Allergens Hiding in Your Home


When springtime rolls around, outdoor allergens like grass and tree pollen get a whole lot of attention for making your nose run and your eyes itch. So it can be easy to forget that there are also a lot of allergens hiding in your home year round that might also be responsible for making you feel tired and scratchy. Take a look at these common allergens and make sure you get to them before they get to you by allergy-proofing your home.

Dust mites
If you don’t like insects, you won’t like dust mites. Though they won’t bite you, dust mites are microscopic insects that eat shed human skin flakes. As many of 10% of the population is allergic to dust mites, and they commonly exacerbate allergic asthma. They love to live in soft places like bedding and couches, but can be found just about anywhere. They also like high humidity and temperatures over 70 degrees.

Outside, mold can help break down organic matter, feeding it back into the ecosystem, but inside it’s mostly a huge hassle. Mold loves to grow in dark, moist environments like basements, showers and near windows or sinks. It can grow on just about any surface as long as there’s enough moisture in the air. Allergic reactions to mold can result in headaches, trouble breathing, asthma exacerbation, skin irritation, sneezing, runny nose and itchy eyes, among other symptoms.

Cockroaches are unpleasant for lots of reasons, not the least of which is that their feces, saliva and bodies can trigger allergies. These awful bugs tend to be more common in cities, where they’ve been estimated to be present in 78% to 98% of homes – even if you can’t see them. Symptoms of cockroach allergies can include itchy skin, sore throat, itchy eyes or runny nose. These critters can also significantly worsen asthma.

Pet dander
Nothing could keep me away from my dog, Rosie, but lots of people are allergic to dander shed by indoor pets like cats and dogs. Dander is made up of small flakes of skin and proteins from saliva or urine. Interestingly, some people with pet allergies may be okay with certain breeds, and some types of dogs are known to release less dander than others.

Fortunately, there are many things you can do to help kick these allergens out of your home:

  • Ward off dust mites by washing your bedding in hot water every seven to 10 days, and keep your pillows, mattresses and box springs in special dust-mite-proof casing.
  • Wash cushion covers, curtains and rugs regularly. When possible, opt for linoleum or wood flooring instead of carpet. Use a small-particle or high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter in your vacuum.
  • Keep your living space cool and dry to help minimize mold, and open a window or use a shower fan in the bathroom. Dehumidifiers can also help if you live in a humid area. Plants can also be a haven for mold, so keep them out of rooms where you sleep or ditch them entirely.
  • If you can avoid it, don’t live in basement apartments or put your bedroom in the basement, since they may be more likely to harbor mold.
  • Keep food stored in air-tight containers and sweep regularly for food debris to discourage cockroaches and other rodents from colonizing your kitchen.
  • If you’re thinking of getting a certain kind of dog or cat, ask a friend with a similar pet if you or your loved ones can spend a little time with it – that might give you a hint as to whether you’re allergic.