Is your house making it hard to breathe? Here’s how to fix it.
Look for an air filter that handles particulate matter, such as dust and dander, as well as chemical matter.
I have freestanding air filters in my office and home, and they work quite well. The best kinds of filters for people with allergies are high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, which are specially designed to remove allergens from the air.
The most important place to run an air filter is in your bedroom, which is where you spend most of your time. It’s also frequently the most polluted room in the house. It’s a good idea to try and adjust the filter so it directs clean air toward you as you sleep.
You can also help remove debris from the air by installing a furnace filter, which traps pollen and dust before these allergens have a chance to circulate throughout the house. Furnace filters are easy to install and are relatively inexpensive.
If you live in an arid region, such as the desert Southwest, make sure that you regularly clean or replace your air duct or furnace filters. I try to change the filters in my home on a monthly or bimonthly schedule.
Another thing to keep in mind when it comes to clean air is the state of your air-conditioning (AC) unit. A clean unit can act as an air filter, but a dirty one contaminated with mold or other substances in the drip tray or filter can actually pump new allergens into your home. To truly condition your air, hire a professional to inspect your AC system once a year, and have your ducts cleaned at least once every five years.
Deter dust mites. Microscopic dust mites are a common asthma and allergy trigger. They feed on sloughed-off skin cells and lurk in bedding, stuffed animals, storage boxes, carpeting, and upholstered furniture. To discourage them, do the following:
• Encase your mattresses, box springs, and pillows in allergy-proof or airtight zippered plastic covers.
• Wash all bedding weekly in water that is at least 130°F, and dry everything in a dryer on the hottest setting.
• Keep your home cool by turning down the heat or turning up the AC; dust mites don’t reproduce in temperatures colder than about 77°F.
Kick cockroaches to the curb. Cockroach droppings and cast-off skins can stimulate allergy symptoms and asthma. To fix it:
• Block areas where roaches can come in, including windows, wall cracks, and crevices.
• Fix and seal any leaks.
• In addition to water, cockroaches love and need food, so clean it up, put it in covered containers, and vacuum and mop any crumbs or spills quickly.
• Change your kitty litter at least once every few days, as roaches are attracted to the droppings.
• Put grocery store bags outside in recycling bins as soon as you get home from food shopping. Better yet? Use reusable bags and wash them regularly. Roaches often hang out in grocery stores and have been known to hitch a ride home in shoppers’ grocery bags.
Not only does a clean house make for a more pleasant and enjoyable living environment for all, but clean conditions also help keep allergens under control (just use these tips to clean your house without polluting your air).
If you can, try to clean your home weekly. Mop all of your floors with a damp mop and vacuum all carpeting and rugs with a vacuum cleaner that has a small-particle or HEPA filter. (Don’t forget to vacuum the backs of chairs and couches, where dust, dust mites, and mold can hide.)
Wipe the dust from windowsills, furniture, and other surfaces. If you have allergies, wear a dust mask while you clean, or ask a family member who doesn’t have allergies to do these chores.
It’s not their fur that causes allergy symptoms, but the proteins in dog and cat saliva, urine, and dander. Also keep in mind that while dogs and cats tend to get the most blame when it comes to pet allergies, rabbits, mice, hamsters, and guinea pigs can also set off allergy symptoms—even Siamese fighting fish have been known to indirectly cause allergic reactions!
Clothing made from animal fur, such as cashmere, goat hair, mohair, and alpaca sweaters, can trigger allergies, as well.
If you or one of your family members has a known pet allergy, the very best thing you can do is not get an animal in the first place (or opt for one of these 17 Hypoallergenic Dog Breeds for Allergy Sufferers). If you already have a pet that is part of your family, try to keep that pet outdoors as much as possible. In addition, do the following:
• Keep the animal out of your bedroom and other rooms where you spend a lot of time.
• Vacuum carpets and rugs often.
• Ask a nonallergic family member to brush the pet or clean its cage or crate.
• Bathe the pet weekly, or better yet, twice a week, to minimize dander.
• If possible, replace carpeting with hardwood flooring, tile, or linoleum. Keep in mind that even after a pet is no longer in a house, pet dander can remain on fabrics and in carpeting, triggering allergies for a year or longer.
In general, when it comes to fostering a clean, allergy-free environment, the rule is “the dryer, the better.” Mold loves moisture, as do allergenic pests. So aim to keep the relative humidity level in your home at 30 to 50 percent or lower by running a dehumidifier. On humid days, keep your windows closed and run your air conditioner. To measure the humidity in your home and make sure you’re staying in the right range, you can use a tool called a hygrometer, available at your local hardware store.
As a side note, if you run a dehumidifier, make sure to keep it clean. Rinse and scrub the water tank at least once a week, and dust the grills with the soft brush attachment of your vacuum cleaner.
The more knick-knacks, ornaments, books, magazines, and general clutter you have in your house, the more places there are for allergens to park themselves. (Here’s a 10-step plan to declutter your kitchen.)
