More than 50 million people across the USA suffer from allergies each year. They affect all age groups and an allergic reaction to airborne allergens is considered the 6th leading cause of chronic illness.
While seasonal allergies to pollen are common, many people also experience indoor allergies that can manifest at any time of the year and have nothing to do with pollinating plants.
Here are 7 of the most common allergens inside your house, indoor allergy symptoms and simple recommendations for removing or reducing them for healthier air quality at home.
1. Pollen Allergies
While they come from outside, tiny airborne pollen grains are also a source of indoor air pollution. Breathing them in can cause severe allergies, particularly during the spring and summer months in America.
A wide variety of grasses, plants like ragweed, and trees like birch and cedar, produce pollens that a highly allergenic and irritating to many people.
Symptoms can include:
- Severe and ongoing sneezing and coughing.
- An itchy nose, tongue, throat and eyelids.
- Sudden tiredness and headache.
- A runny or blocked nose and postnasal drip.
- Watery, red and swollen eyes.
- And in rare cases skin irritation or rash.
This reaction is called allergic rhinitis, more commonly known as hay fever. It happens when your immune system overreacts to airborne allergens and produces too many inflammatory substances like histamine.
Asthmatics and pollen allergy sufferers are particularly affected, but almost anyone can have an allergic reaction to certain types of pollen, like those from ragweed, in high enough concentrations.
While pollen air pollutants are even more of a problem outdoors, they still often drift into your house or apartment when you open the windows. They also arrive inside on your clothes, skin and hair after outdoor air contamination.
Many pollen grains fall to the floor and other surfaces in still air, but can be stirred up with indoor air circulation, walking or cleaning. Some, however, like birch and grass pollens are quite fine and can remain airborne for many hours.
How to Prevent Pollen Indoor Allergies
Here are some recommended actions to help prevent an indoor allergic reaction to pollen.
The pollen count is usually highest in the mornings and diminishes later in the day. If you suffer from seasonal allergies it can make sense to ventilate your home more in the late afternoons and evenings during days with high pollen counts.
Consider pollen-blocking window screen filters if you live in an area with a high Spring and Summer pollen count. They also filter out particulate matter contamination all year round as well.
If you’ve been outside near pollinating trees or grasses then change your clothes when you come back inside. Also, have a shower and wash your hair if you are sensitive to pollen, especially before sleeping.
A good HEPA air purifier will quickly filter out sources of house allergens like airborne pollen grains and help prevent indoor hay fever attacks during Spring and Summer.
2. Pet Dander Allergies
While pets bring joy to many family homes, their dander and other contaminants can be a potent irritant and indoor allergy trigger for sensitive people.
Pet dander is made up of tiny particles of dead skin and shed hair from cats, dogs and other kinds of pets with fur or feathers. These often drift into household air and can cause strong allergy symptoms when inhaled.
Aside from floating dander, allergenic compounds in pet’s saliva, urine and feces can also become airborne as they degrade and cause respiratory problems in people with a pet allergy.
If you are sensitive to pet allergens like dander you can experience the following symptoms:
- Coughing and sneezing fits.
- Chest tightening, wheezing and difficulty breathing.
- A runny nose and sinus congestion.
- Itchy, reddened and watery eyes.
- Irritation of the throat, tongue and nasal passage.
- Skin rashes and worsening of eczema and other inflammatory skin diseases.
Asthmatics should be especially careful around dogs, cats and other furry pets as their allergens can provoke severe asthma attacks.
How to Prevent Pet Dander Allergies in Your Home
Airborne pet dander is one of the lighter household allergy triggers and can remain suspended in the air for much longer than other biological pollution like pollen or dust mite waste products.
They also have a jagged structure and easily stick to furniture, bedding, clothes, skin and hair, which makes them simple to transport and spread.
In fact, just a short visit from a cat or dog owner can introduce lasting pet dander allergens into your home, even without their pets ever being present.
If you do have a pet, but someone in the house is sensitive to pet dander, it’s best to keep the animal in certain designated areas, preferably with tiles rather than carpet, and clean these areas regularly.
Allowing pets into carpeted areas or onto chairs with upholstery or beds will definitely introduce dander and even vacuuming may not be fully effective at removing it.
A powerful whole house air purifier with a true HEPA filter is one of the simplest and best way to deal with airborne pet dander in your home.
If you love your dog or cat, but someone in the family suffers from pet dander allergy, it may be the only way for the two of them to happily coexist.
3. Dust Mites and Cockroach Contaminants
Dust mites and the allergens and contaminants they produce are one of the most common triggers for indoor allergies and asthma attacks.
