Environmental control is the first and best step toward better allergy control.
If you have dust mite allergies, encasings for the mattress and pillows are an absolute must according to most allergists. This is because mite-proof encasings will create a complete barrier between the dust mite allergic individual and dust mites, which are found by the millions in mattresses, pillows, and comforters. Without encasings, as you move during sleep the allergenic by-products of the mites are stirred up from your bedding and are breathed directly into the nose and lungs. With encasings, this harmful process is stopped. The invisible particles are blocked by the encasing and are no longer breathed in all night.
Contrary to popular belief, so called “hypoallergenic” pillows need to be encased as well, because the phrase “hypoallergenic” only means that the materials used to construct the pillow are less likely to cause an allergic reaction. Dust mites are still found in these pillows.
In the past, people have resisted encasings because they were made of plastic or vinyl and were crinkly and hot. But softer and more durable fabric encasings are now available that eliminate these discomfort problems. Some of the newest mite-proof encasings use tightly woven, soft, comfortable fabric to protect you from this powerful allergen. In fact, these breathable encasings are so cool and comfortable that most people do not even realize they are sleeping on them.
Eliminating dust mites and their allergen from
sheets, blankets, comforters and mattress pads is really quite simple. Just wash these items every 10-14 days in hot (130 degree F) water. Washing in hot water kills the microscopic mite and effectively removes the allergen.
High quality blankets and laundry additives are available which will eliminate mites even in cold water. If washing your comforter is impractical, you can encase your comforter just like you would your mattress. By the way, it is important to know that dust mites are common to almost all households and have little to do with good or bad housekeeping. Most that are available can take 50 or more washings and still look and feel like new.
Vent filters are inexpensive filtering kits that cover incoming air conditioning and heat air vents. They are designed to minimize all kinds of airborne allergens from entering a room from other areas of the house via the ductwork. Although not as efficient as a true
HEPA air cleaners, they are a great and inexpensive start.
High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) cleaners are considered to be the gold standard in room air cleaning. One powerful unit can easily reduce offending airborne allergen in a room by 90% and keep the room clean as long as it remains running.
HEPA air cleaners do not lose efficiency and require only occasional filter changes. It is important to know that dust mite allergen is removed only while airborne, i.e., for only 20 minutes or so after disturbance. The continuous air movement from the HEPA filter has a ventilation effect. It moves allergens into the air cleaner, thereby continuously reducing the reservoir of allergens in room air to help you avoid these offending particles.
HEPA air cleaners come with different power levels. Air cleaning power is very important and is measured in air changes per hour (the number of times per hour the entire volume of air in the room can be filtered). The more often the air is cleaned in the room, the fewer allergens remain.
Cleaning a room’s air ten or more times per hour is ideal. However, most experts agree HEPA air cleaners should have the capacity to clean your bedroom’s air no less than six times per hour. Beware of weak HEPA air cleaners that clean a room’s air less than five times per hour. Despite having a HEPA filter, such units simply do not have the power to pull air from more than a few feet away. The remainder of the air in the room stays unfiltered and loaded with allergens. Recent advancements in technology are producing powerful machines that are actually very quiet while running, even on the highest speed.
Sold under several labels, there are products available that denature (neutralize) dust mites and other indoor allergens in carpets and upholstered furniture. These sprays do not kill dust mites, so the mites continue to produce the allergen, making more frequent treatments necessary. Some of these sprays use a 3% tannic acid solution while others use newer technologies. There are also several types of powders designed for use on carpeting since it is a favorite place for mites to live. Another way to control allergens in your carpet is frequent vacuuming, but consider using special bags or a HEPA vacuum cleaner for best results.
Needless to say, the best treatment for pet allergy is not to have an indoor pet. If that is not possible, do not let your pet sleep in the same room with you, and ideally, the pet should never come in the bedroom.
Pets should be washed or treated with a dander removal product every two weeks. This removes much of the allergenic dander from the fur before it becomes airborne. True HEPA air cleaning and vacuuming will further reduce the presence of this allergen.
High humidity (above 45-50%) promotes dust mite and mold spore growth. Running an air conditioner or high-efficiency dehumidifier can help reduce humidity levels. Kits are available that test for the presence of molds. It is also wise to use a humidity gauge to monitor moisture levels in your home.
Mold spore allergies are common because spores grow readily in showers, bath rooms, basements, etc. The airborne spores can be avoided with good continuous air cleaning, but preventing mold spores from growing is also important. Normal cleaning with soap and water or using chlorine bleach is not a long term way of eliminating mold and mildew. Plus, the use of harsh chemicals can be bad for your health as you breathe them in during cleaning.
There are now strong, non-toxic,biodegradable cleaners that are very easy to use and take very little effort. Such measures are especially important for homes with mold problems in basements and crawl spaces. Furnace systems in those areas can actually pull in these mold spores and distribute them throughout the house via the duct system. Preventatives are inexpensive and simple to use.
There are furnace filters that are used in place of inexpensive, fiberglass, disposable filters and, they do a much better job of filtering the air in the home. Although not as efficient as true HEPA air cleaners, they do cover a larger area. Since they cannot filter unless the furnace fan runs, it is advisable to run the furnace fan often to get maximum filtration.
There are two main types available: Permanent and Pleated. The permanent types are a good long-term investment, will usually last the life of your furnace and require monthly washing. Pleated furnace filters are by far the best filters. These are not washable and have to be changed every 3 months or so depending on the brand. There are other methods for filtering the air in your entire home, but they are usually very expensive and require installation by a professional technician.
If you decide to use a furnace filter, you may still want to cover the vents in your bedroom, because the air has to travel through the ductwork where it can gather any number of allergens. A word about built-in “electronic” air cleaners: These cleaners are sold under several brand names, require separate power to operate and are installed by heating and air companies. These units lose efficiency rapidly after only 20 to 30 hours of use. Unless the dust collection plate element is washed at least weekly - instead of the “recommended” monthly or quarterly - little or no filtering will take place. Also, these units are very expensive. A much more economical solution might be having several room HEPA air cleaners and space them out in the home to get “whole-house” air cleaning that does not require weekly maintenance.
Most vacuum cleaners cannot retain particles under 10-20 microns in size. The dust collection bag is simply too porous. Because airborne allergen particles range in size from 1 to 15 microns - much smaller than most vacuums can trap - the millions of particles expelled through a vacuum cleaner bag can be dangerous for allergy sufferers.
The real problem is that this harmful, microscopic dust is never picked up and stays in the home to accumulate year after year. True HEPA vacuum cleaners are 99.97% efficient down to 0.30 microns, so they pick up allergens permanently without sending them back out into the room.
The decision to buy an allergy vacuum cleaner should be based on filtering efficiency, not the various “bells and whistles” available. Even a water-based machine can only filter down to about 10 microns which means millions of microscopic particles escape back into the room. Many companies currently make true HEPA vacuum cleaners in both canister and upright styles. Models are also available without bags but allergy sufferers must empty them carefully, without causing an allergenic dust cloud.