A Beginner's Guide to Environmental Control of Allergens
Three basic treatment options exist for allergy sufferers:
- Allergy Medication
- Immunotherapy (Allergy Shots)
- Environmental Control
What Is Environmental Control?
Environmental control requires a bit of work on your part - it's not quite as easy as swallowing a pill or getting a shot - but it is the most effective treatment for allergies. If you can control your environment and avoid your allergens, then you will not experience allergy symptoms. It's that simple!
Environmental control may involve frequent vacuuming with a HEPA-filtered vacuum cleaner, encasing your mattress and pillows with special allergy relief bedding, running an air purifier, wearing a mask, or placing a dehumidifier in your basement. Your environmental control plan depends on the specific allergens to which you are allergic.
What Causes Allergy Symptoms?
Allergy symptoms appear after a sensitive individual is exposed to allergens. The most common allergens are proteins from plants and animals (although some people may be allergic to certain chemicals). Once an allergen makes its way inside the body, it sets off a chemical chain reaction within the immune system of sensitive individuals. This chain reaction, which includes the release of histamine and other inflammatory chemicals, leads to allergy symptoms - sneezing, watery eyes, congestion, etc.
How Do I Discover My Specific Allergens?
Before you can formulate an environmental control plan, you must know the substances that cause your allergy symptoms.
You should visit an allergist or ENT physician for allergy testing. In the most common method of allergy testing, an allergy technician pricks the skin with a tiny needle to insert a small amount of the allergen. If the patient is allergic, then the site of the skin prick will become red and swollen.
As another option that's more cost-effective and convenient, you can use MyAllergy Test in your own home. This easy-to-use kit allows you to collect a sample of blood (using a finger stick lancet) and send it to a lab for allergy testing. MyAllergy Test shows if you're allergic to timothy grass, bermuda grass, mountain cedar, short ragweed, mold, milk, egg whites, wheat, cat dander, and dust mites. If you want more extensive testing, you should make an appointment with an allergist.
Once you know your specific allergens, then you can start implementing environmental controls to help you avoid exposure to your allergens.
Dust Mite Allergy
Like villains in a microscopic sci-fi movie, dust mitesare everywhere. They can live inside automobiles, deep within carpet fibers, and on furniture. Since dust mites feed on dead human skin, they tend to hang out where the shed skin collects: in the fibers of your bedding, mattress, and pillows. That's why it's vitally important to encase your bed with allergy relief bedding, also known as dust mite encasings. These encasings will keep dust mites from invading your bed. See the Allergy Bedding Buying Guide to learn more.
You should also vacuum frequently with a HEPA vacuum cleaner. Vacuuming alone will not suck up all the dust mites, but it will take away their food. To kill dust mites in carpet, use anti-allergenic carpet powders and sprays. We also recommend using anti-allergenic laundry detergents and additives to kill dust mites and denature allergens in your laundry, especially if you normally wash your laundry in cold water. (Water must be very hot in order to kill dust mites, but you can kill them in a cold water wash by using de-mite laundry additive orAllergen Wash.)
If you have a dust mite allergy, you should monitor your relative humidity. Dust mites like warm, humid environments, and they cannot thrive if you keep the relative humidity below 50 percent. Monitor your humidity with a humidity gauge. If necessary, you can lower the humidity in your home with adehumidifier. See the Dehumidifier Buying Guide to learn more.
Finally, although an air purifier won't eliminate the actual dust mites, it will eliminate excess dust in your home. To reduce dust mite populations, it's important to keep your home free of dust and clutter. If you can, replace carpet with hardwood floors and low-pile area rugs.
Stuffed animals also harbor dust mites. You can kill dust mites on small items like stuffed animals by placing them out in the sun for several hours or by putting them in the freezer over night. Or, you can buy washable toys like Gund Stuffed Animals.
As with dust mites, it's impossible to get rid of every single mold spore in your home. They're everywhere! However, using environmental control measures, you can greatly reduce the number of mold spores in your home and thereby reduce the frequency and severity of your allergy symptoms.
For protection while you're sleeping, Allergy Armor allergy relief beddingfeatures a special antimicrobial finish that prevents mold growth.
Use M-1 Sure Cote Mold & Mildew Resistant Sealant to clean up mold around your home and prevent future growth. AllerMold and Vital Oxide are two additional household cleaners that are effective against mold but safe for your family and the environment.
Be careful when cleaning mold! If the growth is significant, you'll want to wear a mask, along with gloves and goggles.
HEPA air purifiers and HEPA vacuum cleaners also capture mold spores and remove them from your environment. For more information, see the Vacuum Cleaner Buying Guide and the Air Purifier Buying Guide.
Pet Dander Allergy
We've already discussed several products that will help you avoid pet dander in your home; these products include allergy relief bedding, air purifiers, and HEPA vacuum cleaners. Allergy Armor Ultra bedding, for instance, blocks animal dander from your bed. Other products specially made for pet allergies include the Dyson DC17 Animal vacuum and the Austin Air Pet Machine air purifier.
If you own a pet, we also offer items to help you keep your pet's dander to a minimum, including the Dyson Groom and Ecology Works Pet Allergy Shampoo. See all Pet Allergy products for more suggestions.
Of course, if you're severely allergic to a specific animal, the best advice is to stay away from that animal. If you cannot avoid spending time with an allergenic animal, try avoid touching your face, and wash your hands (or better yet, shower) as soon as possible. And keep all pets out of your bedroom!
The main problem with pollen allergy is that you can't go outside and vacuum up all the pollen, nor can you stick an air purifier in your backyard and expect it to have any affect on the pollen level. When dealing with a pollen allergy, it's best to wear a mask outdoors. Watch your local pollen count and try to stay inside when the pollen counts are high. Once you get inside, shower as soon as possible.
Indoors, you can use HEPA vacuums and air purifiers to capture pollen grains. Be aware that pollen will find its way inside your home any time a door opens or window opens. If you want to get some fresh air without the pollen, put aSafeguard Window Filter on your window.
Sinus and nasal irrigation products also work well for pollen allergy sufferers because the saline washes away pollen grains in the nasal passages. TheSinuPulse Elite is the world's most advanced nasal irrigation system, but a simple neti pot works well, too. See our Seasonal Allergy Solution Guide for more information about pollen allergy.