Limiting the number of picture frames, figurines, and other dust traps in your home will help you breathe better. Keep fibers to a minimum. Cloth and carpets create surfaces for dust and allergenic critters to hide. Old shag carpeting is the worst because it not only traps dust, but it also produces new dust as the fibers break down.
Remove as much wall-to-wall carpeting as possible and replace it with hardwood floors. Throw rugs are OK if you wash or dry-clean them regularly. If you must have carpeting, choose low-nap instead of the high-nap variety, and vacuum it at least once a week (or daily, if you can), preferably with a vacuum that has a HEPA filter.
Also, shampoo any carpets regularly using a nontoxic product. Heavy drapes and horizontal blinds on windows are additional traps for dust and other allergens.
Instead, go for washable roller shades or cotton or synthetic curtains. Or better yet, forgo window treatments entirely. In terms of furniture, upholstered pieces trap dust mites and other allergens. The best furniture materials for people with allergies are those that are easy to clean: wood, leather, metal, and plastic.
Not only can mold trigger allergy symptoms like watery eyes, runny nose, headaches, and coughing, but some forms can also release dangerous toxins. To prevent mold growth, lower the humidity in your home (run a dehumidifier to eliminate excess moisture) and fix all leaks.
If you see visible mold, wash it with soap and water and, if necessary, a 5 percent bleach solution before drying the area completely. If you can’t wash and dry a moldy item, throw it away.
Wipe up excessive moisture in your refrigerator and clean drip pans under appliances, as well as rubber seals around appliances, often.
To keep mold at bay in your bathrooms, always run your exhaust fan while you take a shower or bath; don’t put carpeting in your bathroom; swap out any wallpaper for tile or drywall painted with mold-resistant enamel paint; replace moldy shower curtains and bathmats; and use a bleach solution to scrub any visible mold from your toilets and sinks.
You spend more time in your bedroom than in any other room in your house. Unfortunately, in many cases, this room is the most polluted and inviting for allergens like mold, pollen, animal dander, dust mites, and cockroaches. So clear out knickknacks and clutter, remove drapes, and avoid storing things under your bed. Also, keep your bed away from air vents, if you can, so you don’t breathe in dust that comes out of them as you sleep.
Get bedding and pillows you can machine-wash, and avoid down pillows and comforters, which can’t be washed easily.
In kids’ bedrooms, keep stuffed animals to a minimum—they are dust traps. If your kids can’t part with them, wash stuffed toys every so often to remove the dust. Use a damp cloth to wipe those that can’t be machine-washed, and dry them on your dryer’s hottest setting to kill dust mites.
During allergy season, pollens are rampant. When you go outside, that pollen collects on your clothing and in your hair. To minimize the allergens you drag inside, change into fresh clothes as soon as you get home, and take a shower and wash your hair before you go to bed.
Use plants to clean your air. Plants act like natural air filters; they produce oxygen and actually help clean the air. As a bonus, they look pretty. Some plants are better air filters than others. According to the National Institutes of Health, the top 10 air-cleaning houseplants are:
1. Areca palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens)
2. Lady palm (Rhapis excelsa)
3. Bamboo palm (Chamaedorea erumpens)
4. Rubber plant (Ficus elastica)
5. Dracaena (Dracaena deremensis)
6. English ivy (Hedera helix)
7. Pygmy date palm (Phoenix roebelenii)
8. Banana-leaf ficus (Ficus maclellandii ‘Alii’)
9. Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata ‘Bostoniensis’)
10. Peace lily (Spathiphyllum wallisii).
The more of these filtering plants you can put in your home and office, the healthier your air will be. Houseplants may not be a good idea if you have a mold allergy or sensitivity, however; mold can grow in moist dirt, triggering your allergy symptoms. To help control mold growth in your potted plants, spread aquarium stones over the soil.
There are lots of things people use in their homes to make the air smell good that are, ironically, quite toxic. Plug-in air fresheners, spray air fresheners, and scented candles are scented with synthetic chemicals that then permeate your home. So if you are concerned about your respiratory health, avoid any products with added fragrances or that list “fragrance” as an ingredient.
A safer option is to scent rooms using pure essential oils (like these 5 Essential Oils That Will Replace Your Entire Medicine Cabinet). Put a few drops of pure essential oil into a spray bottle filled with water and spray it on absorbent surfaces, such as the toilet paper in your bathroom. Or dip cotton balls into essential oils and place them in open jars. (Just make sure children and pets can’t get to them.)
If no one in your home has pollen allergies, simply open up the windows and let the natural breeze sweeten your air. Modern homes are very airtight. That’s great for keeping in heat and air conditioning and lowering energy bills, but it also keeps allergens trapped and circulating through your indoor air.
Some of the worst ingredients in household products are the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) used in a number of products, including chlorine bleach, detergent, dishwashing liquid, dry-cleaning chemicals, rug and upholstery cleaners, furniture polishes, oven cleaners, floor polish, air fresheners, and aerosol sprays.
In addition to irritating your throat, nose, and eyes and worsening asthma and allergy symptoms, these VOCs may cause lung damage.
