What Are Nasal Allergies?
Allergic rhinitis (AR) – also called hay fever, seasonal allergies or nasal allergies – is a disease of the immune system affecting nearly 40 million American adults and children. For people with this disease, when exposed to an allergic “trigger,” their immune system over-reacts causing a release of chemicals into the blood that causes inflammation and other effects that lead to a number of irritating – and potentially life-threatening – symptoms: itchy or watery eyes, nose or throat; violent sneezing, coughing or wheezing; severe nasal or sinus congestion; and, in severe cases, difficulty breathing.
Many people with nasal allergies stay indoors when pollen counts are high, such as in the spring and fall. But the air inside our homes can be up to ten-times more polluted than outdoor air. Allergens like dust mites, animal dander, pollen and even cockroaches can cause problems indoors for people with nasal allergies. So, allergy control begins at home. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) recommends three strategies for improving your indoor air quality (IAQ):
What Are Allergens?
Allergens are airborne substances that cause allergic reactions and trigger nasal allergy symptoms. Allergen particles are carried in the air, but settle onto furniture and floor surfaces. They vary in size and are measured in microns. The larger the particles, the faster they will settle out of the air. Pollen, dust mite and cockroach debris are larger and settle out of the air quicker than mold spores or animal allergens. Eight out of 10 people in the United States are exposed to house dust mites, and six out of 10 are exposed to pet dander and pollen trapped indoors. Cockroaches cause allergic reactions among people who live in the inner cities and southern parts of the United States. Controlling the air quality in your home, office, school and car can go a long way to help reduce your exposure to allergy triggers.
Is Indoor Air Control Even Possible?
The best way to improve IAQ is to eliminate the sources of pollutants from your home. The next step is to avoid and decrease exposure to allergens. Other important measures are to increase the circulation of outdoor air into the home and reduce humidity to below 50%. Reducing humidity decreases dust mite and mold growth. With good cleaning practices, you can improve your IAQ and reduce allergy symptoms. First, remove the source of the allergens. This includes removing pets, carpets, overstuffed furniture, stuffed toys, old mattresses, pillows and bedding from your home.
If I’m Congested, Do I Have Allergies?
A survey by AAFA revealed that nearly half of nasal allergy patients named congestion as the most bothersome symptom. Clearly nasal congestion – a combination of inflammation in the nose or nasal cavities and a build-up of sinus or nasal drippings/discharge – is a key sign of allergies for many people. But severe congestion can also be a symptom of a cold, flu or even sinus infection. Before using strong medications for allergies, many doctors recommend using nasal washes to keep your nose and sinuses clear of allergens or irritants. If you have severe nasal allergies or chronic congestion, talk to your pharmacist or doctor about the best prevention and treatment options for you.
Simple Tips to Improve Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)
- Control dust mites. Keep surfaces in the home clean and uncluttered. Bare floors and walls are best, particularly in the bedroom where you spend one-third of your time. If you must have carpet, use throw-rugs that can be washed or low-pile carpeting. The single most important method is to put zippered allergen barriers or “encasements” on all pillows, mattresses and box springs. Wash bedding weekly, including uncovered pillows and stuffed toys. Use hot water (131 degree F.) to kill mites and their eggs.
- Vacuum once or twice weekly. Vacuuming helps keep allergens to a minimum. But poor-quality vacuums can put dust into the air, so look for devices that are proven through research to be more suitable. If you have allergies, wear a dust mask while doing housework and leave the house for several hours after cleaning to air it out.
- Air handling devices. Using a HEPA air filter in rooms can help to remove allergen particles from the air. Air conditioners and dehumidifiers can help reduce humidity. These types of devices can help to control dust mite and mold growth by reducing humidity, but remember to change filters as recommended by manufacturers.
- Prevent animal dander. Most doctors suggest that people allergic to animal dander avoid household pets with feathers or fur. But if you decide to keep a pet, bar it from the bed and bedroom. Cover vents with dense material like cheesecloth or special filters. Because animal allergens are sticky, it can be difficult to completely remove it from the home, so remove carpeting and fabric furniture, or use slip covers that can be frequently washed. Of course, the best option is to choose a pet without fur or feathers.
- Prevent entry of pollen from outdoor. You can reduce the number of outdoor allergens such as pollen and mold from entering the home by keeping windows and doors closed and setting the air conditioner on re-circulate.
- Avoid mold. Reduce moisture around the bathroom, kitchen and other wet areas of the home. Dehumidifiers will help reduce both mold and dust mites. Limit yourself to a few house plants. Fix all leaks and other causes of damp areas. Clean moldy surfaces. Rid the yard of moldy firewood and piles of leaves and weeds.
- Control cockroaches. Do not leave food or garbage uncovered. Use poison baits, boric acid and traps rather than chemical agents that can irritate your nasal allergies.