Environmental Allergen Controls
Flowers, weeds, grasses and trees on a seasonal basis give off allergens known as pollens. The pollens that are the most concerning for producing allergy symptoms are the lightweight seed bearing plants, that have wind borne buoyant pollen. These pollens are usually invisible. The pollens can get into your eyes, nose and airways and produce allergy symptoms. Most showy flowers have sticky pollen and are pollinated by insects and are usually not inhaled. Exposure pollen is not limited to the outdoors. Pollen grains are microscopic and can be transported indoors on pets, clothing and can infiltrate through doors, windows and air handling systems. Pollen counts vary by season and by area of the country. The highest counts occur in the spring and fall.
Pollen is worse on dry, windy days and decreases after a rain. The levels of pollen are highest in the late evening and early morning. Plan your outside activities accordingly and stay indoors as much as possible during the heavy pollen seasons spring and fall.
There are some foods that may have cross-reactivity with inhalant pollen allergy. This reaction is called concomitant food allergy and may increase allergic symptoms during pollen season. Some examples of cross-reactivity include: Birch is cross reactive with hazelnut, apple, blackberry, cherry, peach, pear, plum, raspberry, strawberry, carrot, celery, dill and parsley. Timothy grass is cross-reactive with wheat, apple, carrot, celery, dill and parsley. Ragweed is cross-reactive with watermelon, cantaloupe and chamomile tea.
Molds are part of the fungus family and are found in warm areas with high humidity. Mold can grow anywhere there is a non-living material to serve as an appropriate food source and a level of humidity above 30%. Molds have reproductive seeds called spores and spores create new mold growth. Inhalation of mold spores can produce allergy symptoms.
Outdoor allergen mold spores are seasonal and most common east of the Mississippi River. Shade or darkness increases mold growth. Molds are more common in the summer months, but may be found all year round in warm climates and indoors. Indoor mold spores are commonly found in kitchens, bathrooms, heating and cooling systems, and indoor plants.
Additional mold sources:
- Moist surfaces in the basement, bathrooms, or kitchen.
- Spills, roof leaks, window sweating, plumbing leaks or pet accidents.
- Deteriorating carpet, drapes and upholstery.
- Inefficient filters in a central heating/cooling system allow dirt to accumulate on coils, drain pan and duct work. This becomes food for mold.
- Trash compactors, garbage cans and dirty dishes.
- Drain pan or frost-free refrigerator.
- Poorly ventilated closets and basements.
- Upholstered furniture.
- Standing water under or around the house.
- Foam rubber pillows.
- Food. Cross-reactivity with inhalant mold allergy may increase symptoms. Try to avoid cheese, yeast, and fermented beverages.
- Compost and soil.
The most common animal allergies are cat and dog. Animal allergies are from proteins found in pet dander, saliva, and urine. Other animal allergies include: birds, cows, horses, hamsters, and guinea pigs. Pet dander is one of the hardest allergens to control, as it travels on the animal and everything it touches. Animal dander can build up on couches, carpets, and beds. This dander can stay for months after the animal is no longer present.
Environmental controls for animal dander:
- Remove the pet from the home or school classroom, if possible.
- If you have to keep the pet, keep the animal outside and particularly out of the bedroom. Keep off carpets and furniture.
- Avoid contact with the pet as much as possible.
- Clean walls, furniture, and floors with a damp mop or electrostatic dust cloth.
- Ventilate the room or home as much as possible.
- HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filter in Vacuum cleaners.
- HEPA filters to reduce airborne allergens, especially in the bedroom.
- Keep clothes and toys exposed to pets out of the bedroom.
- Bathe pets weekly, with shampoo to decrease dander and saliva.
- Keep pet confined to one area of the home. Clean the pet’s area weekly wearing a dust mask.
- Wash animal’s bedding weekly in hot water at least 130 degrees.
- Avoid or limit visiting homes with pets.
- If your home has forced air heating, close air duct to the bedroom.
- Do not use feather pillows or comforters.
- Consider taking an antihistamine prior to animal exposure.
House dust is a mixture of mold spores, pet hair particles, insect particles, and dust mites. The exact mixture varies from house to house, but the dust mites are a significant allergy component. The dust mites are microscopic and not visible by the human eye. Dust mites thrive in house dust, especially in warm and humid environments. Mites and their waste are responsible for “dust” allergy. Your goal should be to try to decrease and possibly eliminate these little pests.
Mites tend to live deep in carpets, mattresses and soft furnishings. Sofas and mattresses, because of their depth of padding, are a good environment for mite growth. Mattresses have the highest mite levels in the house, which probably reflects the combination of perspiration and warmth in beds.
The dust mite can produce 10-20 pellets of waste material per day. The allergen in the pellets is the causative factor in mite allergic responses. Pellets range in size from 15-20 microns in diameter and become airborne when carpeting or bedding is disruptive by movement. The fecal pellets that remain after the mites die, break into smaller and smaller particles and can become airborne for months later.