Millions of Americans suffer from allergies; in fact, more than 24 million suffer from asthma alone, while more than 50 million are plagued by the broad spectrum of allergies derived from plants, insects, foods, and other sources. Many patients complain of allergies that happen only during certain times of the year. The complaints are so widespread that the medical community has labeled these allergic phenomena as “seasonal allergies.”
Allergies and Seasonal Allergies
So what’s the difference between the allergies we’ve always known and seasonal allergies? Allergies are the body’s auto-immune response triggered by an external stimulus. Think of how you may experience a chronic sore throat upon waking due to a dust mite allergy. These reactions can be chronic or more severe and fast-acting, as when someone allergic to bee stings can go into anaphylactic shock, as their airway constricts and threatens their ability to breathe.
In many areas of the United States, people complain about allergic reactions that seem to occur only during certain times of the year. Seasonal allergies vary in length and onset depending on location within the country. In the Southeast, spring allergies can run from February to June. For many people, this season of tree and grass pollination, in addition to the yellow spray that overwhelms almost every surface, is a time of great misery, with lots of sneezing and swollen, watery eyes.
For those along the east coast and the Midwest, ragweed is the main driver of a similar response, and since ragweed blooms and releases pollen later in the year—from August to November—seasonal allergies literally take on a different season for those parts of the country.
There’s No Escape
While many may think they can simply move to another part of the country to escape seasonal allergies, this is usually an exercise in futility, as allergens spring forth in virtually every climate. Some areas have milder temperatures in winter, which cause plants to pollinate earlier and prolong the wrath of spring. In other areas, spring rainfall can promote faster plant growth and subsequent generation of mold. Even if certain areas don't have the types of plants and grass known to cause allergies, the home building industries and population growth will introduce them. For example, Bermuda grass is not a native plant to the desert areas of Phoenix, Arizona, but Arizona allergy sufferers will still experience symptoms due to population growth and the lawns that proliferate with every new subdivision.
In addition to the sheer number of allergens —burning bush, cocklebur, pigweed, sagebrush, tumbleweed, and a variety of trees and grasses—there are several ways that seasonal allergies can be exacerbated on a daily basis. Some pollens—trees, grasses, and ragweed—thrive during cool nights and warm days, conditions that define many spring days across the country. Molds thrive in heat and high humidity. Rains and low winds cut back on pollen counts, while windy and warm conditions see surges.
And then there are the less obvious triggers of seasonal allergies. For example, smoke from fireplaces triggers allergic reactions in the winter for some. Similarly, swimming pool chlorine affects many in the summer. Insects prevalent in spring and summer can cause misery. And even the holidays can drive up allergy complaints, as Christmas trees can trigger some, while candy at Halloween, Easter, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day can ruin otherwise happy times.
Make Your Home a Haven from Seasonal Allergies
Since you can’t control the forces of nature, you can only really focus on taking care of yourself if you’re one of the nearly one in six Americans suffering from seasonal allergies. And the best place to start is in your home, where you spend a large portion of your life, both waking hours and asleep.
There are at least a couple of ways you can protect yourself, and your home at the outset. If you’ve been outside for any significant length of time, a shower and change of clothes will help keep the outside out. If you’re working outside, you may want to consider a filtered mask (NIOSH-rated), and take applicable prescription or over-the-counter medications prior to leaving the friendly confines of your home.
Steps for Reducing Seasonal Allergies in the Home
The allergy fight starts in the bedroom, where, due to climate control and our own body heat and perspiration, we have the heat and humidity that creates favorable conditions for a broad range of allergens, from mold to dust mites and pollen.
To combat seasonal allergies, use high-performance encasements, made of engineered fabrics or all-natural cotton, for your pillows, mattresses, and comforters. Allergy bedding is specifically designed by manufacturers to combat the plague of dust mites, which can trigger a whole host of allergic responses in the skin, eyes, and nose, and can especially exacerbate asthma conditions. These encasements feature microscopic pores that are smaller than the dust mites themselves, so they won’t be able to penetrate your bedding and reproduce inside. Premium brands feature a wicking ability to not only prevent passage of dust mites, but to send body heat and perspiration away from your bedding—this dynamic reduces heat and humidity, eliminating dust mites and providing a more comfortable sleep experience.
The good news is that the extreme designs of these encasements, while made for dust mites, can also win the battle with pollen, beg bugs, and other allergens attacking your home. Also, don’t forget to regularly wash your bedding weekly and encasements monthly in hot water.
Your next step should be to properly filter or purify the air in your home. This can be achieved by using a HEPA or small particle air purifiers, appropriately sized to your rooms. Typically, you’ll need larger models for the living room and master bedrooms, medium-sized models for rooms like your dining room, and smaller models for guest and children’s bedrooms.
With proper sizing and filters certified for allergy prevention, air purifiers can go a long way to reducing your seasonal allergies. In addition, help manage your air quality specific to the season, by keeping your windows shut. If your windows are particularly drafty, you’ll need to look into replacing them with impenetrable double-paned models. On the subject of windows, be sure to keep them clean and free of dust, pollen, and mold.
Flooring and Furnishings
The motto with regard to flooring and furnishings, in your effort to reduce seasonal allergies in your home, is to keep them clean, and if this isn’t possible, replace with furniture and furnishings that are easier to manage.
With regard to flooring, vacuum with small particle or HEPA filtered models, mimicking the work of your air purifier that’s certified to allergy prevention standards. Vacuum all flooring often, especially those made of fabrics, like high-pile carpet. Use blinds and shades instead of thick drapes that can also accumulate dust mites, pollen, and other allergens.
Keep animals off of your furnishings, and make sure to regularly vacuum and clean upholstered chairs and sofas. Decluttering, especially on surfaces, makes allergens like pollen and dust easier to identify and clean regularly with a damp cloth.
You should probably eliminate house plants—since they can be responsible for a lot of household mold generation—and also avoid using wood-burning fireplaces and even gas logs during the seasons when your allergies are most active.
Pest control should be a major concern when reducing seasonal allergies in your home, as cockroaches and mice can leave residue and waste that triggers allergic responses. In short, avoid dust, dander, and pollen in as many places as you can, starting with the bedrooms.
Keep your home cool and dry—use air conditioning, while avoiding fans that swirl dust. Use dehumidifiers in areas of the home as necessary, to promote mold prevention.
As you can see, there are many ways to reduce seasonal allergies in your home. It may take some small investments in zippered bedding encasements and filters, but it’s mostly down to committing to regular hygiene throughout the home. Make getting started easy by looking to the bedroom first. Many of your problems may be solved there.