Environmental Controls for Inhalant Allergens

Outdoor Allergens

Pollens

Pollen are tiny grains needed to fertilize many kinds of plants. Pollen from plants with colorful flowers, like roses, usually do not cause allergies. These plants rely on insects to transport the pollen for fertilization. On the other hand, many plants have flowers which produce powdery pollen that is easily spread by wind. These culprits cause allergy symptoms.

Each plant has a period of pollination that does not vary much from year to year.  In the Kansas City area, tree pollens are found in the Spring, from February to May.  Grass pollens tends to be all the warmer months of the year, but peaks in May and June.  Weed pollens are found mostly in the air from Mid-August until the freeze, usually in late October or early November.   

Molds

Molds are tiny fungi related to mushrooms but without stems, roots or leaves. Molds can be almost anywhere, including soil, plants and rotting wood. Their spores float in the air, much like pollen. Outdoor mold spores begin to increase as temperatures rise in the spring.  Outdoor molds, similar to grass pollen, are found in all the warmer months but have their peak in the fall, coinciding with weed pollen season.

Things you can do to reduce exposure to outdoor allergens:

  • Limit outdoor activities during days with high pollen counts. You can follow pollen counts for the Kansas City Area by clicking on the link located on our home page. 
  • Keep windows closed (at home or in the car) to keep pollens outs.
  • Wash hands and face, change clothes or just get in the shower after coming indoors. Shower or bathe at night so the pollen is not on you all night long bothering you.
  • Make sure your air conditioning filters are good at filtering out allergens, and change them regularly.
  • If you have pets, when they return inside after being outdoors wipe their fur off with a damp towel or pet allergen wipe to minimize outdoor allergens coming inside.
  • Bathe at night before bed. Keep windows closed (at home or in the car).
  • The relationship between pollen and mold levels and your allergic rhinitis symptoms can be complex. Your symptoms may be affected by recent contact with other allergens, the amount of pollen exposure and your sensitivity to pollen and mold.

Effects of Weather and Location
Hay fever symptoms are often less prominent on rainy, cloudy or windless days because pollen does not move around during these conditions. Pollen tends to travel more with hot, dry and windy weather, which can increase your allergy symptoms.

Some people think that moving to another area of the country may help to lessen their symptoms. However, many types of pollen (especially grasses) and molds are common to most plant zones, so moving to escape your allergies is not recommended. Also, you are likely to find new allergens to react to in new environments.

Indoor Allergens

Dust Mite

Dust mite allergens are a common trigger of allergy and asthma symptoms. While they can be found throughout the house, these microscopic creatures thrive in warm, humid environments such as bedding, upholstered furniture and carpeting.  You can do the following to reduce dust mite exposure:

  • Because so much time is spent in the bedroom, it is essential to reduce mite levels there.Encase mattreses and pillows (box spring is optional) with airtight, zippered plastic covers.  The best ones are available at missionallergy.com but there are cheaper alternatives availableat Target, Bed, Bath & Beyond, and Amazon.com. 
  • Wash bed linens in hot water weekly (130 degrees). Dry them in the dryer. Keeping indoor humidity at 40% or lower in the bedroom with a dehumidifier might be beneficial. It is not necessary in the winter, generally.  
  • Wall-to-wall carpeting should be removed as much as possible. Throw rugs may be used if they are regularly cleaned.  
  • People with allergies should use a vaccum with a HEPA filter. Dyson probably makes the best allergen vacuum.
  • If you are cleaning or dusting you might find it necessary to use a N95 dust mask, obtainable at a hardware store.

Pets

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Pets provide companionship and fun, but for some people a dog or cat can also trigger sneezing,sniffles and worse. Does an animal allergy mean a life without Fido? Not necessarily. There is a myth that pet allergies are triggered by animal hair, but they are actually caused by a protein found in pet skin (or dander), saliva and urine. Some dog breeds are labeled “hypoalergenic”, as they shed less, but no dog is 100% hypoallergenic—even hairless dogs still have some allergen. Each animal is different, and a particular pet allergy sufferer may do better with one breed than another. 

If you’re allergic and want to get a dog or cat, consider looking for breeds with shorter hair and less shedding, although there isn’t real scientific evidence this will help. Some allergists have suggested that a dog that tends to keep its coat throughout the year may be better for allergy sufferers. 

Other factors, such as your pet’s disposition, might make frequent bathing more feasible.

Things you can do:

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  • If you cannot avoid exposure, minimize contact and keep the pet out of the bedroom.
  • If you are able to make the bedroom pet free, wash bedding in hot water weekly and get a
  • HEPA filter for the bedroom.
  • Speak to your vet about a balanced diet for your pet, which can prevent dry skin and excess
  • shedding.
  • Keep your pet off furniture. Cover upholstered chairs and wash the covers on a regular basis.
  • As with dust mites, vaccum carpets often or replace with hard flooring.
  • There is no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog, but each animal is different, and a particular pet allergy sufferer may do better with one dog than another.
  • Remove pets from the house and/or keep pets out of the bedroom

People are more likely to get rid of their allergist than get rid of their pet, so we do not routinely tell people that getting rid of their pet is their best option.  If you know you are allergic to them but want to get a dog or cat, starting allergen immunotherapy before the pet arrives can be particularly beneficial.

Indoor Molds

Indoor molds and mildew need dampness typically found in basements, bathrooms or anywhere with leaks. You can do the following to reduce exposure:

  • Remove mold on hard surfaces with water, detergent and 5% bleach.
  • Repair and seal leaking roofs or pipes.
  • Use a dehumidifier in damp basements, but empty the water and clean units regularly to prevent mildew from forming. Don't carpet concrete or damp floors. Avoid storing items in damp areas.
  • Keep bathrooms, kitchen & basements dry, avoid humidifiers.

Cockroach

Cockroaches are often found in the homes of densely populated urban areas, schools or commercial buildings, but these creatures can lurk almost anywhere. This does not mean that you have a dirty house or living area.  You cn do the following to reduce exposure:

  • Block all areas where roaches could enter your home, including crevices, wall cracks and windows.
  • Fix and seal all leaky faucets and pipes.
  • Keep food covered and put pet food dishes away after they are done in eating. Vacuum and sweep floors after meals.
  • Use lidded garbage containers in the kitchen.
  • Wash dishes after use and clean under stoves, refrigerators or toasters where crumbs can accumulate. 
  • Wipe off the stoves and other kitchen surfaces regularly.