Perfume, paint, hair spray or any strong odors or fumes.
Allergens (the particles that cause allergies) like dust mites,
pollen, molds, pollution, animal saliva and dander (tiny scales or
particles that fall off hair or skin), cockroaches.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emanating from carpets, rugs,
paint, cabinets and clothing that use formaldehyde in the
Colds, influenza and other respiratory illnesses.
Exposure to cold air or a warm-to-cold change.
Excitement or stress.
Foods such as nuts, shellfish, peanut butter, eggs; food additives
like monosodium glutamate.
Additional triggers may exist for each individual; your doctor can
suggest ways to identify them.
Controlling exposure to triggers outdoors is difficult, so when air
pollution, pollen and mold levels are up, it's best to stay inside.
Here are steps to take indoors:
Ask family and friends who smoke to do so outdoors.
Forgo wood-burning fireplaces and stoves.
Virtually all pets, including birds and small animals like hamsters,
affect those with allergies or lung problems. Consider a pet-free
Minimize carpeting and upholstery, which harbor dust mites, pet
dander and pollen and often are made using formaldehyde. Instead of
area rugs, try rug tiles like those from FLOR.
Most surfaces are nylon; some are natural fibers like hemp or wool.
Tiles can be pulled up to clean stains and spills using cool water
and nonsolvent cleaner and are recyclable. Visit
Use washable window shades or curtains for easy cleaning.
Avoid using candles, perfume, room deodorizers, standard cleaning
chemicals (especially aerosols or sprays), paint and talcum powder.
Cockroaches are a notorious cause of asthma. Store food in sealed
containers and keep crumbs, dirty dishes and other food sources
Reduce the clutter of knickknacks and objects that collect dust.
Prevent mold, including a regular check of houseplants; they may
have to move outdoors.
An increasing number of products join the market each year to combat
symptom producers like
dust mites and
mold. Other items assist in
house cleaning, reducing pet dander, modifying humidity and cleaning
Start in the bedroom, where we spend about one-third of our lives
Manufacturers such as
Royal-Pedic make hypoallergenic mattresses
that use natural toxic free materials. Its latex mattresses are mold-
and dust mite-resistant. Another line is designed for those who
react to multiple chemicals.
Pillow choices include
hypodown, wool, allergen-barrier and
synthetic down in an array of sizes and levels of firmness.
Synthetic downs from companies like
PrimaLoft are hypoallergenic,
machine washable, and extremely soft.
Ogallala Comfort Co. makes
hypodown pillows with a mix of fibers
from Hungarian goose down and syriaca (a milkweed). Syriaca is
hypoallergenic and stabilizes the components in down that cause
allergic reactions. The company also produces chemical- and
glue-free wool pillows that are dust-mite resistant and
hypoallergenic, and are firm. It makes duvets and comforters, too.
A bed can house anywhere from 1 million to 10 million dust mites.
One way to eliminate them is to place a barrier between you (their
source of food, the tiny flakes of skin we all shed constantly) and
your pillows, comforter and mattress where they live.
dust mite encasings used to be backed by a layer of urethane,
making them waterproof as well as allergen-proof. But this fabric is
relatively noisy and can be uncomfortably hot to sleep on. It's
still available, mostly as a box spring casing or as protection from
bed-wetting or incontinence as well as allergies.
A new process weaves fabrics so tightly that dust mites and other
microscopic allergens, including pet dander, can't pass through the
pores. But the fabrics are breathable.
Zip-up pillow, mattress and duvet covers are available in various
pore sizes and blends.
Keeping a clean environment is important for those with asthma and
allergies, so minimize dust, pollen, mold, pet dander and other
Many conventional cleaners, though, contain chemicals and odors that
also set off symptoms.
Fortunately, more choices among non-allergenic products exist for
laundry and cleaning as well as controlling various triggers.
If you're using dust mite encasings on pillows, mattress and duvet,
pillow covers need washing every few weeks and mattress covers three
or four times a year as long as you use regular bedding over them
that you wash weekly.
Use 140-degree water plus anti-allergen detergents such as
Allersearch Allergen Wash. An anti-dust mite additive is available
for loads requiring lower temperature water and regular laundry
Specialized cleaners exist for hard floors, tubs and tile, glass and
Plexiglas and dishwashing. There's also concentrated multipurpose
M-1 House Wash, which is nontoxic and biodegradable. M-1 also makes
an odorless nontoxic sealant that stops mold and mildew indoors and
out for two to four years.
Vacuum cleaner manufacturers -
Nilfisk among them - have developed machines that filter and contain
allergens. Look for a vacuum with a HEPA filter and exhaust. Some
experts suggest emptying the dirt container when it's half full (or
throwing it away). Some companies, like Dyson, have systems designed
for pet hair.
For regular vacuums, switch to a HEPA bag that holds allergens
inside, plus an exhaust filter.
X-MITE onto rugs, carpets and upholstered furniture before
vacuuming to deactivate allergens from pollen, dust mites and pet
dander; it's effective for three months.
vapor steam cleaners sanitize and deodorize carpets,
mattresses, pillows and fabrics without saturating them.
Mix Dustmite & Flea Control with the water to finish off dust mites on
contact; it's odorless and doesn't stain.
Electrostatic dust cloths,
microfiber glass cloths, dust control and
smoke-removing sponges and perfume- and chemical-free odor
eliminators are on the market.
THE AIR WE BREATHE
Not all air purifiers are alike or effective. Different ones target
different pollutants, and some even pollute the air with
filters, for example, do well at eliminating dust, animal dander and
pollen, but aren't so good at removing foul odors or chemical and
The first step is to identify the kinds of particles you need to
AchooAllergy.com has an excellent
buyer's guide to air
purifiers (and other product categories) that takes into account air
changes per hour, clean air delivery rate, noise level and energy
Portable and travel air purifiers also exist. Visit
window filters trap the great majority of larger
particles. Some for the furnace are permanent and designed to be
washed, dried and reinstalled.
Trane offers its CleanEffects whole-house air cleaner, saying it
removes 99.98 percent of airborne allergens as small as 0.l microns
(cat and dust mite allergens are mostly larger than 2 microns). For
more information, view www.trane.com.
Too much humidity causes mold and mildew growth. Damp air, which
dust mites love, can contribute to respiratory illness. But air
that's too dry causes nasal, sinus and skin problems. The best
relative humidity is 45 percent to 50 percent, according to the EPA.
Acu-Rite makes a
digital humidity gauge that monitors the indoor
level as well as the temperature.
Some humidifiers have anti-microbial and anti-mold capabilities.
Dehumidifiers can be placed anywhere but may be most useful in
basements, laundry rooms, bathrooms and closets and under sinks.
PET PRODUCT PARADE
If you can't resist a pet, keep the bedroom as allergen-free as
possible. That means no pets allowed inside. If you can convince
your pet to stay off upholstery, that's advisable. Weekly baths can
cut down on pet dander and saliva.
Look for products that reduce dander and neutralize allergens in the
coat. Allerpet makes a cleaner applied with a wet washcloth, while
Quick Bath offers wipes. Gonzo has
pet stain remover wipes in a
dispenser package for quick cleanups.
There are several brands of dry crystals that absorb odors and last
longer than baking soda. To pick up hair, check dry-use lifter
sponges and pet brush vacuum attachments.
This article was published on page 37 and 42 of the Saturday,
September 08, 2007 edition in the HomeStyle section.