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Video: Allergy-proof your home

updated 10/27/2008 11:21:10 AM ET 2008-10-27T15:21:10

Allergies are the result of an immune system run amok. They develop when your immune system overreacts to a normally harmless substance, such as pollen, cat dander or dust. These tips will plant you firmly on the path to easy breathing and dry eyes. 

Minimize clutter
Dried flowers, books, stuffed animals, and other homey touches collect dust and allergens. Try to keep knickknacks in closets or drawers or rid your home of them entirely.

Choose the hot cycle on laundry day
Linens should be washed in water that is at least 130° F to rid them of dust mites and their wastes.

To test yourwater temperature, stop the washer once it's filled and dip a meat thermometer into the water. If you're worried about scalding people by setting your water heater that high, consider taking your bedding to a professional laundry service where you'll be assured that the bedding will be washed at a sufficiently high temperature.

Make your bed a mite-free zone
Encase your pillows, mattress, and box spring in allergen-proof covers. These covers, sold by allergy-supply companies such as American Allergy Supply, National Allergy Supply, and Allergy Control Products, provide a barrier between you and any allergens that may be housed inside them. Look for a fabric weave tight enough to keep out dust mite allergens as small as 10 microns wide.

Wear a face mask
Use one when doing anything that's likely to expose you to an allergen that you know will cause you problems. A simple chore like vacuuming can throw huge quantities of dust and whatever else is in your home into the air, where it will hang for several minutes, says David Lang, M.D.  

Similarly, gardening can expose you to huge volumes of pollen. A small mask that covers your nose and mouth, known professionally as a dust and mist respirator, can keep the allergen from reaching your lungs. The 3M Company makes an inexpensive version that comes highly recommended and can be found in most hardware stores.

Air-condition your car
If walking outside makes you start wheezing and sneezing, imagine what tearing through all those pollen clouds at 55 miles per hour is going to do. Be sensible and remember to use the air conditioner in your car. Of course, it's not the same as letting the wind rip through your hair, but, remember, you're doing it for your health.

Buy a dehumidifier
Keeping the air in your home dry will help put a stop to dust mite problems. Dust mites don't do very well in humidity below about 45 percent, Dr. Platts-Mills says. "Generally, the drier, the better."

Remember to empty the unit's water often and clean it regularly, according to the manufacturer's instructions, so that it doesn't become a haven for mold. If your dehumidifier creates a problem for a child or someone else sensitive to dry air, try putting a small room humidifier close to his or her bed.

Buy throw rugs
Replace your carpets with throw rugs, and you'll achieve two major benefits. First, you'll eliminate your home's biggest collector of dust, pollen, pet dander, and mold. Second, you'll make keeping your home allergen-free much easier. Rugs can be washed at temperatures hot enough to kill dust mites. Also, the floors underneath — courtesy of a rug's loose weave — stay cooler and drier, conditions distinctly hostile to mold and mites.

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"Mites can't survive on a dry, polished floor," Dr. Thomas Platts-Mills says. "That kind of floor dries in seconds versus days for a steam-cleaned carpet."

Enforce a no-smoking policy
Tobacco smoke is a significant irritant for the smoker and anyone else breathing nearby. Smoke can make allergies worse. You'll breathe easier if you keep your home, office, and car smoke-free zones.

Install an air filter
Keeping the air clean in your home can bring relief from pollen, mold, and pet dander. When you use an air filter in your room, remember to keep the door closed so that the machine won't get overburdened with too much air to clean.

Air filters aren't much use against dust mites, however. The mites are so heavy that they hang in the air only for a few minutes and aren't floating around for the filter to draw them in.

Isolate your pets
The furry friends that occupy America's homes cause a staggering number of allergy exacerbations every year. Cat dander usually causes the most problems, but dogs, birds, rabbits, horses, and other pets with hair or fur also cause allergies in those who are susceptible. If you can't bear to part with your pet, make your bedroom a haven, sealed off from the rest of the house and absolutely forbidden territory for critters.

"One walk a week through a room is all it takes for a pet to keep a dander allergy going," Dr. Richard Podell says.

Keep it clean
People with allergies fare better when dust and grime are kept to a minimum. Try not to use aerosol sprays or products containing harsh chemicals or odors that may irritate your airways. But your home will need more than a dusting with a dry cloth, which just propels allergens into the air. Instead, wipe down hard surfaces and floors with a slightly damp cloth. In humid areas, use a bleach solution.

Bleach kills mold, and, unlike some other exotic (and potentially dangerous) chemicals, you can get it at the grocery store. Wipe down surfaces in your bathroom as needed. The label on Clorox bleach suggests that you clean floors, vinyl, tile and your kitchen sink with a solution of 3/4 cup of Clorox bleach per gallon of water. Let it stand for 5 minutes and then rinse. Use a regular fungicide for tough locations, like the basement. Of course, don't use it on fabrics, or they'll get bleached.

If you're allergic to house dust, pet dander or another common household allergen, get someone else to take care of cleaning that carpet, such as a teenager or a professional cleaning service. The cost of hiring a helper is a small price to pay to avoid an allergic reaction.

Make at least one room a sanctuary
If you can't afford central air and don't want to rip the wall-to-wall carpeting out of every room in your house, there's still hope. Make just one room a sanctuary.

"Most people spend the largest part of their time at home in the bedroom," Dr. Platts-Mills says. Making just that one room an allergen-free area can do a great deal to alleviate the allergy.

Do it by air-conditioning the room in summer, sealing it from the rest of the house (by keeping the door closed), replacing carpets with throw rugs, encasing linens in allergen-proof cases, and keeping it dust-free.

Copyright© 2012 Rodale Inc.All rights reserved. No reproduction, transmission or display is permitted without the written permissions of Rodale Inc.

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