Fall is right around the corner, and for some people with seasonal allergic rhinitis, unfortunately so are more reasons to sneeze.
Ragweed, the most common source of pollen allergies, is now in full bloom (see Lifelines, Allergy Season Now Earlier and Longer). This will be followed in the next few weeks by another prevalent culprit for respiratory discomfort: decaying leaves.
Other common allergy triggers like dust mites, mold and mildew are around all year along, but in sections of the country where cooler weather encourages more time indoors, they often become bigger sources for coughing, wheezing and in some instances, asthma attacks. Asthma affects more than 32 million people in the U.S. (about one in 12) and the number is rising. Asthma can lead to hospitalizations, lost school and work days and, sometimes, death.
Here are suggestions for reducing your exposures to common allergens during the fall.
Dust Mites: These microscopic creatures live on mattresses, bedding, upholstered furniture and carpets, feasting on the miniscule flakes of skin that people (and pets) shed daily. You can’t get rid of dust mites completely but you can make them less of an issue.
- Encase your mattress and pillows in dust-proof or allergen-impermeable covers.
- Wash all bedding and blankets once a week in hot water (at least 130-140°F) to kill dust mites.
- Replace wool or feather bedding with synthetic materials.
- For children, replace traditional stuffed animals with ones that can be washed. If possible, replace wall-to-wall carpets in bedrooms with bare floors (linoleum, tile or wood) and remove fabric curtains and upholstered furniture.
- Use a damp mop or rag to remove dust.
- Use a vacuum cleaner with either a double-layered microfilter bag or a HEPA filter to trap allergens that pass through a vacuum’s exhaust.
Mold and Mildew: Leaves lying on the ground not only crumble and decay, but also hold moisture, which encourages mold and mildew. Damp bathrooms and basements are also prime breeding grounds for these fungi.
- Reduce the growth of mold and mildew outside:
- Rake fallen leaves in your yard and remove leaves from gutters. (Wear a NIOSH N95-rated filter mask when doing any kind of yard work. The N95, which you can buy at any hardware store, is the only mask that can filter out pollen.)
- Reduce the growth of mold and mildew inside:
- Clean bathrooms using a bleach solution, vinegar or store-bought anti-mildew/mold agent. Consider installing a fan if your bathroom doesn’t have one.
- Use a dehumidifier to reduce moisture in your home. Indoor air should be between 35 and 50 percent humidity. (Be sure to empty your dehumidifier daily and keep it clean.)
Furnaces and Heat Pumps: Dust and other airborne allergens are easily circulated throughout your home by your heating system. To keep these allergens from following you from room to room:
- Change furnace filters every three months
- Use filters with a MERV (minimum efficiency reporting value) rating of 8 to 12. A MERV rating tells you how well the filter removes dust from the air as it passes through the filter. (This also applies in hot weather when running your central air conditioner and when using portable units.)
- Ductwork may need to be cleaned. Check the Environmental Protection Agency’s website to find out if this is something you should consider.
In addition, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America suggests using household cleaning products that carry the asthma & allergy friendly™ Certification Standard. For more information on this and other tips for managing your fall allergies, go to www.aafa.org.
It is also important to continue with the same precautions that helped limit your exposures and reduce your allergy symptoms during the spring and summer months. This includes taking your allergy medications. If you are not getting relief or if your symptoms worsen, make an appointment to see your allergist.
[Janet Lubman Rathner]