Allergens are chemical and biological materials that trigger an overreaction from our immune system. Indoor allergens are allergens that either originate indoors or enter the indoors and become more intense due to increased concentration. Biological sources include bacteria, dust mites, insect droppings, mold, pet dander and plants. Chemical sources include flame retardants, fragrances, glues, paints and solvents.
How Exposure Occurs
The most common way that people are exposed to allergens is by breathing them in when they become airborne. The second way that exposure occurs is through ingestion, which often occurs when fingers touch the mouth. A third way exposure occurs is contact with the skin or eyes. All living spaces will contain some indoor allergens simply because of how many sources there are.
The most common carrier of allergens in the home is common house dust, and while it isn’t possible to eradicate dust from a living space completely, it is possible to manage it and reduce exposure. One of the dangers of unchecked house dust is that it can actually increase exposure and amplify the effect of other allergens of both the indoor and outdoor and biological and chemical varieties.
The Effects of Exposure
All allergic reaction is an overreaction by an immune system, which occurs because of an inherent sensitivity or because another substance amplifies sensitivity. Exposure to allergens can result in a wide array of symptoms, including congestion, respiratory obstruction, rhinorrhea, skin rashes and so forth. If the person is particularly sensitive, the allergic reaction can be immediate and only require slight exposure to occur.
Allergic reactions can be so severe that they require immediate medical attention and are life threatening. Sensitivity varies from one person to the next. Some people are sensitive to nothing and are particularly hardy. Others are sensitive to pet dander while others are not. Among those sensitive to pet dander, some are more sensitive to dogs while others are more sensitive to cats. Often, there is little explanation as to why some is or isn’t sensitive.
How to Avoid Exposure
- Determine what your triggers are, which will require a visit to an allergist and likely a process of elimination. After identifying a trigger, remove the source as much as possible from the living space.
- Maintain a relative humidity in the home of 30-50 percent, which eases breathing and inhibits the growth of mold and dust mites. This may require the use of a dehumidifier.
- Dust daily and thoroughly once per week. Vacuum immediately after dusting. Use a vacuum cleaner that is fitted with a HEPA filter. This HEPA filter will ensure that dust is removed rather than redistributed throughout the house.
- Keep the home dry and clean. Fix leaks and other sources of excessive moisture immediately. Keep the home free of cockroaches, mice and other pests, and react to their presence immediately.
- To avoid dust mites, wash bedding in hot water every 10 ten days. If possible, dry them as an extra measure. If the allergy is particularly sensitive, use dust mite covers for the pillows and mattress.
- Use unscented soaps and detergents. Avoid artificial air fresheners. Avoid volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from paints and other solvents.
- Avoid carpeting where possible. Hardwood floors make it easier to control dust. Where covering is necessary, use area rugs that you can shake clean outdoors.
- Use a HEPA air purifier, which will remove nearly all airborne particles, microorganisms and allergens from the room’s air.
HEPA stands for high-efficiency particulate air, and a HEPA filter removes 99.97 % of airborne particulates down to 0.3 microns in size, which includes dust, pet dander, pollen and mold spores. With the use of HEPA, many asthma and allergy sufferers can experience significant reduction or even elimination of symptoms while in the home or office.
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