They thrive on dead skin flakes and are particularly concentrated on pillows and bedding. This makes them a prime suspect if your allergies usually happen when you are trying to sleep or first wake up in the morning.
Cockroach droppings, saliva and decaying body parts are another highly potent allergen within your home. They contain a protein that causes allergic rhinitis for many allergy sufferers and is also a recognized trigger for asthmatics.
How to Limit Dust Mite and Cockroach Indoor Allergies
Both cockroaches and dust mites prefer humid conditions so using a dehumidifier to reduce humidity within your home is a simple way to combat them.
In fact, keeping indoor air humidity below 50%, particularly in the bedroom, has been shown in studies to reduce dust mite numbers and the amount of indoor allergens they produce dramatically.
Special dust mite proof bedding is also highly recommended if you suffer from asthma or allergies. For standard pillows and sheets, it’s best to wash them in very hot water at least once and preferably twice a week and vacuum regularly.
Cleaning and vacuuming, especially around the kitchen and lounge room, is also important for combating cockroaches as it reduces their food sources.
A well-designed air purifier can filter out both cockroach contaminants and dust mite allergens from indoor air and help prevent house allergies, though combating them at their source is best.
There’s much more detail on reducing these two hidden allergens and other common forms of indoor air pollution here.
4. Mold and Mildew Allergies
Molds and mildew are types of fungi that grow year-round on household surfaces in damp areas like bathrooms, kitchens and basements.
During winter, and rainy periods with lots of moisture in the air, they can spread to bedrooms, lounge rooms and other areas within your home.
Here they often grow on windowsills, curtains and blinds and behind cupboards, beds and other furniture. Molds even thrive on carpet, upholstery, clothes, cardboard and paper.
Mildew, and particularly mold, becomes an indoor allergy trigger when they release their spores into the air. These spores contain toxic allergens that can stimulate an inflammatory response within the nasal passage that is similar to hay fever from pollen.
If you experience house allergies more during winter when the windows are closed, or during a long spell of wet weather, then an allergic reaction to mold spores could be the culprit.
How to Stop Mold Allergies in Your Home
While bathroom and bedroom mildew is more obvious, you can’t always see mold growing unless it’s highly concentrated. Mold spores are also invisible and odorless as they float around in the air inside your home.
Like dust mites though, mold thrives in damp and humid environments without proper ventilation, so open windows whenever it’s dry outside and consider investing in a dehumidifier to keep mold at bay.
Mold and mildew on walls, windowsills and other areas should be cleaned away with vinegar and baking soda on a damp sponge. Always wear a mask that covers your nose during mold removal to avoid breathing in the spores.
HEPA air purifiers can easily capture mold spores circulating in the air within your home and prevent indoor allergies caused by mold.
It’s best to get rid of mold on household surfaces quickly though as mold spores can dramatically decrease indoor air quality and be a hidden source of allergies.
5. Secondhand Smoke Pollution
The secondhand smoke from cigarettes, cigars and tobacco pipes is a serious air pollutant, loaded with toxic chemicals like carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, hydrogen cyanide, arsenic ammonia and many more.
It is also a common cause of allergic reactions, with cigarette smoke allergy symptoms including sneezing, sinus congestion, difficulty breathing, a runny nose, a sore throat, watery eyes and sudden headaches.
As bad as your temporary allergies and reaction to tobacco smoke might seem, the potential long-term negative effects are much worse.
According to American Lung Association estimates, secondhand smoke directly causes more than 41,000 deaths in the US each year, primarily from heart attacks, strokes and lung cancer, of which smoking is the leading cause.
There is no safe exposure level to cigarette smoke. It is always damaging, especially to young children, the elderly and those in poor health.
Even brief exposure can trigger lung and cardiovascular damage for people at risk and it should be avoided like the airborne poison it is.
How to Prevent Secondhand Smoke Indoor Pollution
It goes without saying that no one should be polluting indoor air by smoking inside. Make sure smokers stay well away from open windows and doors as well so tobacco smoke contaminants don’t drift back inside.
Unfortunately though, you usually can’t stop neighbors or passersby smoking near your house or apartment. In cases like this, it’s best to take precautions as soon as you can.
If you smell cigarette smoke coming into your home from outside then close windows immediately near the affected area.
Try to ventilate from smoke-free windows on the other side of your house if possible. Alternatively, turn on your air conditioning on high, but with the recirculate setting only if smoke is coming from near the outside vent.
If tobacco smoke pollution is an ongoing problem where you live then an air purifier specifically designed to deal with cigarette smoke and other toxic gases is a good investment in your long-term health.
