Combating allergies around the home


Do you sometimes suffer from breathing difficulties, itchy skin or sore eyes? Many people live with problems like this all the time and simply put them down to poor health, but they could be symptoms of allergy. Around 40 percent of North Americans have one type of allergy or another, with rates highest among young white women living in urban areas. Successfully diagnosing and treating these problems can significantly improve quality of life.


Many different things can cause allergies, from strawberries to bee stings, but a substantial number of people are allergic to things found in their own homes. This can be a particularly serious problem because they’re exposed all the time and the body has no chance to recover. Most household allergens, however, are relatively simple to get rid of. You just have to know what you’re looking for.


Allergy symptoms


Household allergens don’t usually cause dramatic symptoms like anaphylaxis, but they can produce a range of subtler effects, including the following:


  • A persistently sore or runny nose.
  • Dry, runny, sore or overly light-sensitive eyes.
  • Itchy or clammy skin, often with a red rash or small raised bumps.
  • Swollen patches on the skin or swollen joints.
  • Headaches or migraines.
  • Breathing difficulties.


Common household allergens


There are many different types of allergen that can exist in the home, and often what one person is bothered by, another will be completely comfortable with. Some allergens are native to the home, like fabrics that irritate the skin. Some are introduced to the home, like air fresheners or cleaning agents. Some introduce themselves to the home, like bed bugs and dust mites.


Many people are allergic to pets, and to complicate things further they may find that this allergy only shows up at certain times of year, such as when an animal is molting. Others are allergic to mold or fungus that grows in the home, even if, as is sometimes the case, it’s hidden inside the walls. People can also be allergic to products used by other people they live with, such as perfume or talc.


Identifying allergies


If you’re experiencing allergy symptoms, figuring out exactly what you’re allergic to can be difficult. Removing one risk factor at a time is a slow process because you will normally need to wait about three weeks after each one to see if symptoms go away or not. One alternative to this, which can at least test for and rule out some potential culprits, is patch testing. You may be able to arrange for a patch test at your local pharmacy. It involves wearing a patch on your arm that’s marked out like a grid with small amounts of potential allergen in each grid square. When it’s taken off, your pharmacist or a doctor can see which, if any, areas of skin have reacted. Patch testing is normally very safe and doesn’t leave permanent marks.


Making your home dust and pet allergy safe


Everybody likes to keep a clean home but where dust allergies are a problem, deeper cleaning may be needed. When it comes to carpet cleaning, a specialist company such as can offer excellent service to get your carpet back to its best. If you can’t find anywhere good in your local area you can consider investing in a carpet steamer and doing the job yourself. Manually shampooing your carpet is also an option and can be just as effective but it can involve a lot of effort. Bear in mind that if you’re going to clean the carpets it’s a good idea to clean other fabric in the house, such as drapes and bedding, at the same time so that bugs like dust mites can’t simply hop from one place to another.


Some people with serious dust or pet allergies opt to make their homes easier to clean by replacing carpets with wooden, tiled or linoleum floors and replacing drapes with blinds. In this event, however, soft furnishings like couches will still need to be vacuumed frequently.


If you have a problem with your pet, simply cleaning up its hair or the dust from its skin won’t solve your problem entirely, but it can make it a lot easier to live with. Beyond this, the best advice is not to handle your pet too much and, most importantly, not to put your face too close to it.


Keeping skin irritants out of your home


If someone in your home is suffering skin irritation, the first place to start is by checking the fabrics (including clothes) that person is regularly meeting. Nylon and wool cause problems for a lot of people, and fabrics containing metallic thread may cause problems for people with allergies to aluminum oxide or nickel oxide – these people will probably also have problems with jewelry.


If avoiding certain fabrics doesn’t help, the next thing to check for is a chemical irritant. Try switching to different cleaning and laundry products, one at a time. Often people find that they have fewer problems with organic brands, which contain fewer harsh chemicals. It’s also worth seeing if soap is a problem. Simply rub it onto a small area of skin on the arm and leave it for a couple hours before washing it off. If the skin turns red or itches, you’ve found the problem.


Alternative approaches


Sometimes it’s just not possible to get rid of the allergens in your home. If, for instance, mold keeps returning to your house because of a problem with damp that you can’t afford to fix, or if you can’t bear to part with a beloved pet, you may just have to live with the effects. In this case, talk to your doctor about options for treating the symptoms of the allergy and reducing its harmful effects. You should be aware, however, that living with allergies can potentially cause long term, serious damage to your health by increasing your risk of developing autoimmune problems such as rheumatoid arthritis, so it’s always best to resolve the situation as soon as you can.


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