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How to prep your home for allergy season

Springtime allergies aren't curable, but these doctor-recommended tips will make the season a whole lot more bearable.
Image: Sick woman blowing her nose
Pollen is airborne, so keep your windows shut — especially on high pollen count days.Paul Bradbury / Getty Images

Spring is in the air, which unfortunately for many of us means sneezing, itchy eyes, congestion and other symptoms associated with seasonal allergic reactions, aka, hay fever. According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology, roughly 7.8 percent of adults suffer from hay fever.

Outside of clinical treatments (which may take years to complete), one can't really "cure" springtime allergies, but there are actions we can take in our home to curb and even prevent attacks. We’ve compiled a list of doctor-recommended tips to make springtime more bearable for the millions of us who struggle (myself included).

Limit Outdoor Activity On High Pollen Count Days

Pollen particles can travel up to 50 miles, so you're not in the clear in an urban area.

The main factor that triggers allergic reactions is pollen. Our immune system mistakes pollen as a foreign threat and releases antibodies that attack the allergens, which then releases histamines, causing the familiar runny nose, itchy eyes and throat among other possible symptoms. And one needn't be near blossoming flowers to react. "Pollen particles can travel up to 50 miles," says Dr. Tania Elliott, allergist and chief medical officer at EHE. "So, you're not in the clear in an urban area, especially with these crazy high pollen counts we're seeing and the extreme weather changes caused by global warming."

Elliott adds that these "crazy high" pollen count days, increasing in number, don't just occur on warm, sunny days; in fact, rainy days can be worse. "A thunderstorm dredges up all the pollen, which disperses and bursts by the thunder and lightning, so it's a fallacy that [nice] spring days are more likely to trigger a reaction."

Additionally, pollen allergies may be made worse by diesel exhaust, because, as Dr. Efren Rael, allergist and immunologist at Stanford Children’s Health points out, pollen can bind to these and other air pollutants, creating a kind of supercharged allergen.

Shower When You Get Home and Wash Clothes In Hot Water

"Ever walk outside and see your car covered in pollen?" asks Elliott. “Well, the same thing happens to us, even if we don't see it.” Which is why it's important to shower as soon as we get home.

We should also leave our shoes on a mat by the door to prevent tracking pollen in, Elliott adds, as well as toss all our exposed clothing in the wash immediately. “Wash the clothes at maximum heat,” adds Elliott.

Wash Your Bedding Weekly At A Minimum

If there's only one room you can keep totally allergy-proof this time of year, make it your bedroom, if only because you spend a good six to eight hours a night there. Wash all the bedding weekly at minimum (also on high heat, Dr. Elliott says) and get encasing slips for your mattress, boxspring and pillows. Wash these weekly as well.

Few scents are quite as lovely as those of freshly aired linens, but you should forego line drying during allergy season to avoid bringing in more pollen. Go for the dryer.

Vacuum Constantly — And Don't Forget The Tapestries and Decorative Pillows

Carpets, couches and virtually anything with upholstery or fabric is a nesting ground for allergens, particularly dust mites, which can be a year-round allergy trigger. You'll want to vacuum frequently to deal with this. "And don't forget the tapestries, the drapes, curtains and any decorative pillows," says Dr. Elliott, adding of the latter: "People often think simply throwing those pillows off the bed will help, but that's not enough."

Rael half-jokes that he'll write a doctor's note for your partner or roommate to do the cleaning because of course, the more allergic you are, the more you'll suffer while doing this task (certainly, you should wear a mask).

“The Carpet and Rug Institute recommends vacuuming daily in high-traffic or pet areas, vacuuming twice weekly in medium-traffic areas and vacuuming weekly in light-traffic areas, using attachments at carpet edges,” adds Jay Ayers, indoor air quality product manager at Trane.

Keep Windows Shut, Use The AC

Pollen is airborne, so we should keep our living spaces (especially our bedroom) fairly sealed up. If it gets stuffy or hot, turn on the AC, but "not before cleaning out the filters," says Elliott.

Bathe Your Pets Weekly

Look what the cat dragged in: a whole bunch of allergens. Dr. Rael recommends bathing dogs and cats once a week. "Easier said than done," he adds, recommending cleansing wipes for our furry friends that aren't fond of water.

Replace The Humidifier With A Dehumidifier

Dr. Rael notes that a common misconception among allergy sufferers is that a humidifier will help relieve symptoms of an allergy flare-up. I can relate all too well, as every time spring kicks in, I get the humidifier going with eucalyptus oil and blast it all night to alleviate congestion. While humidifiers can help with the symptoms, they create an environment that dust mites absolutely love, and ultimately worsen the whole phenomenon. "Dust mites can't drink water, they can absorb it through their exoskeleton," says. "It's a paradox because they may provide relief — especially in cold weather — but with allergens, you actually want to remove humidity." Humidity can also foster mold growth, another nasty allergy trigger in the home.

While humidifiers can help, they create an environment that dust mites love, and ultimately worsen symptoms.

Enter the dehumidifier, which does just as its name suggests. Keep this in your bedroom, and if you’re feeling dryness in your throat or nose, use a saline mist nasal spray (note: this is not a decongestant nasal spray like Afrin, which Dr. Elliott strongly cautions against using for more than two days). You may also want to breathe over a pot of steaming water with a towel covering your head. "You can humidify yourself without humidifying your home," say Elliott, adding that a hot shower should do the trick, too.

You may not need a dehumidifier, especially if you live in a dryer part of the country, so check first. “Ideally you want the humidity in your home to be between 20 and 40 percent," adds Dr. Elliott.

An Air Purifier Can Help With Some Allergens

An air purifier is another investment to consider adding to your allergy control program, though these tend to be less effective with allergens like pollen, and better with "fluffy" particles, like pet dander, Dr. Rael notes.

When shopping around, Ayers notes to “look for the Asthma and Allergy friendly Certification Program seal of approval on common household items, including vacuums, cleaning products and humidifiers. The program, administered by AAFA in partnership with the international research organization, Allergy Standards Limited, is created to scientifically test and identify products that are better for people who suffer from asthma and allergies.”

Don’t Spend A Fortune If You Can Help It

While you can stock up on home products to help beat the allergy blues, you don’t have to spend a fortune. “Some stuff really doesn’t cost much money,” says Dr. Elliott. “More laundry detergent, more shampoo and a good doormat are the [building blocks] of creating an allergy-free indoor environment.”

More laundry detergent, more shampoo and a good doormat are the [building blocks] of creating an allergy-free indoor environment.

While there are plenty of over-the-counter medications designed to lure allergy sufferers, Dr. Elliott suggests we should regard this teeming section of our local pharmacies with caution.

“I walk down that aisle and am completely overwhelmed, and I’m an allergy specialist,” says Elliott. Rather than wasting time, money and possibly your health if you take a drug that doesn’t suit you, head to the doctor to get an evaluation. And go sooner than later to help get ahead of the problem.

“The first line of treatment is avoidance,” says Dr. Elliott. “Be evaluated before you’re symptomatic because once allergies start going it’s a lot harder to get them under control and you’re more prone to [developing] an infection. Same goes for kids: don’t wait for them to have an attack; prevent it.”


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