Allergies are a lifestyle issue. It is generally advised that patients try to minimize contact with the allergens that trigger symptoms. The East Bay area provides some of the most gorgeous and unfortunately, allergenic scenery in the country. There is a saying in the TriValley area that if you didn’t have allergies to begin with, you will develop them if you spend enough time in the area. That being said, one does not have to live in a bubble but some precautions must be taken.
During the height of the pollen season (which for most seasonal allergic individuals in this geographic area is mid April through mid June) the allergic individual should try to minimize long outdoor exposures-put off that camping trip a couple weeks if possible! If long outdoor exposure is inevitable, be sure to shower/bathe and wash hair before going to bed and wear sunglasses to keep pollen directly out the eyes. Keep windows closed during this time of year and turn on that air filter. This is also the time when the car air conditioner should be cranking instead of windows put down. Finally, people can use over the counter nasal saline sprays and saline rinses to help remove any pollen on the inside lining of the nose.
Dust mites are a big source of perennial allergen exposure. Dust mites are microscopic arthropods that live off of shed human skin. Their feces are highly allergenic. Most exposure occurs in areas where there is a high burden of shed human skin such as the bed. Measures aimed to reduce exposure include bedding encasements, reduction of humidity and reducing areas that contain dust mite nests. The bedding encasements fit around the pillow, mattress, boxsprings, and comforters. The pillowcases and bedsheets fit over the encasements and the bedding must be washed once weekly in hot water and dried in a hot dryer. In addition, efforts to remove or reduce carpeting and upholstered furniture should also be undertaken. Reduction of the number of stuffed animals in a children’s bedroom, and regular dusting and vacuuming with a HEPA filter equipped vacuum cleaner will also reduce exposure. Finally, reduction of humidity below 50% is recommended.
Sad to say, furred pets are a significant allergen source for some people. Scales shed from the animals skin contain the source of pet allergen. This is referred to as animal dander. Different breeds of cat and dog shedding patterns can vary but all do produce allergen. The most effective means of controlling this exposure is to remove the pet from the environment either by placing the pet outside or giving the pet to another family. Once removal of the pet happens, a thorough cleaning of the environment must take place. The dander of animals is sticky and can take some months to decrease if the cleaning is not performed. The cleaning consists of vacuuming with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate absorption) filtration vacuum cleaner, cleaning and in some cases removal of upholstered furniture and carpet, and placement of air cleaners in bedrooms and common areas. If the individual or family chooses to keep the pet, there are some things that can reduce, although not eliminate the dander. These measures include removal of reservoirs for pet dander including carpet, upholstered furniture and drapes, and using the dust mite bedding encasements on the bedding units. In addition, regular vacuuming with a hepafilter equipped vacuum cleaner, and use of air filters in bedrooms and common areas of the living space should be completed.
Rodent and cockroach infestation of a home or work/school environment can represent another source of perennial allergen exposure. If these pests are present, extermination efforts should be undertaken followed by cleaning of the environment. In addition, elimination of potential food sources such as refuse and unwashed dishes and removing reservoirs of cockroach debris and standing water will also decrease the exposure and chance of re-infestation.
Indoor molds can be a problem in geographic areas of high humidity and in homes where water damage has occurred. Remediation of the water damage is the first step in reduction of the indoor mold level. De-humidification and air filtration will also remove spores and decrease mold growth. There are cases where indoor carpeting and upholstered furniture may need to be cleaned or removed from the environment if there has been significant water damage. Finally, cleaning surfaces with a bleach based of fungicidal agent will help decrease levels of indoor mold and prevent regrowth.