Allergies occur when your immune system reacts to substances in the environment. The most common allergens in the house are dust mites, pet allergens, cockroach droppings, pollen and mould. These allergens are harmless to most people, but in some, they cause itchy and watery eyes, sneezes, coughs, upset tummies and skin rashes.
The good news is that one of the most effective ways to control allergies is simply to avoid allergens! Here’s your guide to help keeping those irritants out of your home.
A common trigger of allergy symptoms, dust mites are microscopic creatures that thrive in warm, humid environments, such as bedding, upholstered furniture and carpet. You can minimise exposure to dust mites and their allergens by:
- Encasing mattresses, doonas and pillows in allergen-proof covers.
These covers used to be made of plastic but modern versions use coated fabrics that are much more comfortable to sleep with.
- Cleaning bedding weekly in a hot-wash.
Temperatures above 55°C will kill dust mites, so do a weekly hot wash (this will kill both dust mites and their allergens), or a weekly cold wash and hot tumble dry (to kill just dust mites).
- Using a dehumidifier or turning on the air-conditioning to keep indoor air humidity low.
Mites are less likely to survive in dry and well-ventilated houses.
- Vacuuming rugs and carpets weekly.
Using a vacuum with a High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter. Be aware that older vacuums have poor exhaust filtration and as a result may release collected mites into the air. Modern machines with HEPA filters that securely trap everything they suck in are a worthwhile investment for someone with a dust mite allergy!
Contrary to popular belief, it is not animal hair that causes an allergic reaction. Rather, the allergens are commonly found in the sweat glands of cats or saliva glands of dogs. These allergens attach themselves to your pets’ hair and skin, and become airborne, making them difficult to get rid of. Unfortunately, if a cat or dog is causing severe allergy the only way to relieve those symptoms is to find your beloved pet another home. Otherwise, you can minimise your exposure to pet allergens by:
- Keeping the animal outdoors and trying to minimise contact.
If that’s not possible, then at least try to keep the pet out of the bedroom and other rooms where you spend a lot of time.
- Good housekeeping
Keep pets off carpets and soft furnishings; clean carpets, curtains and rugs regularly with a vacuum containing a High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter; and wash pet and human bedding weekly in a hot wash over 55°C. If you use an anti-bacterial wash you’ll be washing away bacteria, too.
- Grooming your pet
Regular washing will help remove the volume of allergens present. Regular brushing can help, too, but make sure you do it outside rather than inside the house.
- Washing your hands
Every time you touch your pet, you’ll be picking up allergens. Make sure that you and all the members of your household wash your hands thoroughly with an anti-bacterial soap after handling pets.
Nasty as they are, it’s not the cockroaches themselves but their droppings which are a source of allergens. You can minimise exposure to cockroach allergens by:
- Keeping them out of the house Block all crevices, wall cracks and window gaps where cockroaches can enter.
- Fixing leaky taps and pipes Cockroaches can’t survive without water. They won’t be able to flourish inside your home if you eliminate all potential water sources.
- Keeping food tidy Cockroaches need food to survive. Tidy away all food at the end of the day, preferably in sealed containers. Toss a clean tea towel over fruit bowls. Eliminate scraps by vacuuming or sweeping the floor after meals and washing dishes as soon as possible after you’ve finished eating. Wipe off stove and other kitchen surfaces and cupboards regularly, and mop regularly, including under stoves and refrigerators.
To thrive, mould and mildew need dampness – typically found in bathrooms, around windows and doors and any areas with leaks. You can minimise exposure to mould by:
- Removing mould with bleach.
Wear protective clothing such as a mask and eye goggles.
- Eliminating sources of damp
Do a thorough stocktake of the house, fixing or removing anything that encourages mould growth: leaking pipes and roofs, blocked underfloor vents, wet carpets and indoor plants.
- Reduce moisture in the air by investing in a stand-alone air purifier.
These can reduce the concentration of airborne contaminants that cause allergies.
- Airing the house
Fresh air is a good antidote to dampness and humidity inside the house.
Throw the windows open as much as possible and let the breeze blow through.