Environmental allergens are a plague to good health and quality of life for millions of Americans. While 50 million Americans suffer from some form of allergy, including those triggered by food like nuts, eggs, and dairy products, many within that group complain about allergic reactions triggered by airborne allergens encountered at home, work, and the outdoors.
An allergic reaction is actually the body’s auto-immune response to an allergen, whether that foreign substance is something like pollen, milk, or venom from a bee sting. These responses can take the form of everything from skin rashes to watery eyes, runny noses, and even serious reactions such as anaphylaxis, which can include difficulty breathing.
Environmental allergens actually comprise a majority of the allergens that threaten our health and quality of life. According to Everyday Health, there are six major environmental allergens:
- Dust mites
- Mold and mildew
- Pets and animals
- Cigarette smoke, perfumes, and soaps
Pollen can also be classified as a seasonal allergy, as it ramps up in the environment during different seasons (tree pollen plagues the Southeast in the spring, while ragweed and other pollens torture Midwesterners in the fall). While many realize that they are in contact with pollen while outdoors, they fail to realize that it invades their homes through open windows and covering pets, as well as their own skin, hair, and clothing.
Exposure to pollen can cause typically severe rhinitis--sniffling and sneezing of the nose, as well as watery, itchy eyes.
When people think of having a dust allergy, what they’re really referencing is an allergic reaction to microscopic insects called dust mites. Dust mites tend to prosper in places that are warmer and humid. Thus, they tend to congregate in bedrooms, where we spend a large chunk of our time sleeping, perspiring, and generating body heat while covered in bedding.
Dust mites can cause all manner of health problems, from hay fever-like symptoms of the eyes and nose, as well as making asthma symptoms much more serious. Killing dust mites requires taking many preventative measures, especially in a bedroom environment.
Mold and Mildew
Moisture and humidity also breed mold and mildew on surfaces in kitchens, bathrooms, and even bedrooms, too. Unabated mold can spread throughout a house, maximizing potential exposure by all who live there.
While mold exposure can trigger reactions of the skin, throat, nose, and eyes, it poses an even bigger threat, in the form of causing lung infections, in the immuno-compromised and people with chronic lung illnesses.
Pets and Animals
While many people are allergic to pet dander--dead skin shed by dogs, cats, and other animals---dogs and cats also pose a second threat, in that their fur is a convenient breeding ground for pests like dust mites, as well as a sticky surface for transporting allergens like pollens and grasses from the outdoors.
Pet dander can cause itchy, watery eyes, as well as sneezing, wheezing, and sniffling.
Cigarette Smoke, Perfumes, and Soaps
While technically not allergens, cigarette smoke, perfumes, soaps, and other fume-generating substances can be seemingly everywhere sometimes, and while they don’t themselves cause allergic reactions, they exacerbate symptoms already in place.
When other allergens like pollen, grasses, dust mites, and pet dander trigger rhinitis, they leave the lining of the nose quite inflamed. Then, as your nose is exposed to fumes like cigarette smoke (on one extreme) and bath soap (on the other extreme), you’re more easily susceptible to more severe symptoms of rhinitis.
Cockroaches, while already disgusting as household pests, also pose a severe health threat. Their saliva, feces and the body parts they routinely shed can all trigger severe allergic responses.
According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, cockroach allergies can trigger a host of severe responses, including coughing and nasal congestion, as well as infections of the sinuses and ears.
Controlling Environmental Allergies
So, what’s the answer to all of these health plagues? Well, there are more than just one answer. In many cases, avoidance is the best remedy. On days with high pollen counts, avoid going outside, keep your windows and doors closed, and run your air conditioning.
Those with severe and/or chronic reactions will want to consult their physician about recommending medications, including nasal steroids to combat rhinitis, as well as inhalers to help with exacerbated asthma conditions.
Often, using over-the-counter saline nasal rinses can relieve the more common, less serious allergic reactions of the nose, and topical steroids can relieve skin rashes developed in response to environmental allergies.
To deal with everything from pollen to pet dander, dust mites, and more, you’ll want to maintain a strict cleaning regimen. Keep your flooring--especially carpeted rooms--vacuumed regularly, keep your surfaces wiped down with a damp cloth, and keep yourself clean by showering and changing clothes regularly, especially when you’ve spent long periods of time outside.
Keep your windows and doors closed, and try not to let your household temperature rise above 70 degrees. Having a home that’s cool and dry will keep mold away and prevent dust mites from proliferating.
While many of these tactics are about avoiding allergens and preventing contact, there’s one sure-fire way to protect yourself from all types of environmental allergies--allergy bedding, also known as hypoallergenic bedding.
Made of engineered fabrics first seen on garments like hazmat suits as well as all-natural cotton, allergy bedding is technically a family of high-performance encasements designed primarily to keep dust mites and bed bugs from penetrating your pillows, mattresses, and comforters. These encasements feature pores large enough to wick away your perspiration and body heat while being smaller than any allergen, from dust mites and bed bugs to grasses and pollen, from penetrating your bedding and increasing in population rapidly in a favorable environment.
Constructed via single-needle stitching and covered zipper enclosures, allergy bedding encasements are nearly 100 percent effective in controlling environmental allergens, especially if you commit to washing them in hot water periodically, along with your other bedding.
Think of environmental allergies as triggers you can avoid physically or through good hygiene, as well as through medication and premium encasements that will protect you and your family where you’re most vulnerable in your home--the bedroom.