Whenever possible, clean with safer, alternative cleaning solutions, such as baking soda or a mixture of vinegar and water. Check the safety of your cleaning products at Environmental Working Group‘s online database. No matter which cleaning products you use, always open the windows to keep the area you are cleaning well ventilated.
In addition to VOCs in cleaning products and building materials, there are health-damaging chemicals in some of your beauty products and kitchen containers.
Parabens are synthetic preservatives found in personal-care products and cosmetics, including deodorants, skin creams, shampoo (including baby shampoo), and hair gels. They have been linked to a number of conditions, including cancer, reproductive problems, skin irritation, neurotoxicity, immunotoxicity, and hormone disruption.
To avoid parabens, choose certified-organic products and those without synthetic preservatives. (Or make your own.) Keep in mind that products that claim to be “natural” aren’t always so. Read label lists yourself and look out for the words “butylparaben,” “ethylparaben,” “propylparaben,” and “methylparaben.”
Newer research has found that bisphenol A (BPA) exposure in utero can predispose people to food allergies later in life. BPA is a chemical used mainly in plastics, including food and drink packaging, water bottles, baby bottles, and some medical devices.
You can ingest BPA through air and dust, but most exposure comes through diet; BPA can seep into foods and drinks from plastic containers. (It’s also in cash-register receipts.) Most people have been exposed to some BPA. The 2003–2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) found BPA in 93 percent of people tested.
To avoid BPA, don’t microwave in plastic; steer clear of plastic containers with recycle codes 3 or 7 on the bottom; keep your consumption of canned foods to a minimum; and practice plastic-free food-storage practices in your home.
Want fresh-smelling linens? Dry them on a clothesline outside in the breeze (pollen allergies permitting, of course). Whatever you do, try to avoid using dryer sheets and scented laundry detergents. A 2011 study done at the University of Washington found more than 25 VOCs emitted from dryer vents, two of which are considered carcinogenic.
The culprit: the fragrances in detergents and fabric softener sheets. The study authors noted that unlike factory smokestacks or car tailpipes, emissions from dryer vents aren’t regulated.
Plus, companies that make household products like laundry detergents and fabric softeners aren’t required to list all of their ingredients on their labels, so it’s tough to know whether or not they contain harmful chemicals. The best thing you can do to avoid toxic laundry is to go for unscented detergent and skip the dryer sheets entirely.
Smoke, whether it comes from tobacco products, wood-burning fireplaces, or bonfires, can worsen allergy and asthma symptoms. So go for a gas fireplace instead of a wood-burning one, if you have the choice.
It also goes without saying: If you smoke cigarettes or cigars, quit. If someone in your home smokes, encourage him or her to give it up, and in the meantime, ask any smokers to take their smoke outside. (Give up burning your trash, too.)
A lot of building materials off-gas, meaning they release toxic gases into the air, which you then breathe in. One such chemical is formaldehyde, which is used as an adhesive and bonding agent in many products, such as plywood, pressed-wood products, and some foam insulation. Formaldehyde is classified as a VOC. Besides being toxic, VOCs are chemicals that become gases at room temperature (in other words, they off-gas). In the short term, formaldehyde causes coughing, headaches, and irritation of the nose, eyes, and throat. Long-term, the exact effects of formaldehyde aren’t known, but the EPA has classified the chemical as “carcinogenic to humans.”
To avoid VOCs during a renovation, you can hire a “green” contractor and use all environmentally friendly materials. In our office, we have a manufactured wood floor (not real wood) that doesn’t off-gas at all; there is no solvent coming out of the glue. We also painted the walls with VOC-free paint, which has virtually no odor.
Many people can’t afford to use environmentally friendly building materials, since they are more expensive. An alternative to going green from the start is to open up the windows, crank up the heat, and try to bake the smell out of your house after your renovation is over but before you start living in the renovated space.
There isn’t much of a direct connection with allergies, but in terms of promoting your overall health, clean drinking water is extremely important. After all, your body is made mostly of water, so if you put tainted water in your body, you will literally contaminate yourself. Some of the chemicals lurking in tap water (chlorine, for example) can harm you over time. To help purify your water, and therefore your body, try the following:
• Get a good water filter. Water filters come in a variety of types, from pitchers you put in your fridge to full-house filtration systems. Any filter is better than nothing. I have a simple water filter under my sink at home. I installed it myself, and it works great.
• Put a chlorine filter on your shower head. If you have public water, your water probably contains chlorine to kill bacteria and viruses. But chlorine’s power to kill pathogens comes at a cost: The chemical dries out your skin and hair, and it’s potentially toxic. Several studies have linked it to cancer. In one 2005 study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, men who drank chlorinated water were found to have an increased risk of bladder cancer. A chlorine filter will help reduce your exposure.
Get rid of any weeds growing right next to your house—they are just another source of pollen and allergens. If you have pollen allergies, ask someone else to do the weeding. Also, avoid planting flowers that are relatives of ragweed—mums, sunflowers, dahlias, and zinnias.
via Rodale’s Organic Life ift.tt/2eMI0H4