6. Nonstick Cookware Allergens
Many people use Teflon-coated nonstick frying pans and other cookware in their kitchens. There’s no doubt they can be a time saver but there are health concerns associated with Teflon, particularly when it’s heated to high temperatures.
Perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, is a toxic chemical used in Teflon manufacturing. While its use is slowly being phased out in American manufacturing, it is still widely used in many other countries.
Unless your nonstick pots and pans were specifically labeled PFOA-free when you bought them it’s likely they were made with perfluorooctanoic acid.
When Teflon cookware produced with PFOA is heated to high temperatures perfluorooctanoic acid can break down and release toxic gases that you breathe in while cooking.
The symptoms of an allergic reaction to PFOA gas inhalation include headaches, coughing, chest tightening, fever and chills and a sudden onset of flu-like symptoms.
In fact, the side effects of perfluorooctanoic acid exposure have even been labeled ‘Teflon flu’, or polymer fume fever by Dupont.
PFOA is considered an endocrine disruptor and regular exposure to it may damage your thyroid, liver, kidneys and immune system. It can also lead to pregnancy complications and potentially even cause cancer.
Testing shows a very high percentage of people in the USA have detectable levels of perfluorooctanoic acid in their blood so it’s recommended to avoid any potential sources of contamination.
How to Protect Yourself Against Teflon Flu
The temperatures required for Teflon to start releasing toxic gases are quite high, but not difficult to reach if you were searing a steak for instance on a high setting. Also, leaving a frying pan to heat up on the stove without food in it quickly raises your exposure risk.
Research studies found that birds died from exposure to gases from heated nonstick coatings at temperatures as low as 396 Fahrenheit (220°C).
DuPont, the manufacturer of Teflon, admitted polymer fume fever side effects at temperatures of 572 Fahrenheit or 300°C. Other testing showed nonstick coating deterioration at 500 Fahrenheit or 260°C.
Regardless of the exact temperature, it’s very good advice to use a range hood while cooking with nonstick cookware, especially if you use a gas burner that can release carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide as well.
Keeping the temperature down when frying and never leaving Teflon cookware on a hot plate unattended is also important to avoid an allergic reaction to Teflon fumes.
If you do like to fry steaks or use a lot of heat for stir-fries and other kinds of cooking then one of the newer generation of non-toxic and PFOA-free cookware is highly recommended.
7. Fireplaces and Wood Smoke Allergies
An open fireplace provides warmth and is a winter ritual many people enjoy. However, new sensitive testing equipment is now revealing that residential wood-burning produces many toxic emissions that are detrimental to your health and may be a source of indoor allergies.
Burning wood inside, without proper protection and ventilation, has been shown to increase fine particulate matter indoor pollution. It also introduces toxic substances, such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and volatile organic compounds like formaldehyde into household air.
Since open fireplaces burn wood for long periods, exposure levels can continue to rise to reach harmful levels. Many older wood stoves, with their poor enclosure designs, are also listed as significant contributors to air pollution indoors by the EPA.
Aside from coughing, wheezing, headaches and asthma attacks from smoke inhalation, wood smoke is also considered especially damaging for people with lung disorders, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
How to Prevent Wood Smoke Allergies in Your Home
If you have a fireplace it should be well enclosed and your chimney properly cleaned so toxic smoke can be ventilated away.
Older wood stoves designs are considered ineffective at containing allergens and pollution from burning wood and should be replaced. They could well be a hidden source of winter allergies for sensitive people.
If there is a fire outside, keep all windows closed and air conditioning on recirculate only. In severe cases, block vents and other openings, like underneath doorways, from outdoor smoke pollution.
Specially designed air purifiers can filter out some harmful gases from wood smoke, but the best solution is to keep wood-burning outside.
If you do have a fireplace make sure it is completely enclosed and well ventilated to the outside to avoid household air pollution and yet another potential indoor allergy trigger.
Home Allergy Relief
Seasonal pollen, pet dander, cigarette smoke, dust mites, cockroaches, mold, Teflon fumes and wood smoke are all potential household allergens and indoor pollutants.
If you suffer from indoor allergies there can be multiple triggers so work through the recommendations in this article to remove or reduce them in your home.
Even for people without obvious allergies, there are many other surprising sources of household air pollution in products you probably use each day. Becoming aware of these hidden pollutants is the first step in improving indoor air quality for you and your family.
Air purifiers are designed to filter and cleanse the air within your house or apartment of a wide variety of indoor allergens and other air contaminants.
This detailed buying guide explains exactly what to look for and what to avoid when buying an air purifier for your home.