Whether it is washing your sheets or using an air purifier, there are many ways to reduce indoor allergens
Allergies affect more than 50 million Americans. While some people experience allergies seasonally, others experience them year-round—this is known as perennial allergic rhinitis (aka indoor allergies). If you’re one of them, you might be sick of living with allergy symptoms in your own home.
“Allergies are a condition in which the immune system reacts abnormally to a foreign substance,” explains David Henry Hiltzik, MD, the interim chair of otolaryngology at Northwell Health’s Staten Island University Hospital in New York.
Typically, these substances are harmless to most people but trigger the immune system to release chemicals like histamines, leading to allergy symptoms, in those prone to allergies. “Indoor and outdoor allergies are similar in the reactions they provoke in the body, but it is thought that indoor allergies can be more severe and harmful,” Dr. Hiltzik says.
Although the symptoms may present the same, indoor allergies have different triggers and causes than seasonal allergies. Here’s what you need to know about what allergy triggers may be present in your home and what you can do about it.
Causes and common symptoms of indoor allergies
Outdoor pollen is a primary cause of seasonal allergies, but indoor allergies are caused by airborne allergens in your own home. This is why retreating inside doesn’t always help allergy symptoms subside. Identifying what causes allergies and their triggers can help you take the necessary steps to address them.
Indoor allergies have three main causes: dust mites, pet dander, and mold, explains allergist Shyam Joshi, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at Oregon Health & Science University and chief medical officer of Nectar in Portland, Oregon. Cockroaches can also bring allergens into the home, per the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI).
If you experience any of the following common symptoms, they could be chalked up to allergens in the home, namely dust mites, according to the Mayo Clinic:
- Itchy eyes
- Nasal congestion
- Runny nose
- Postnasal drip
- Scratchy throat
- Difficulty breathing
Many of these symptoms overlap with seasonal allergies, but experiencing them year-round is a telltale sign that indoor allergens are the root cause of your symptoms. Fortunately, there are ways around this—mainly involving improving the air quality in your home.
7 ways to reduce in-home allergies
The key to avoiding indoor symptoms is to reduce airborne allergens. To do so, you’ll need to keep surfaces, bedding, and other materials clean. Here’s what you can do immediately to reduce in-home allergies.
1. Use HEPA air purifiers
Do air purifiers actually help reduce allergies? Yes, they do—though they’re more like air cleaners than purifiers. According to the Allergy and Asthma Network, the key is to use one with a HEPA filter, which is designed to capture 99.7% of all particles 0.3 microns or smaller.
“Using HEPA filters, or high-efficiency particulate air filters, are very effective in reducing overall exposure to common allergens found indoors and have been proven to reduce allergy symptoms like itchy eyes, sneezing, and runny nose,” Dr. Joshi says, adding that you’ll need a HEPA filter in each room. One cleaner isn’t enough for an entire home. If you start with one room at a time, prioritize bedrooms.
2. Decrease humidity
While humidifiers help soothe dry nasal passageways in the winter, they can worsen indoor allergies. Dust mites thrive where there is moisture, per the AAAAI. “One tip is to decrease humidity and moisture in the home, which helps reduce mold and dust mites,” says Kelly Simpson, MD, a board-certified allergist at Austin Regional Clinic in Texas. Instead, use a dehumidifier, or run your central air system to reduce moisture levels.
3. Use dust mite covers on your bedding
As gross as it sounds, your bed is likely crawling with thousands of dust mites—one of the main causes of allergy symptoms indoors. Special bedding covers, often called dust mite covers, create a physical barrier that can reduce your exposure to dust mites, per the Cleveland Clinic.
“Dust mite covers are very effective,” says Purvi Parikh, MD, an allergist at the Allergy and Asthma Network in New York City and a clinical assistant professor in medicine at New York University School of Medicine. “The pores are small enough so that the particles do not go through.” You can use coverings on your mattress, box spring, and pillows for full protection. Then, wash your bedding regularly in hot water to further reduce your exposure.
4. Clean the house regularly
Establish a weekly cleaning routine that includes dusting, vacuuming, and washing the fabrics in your house. “Dust is one of the most common irritants for indoor allergies, and cleaning the house regularly helps minimize the presence of dust,” Dr. Joshi says. Children’s stuffed animals are often a source of dust mites, so you should clean those, too.
5. Bathe pets often
Your four-legged friends can also track allergens from outside to indoors. Or, by depositing their dander in different locations. “Household pets are a common source of indoor allergies as they transport respiratory allergies around the house,” Dr. Joshi says. If you’ve identified pet dander as one of your triggers, bathing your pet regularly could help, per the Mayo Clinic.
6. Remove your shoes when you get home
If you’re prone to seasonal and indoor allergies, avoid bringing outdoor allergens into your home. Studies have shown that pet dander allergens can be brought into the home even if you don’t own pets.
Removing your shoes and changing clothes when you get home is especially helpful during peak pollen season—you don’t want to transport these allergens in your home or get them into your bed. You may even consider showering when you get home or before going to sleep to keep your bedroom as allergen-free as possible.
7. Use allergy-friendly materials in your home
If possible, Dr. Hiltzik recommends removing all carpets, rugs, and drapery. Allergens can cling to these materials, making them more likely to stir up your symptoms. Wall-to-wall carpet, high-pile rugs, heavy drapes, and fabric furniture can all harbor dust mites and should be kept to a minimum, per the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA). If you must have them, keep them clean.
He also recommends choosing hypoallergenic bedding materials, such as pillows, sheets, and comforters. According to the AAFA, allergy-friendly pillows and pillow covers are made with a special outer fabric that blocks dust mites from passing through.
Treatment options for when other strategies aren’t working
When these strategies aren’t providing enough relief, you still have a few more options to treat allergies. Allergists recommend:
- Allergen avoidance, such as staying indoors when pollen counts are high, but this can be difficult if your allergens are in your own home.
- Over-the-counter medications can provide relief, such as antihistamines, decongestants, nasal sprays, and nasal rinses.
- “Allergen immunotherapy, specifically allergy shots or sublingual drops or tablets, is a preventive treatment that treats the root cause and can offer life-long relief from allergies,” Dr. Joshi says.
To find out what’s causing your allergies, you may need to see an allergist—he or she can perform blood or skin tests to uncover triggers. Then, you’ll be better equipped to reduce your symptoms, indoors and outside.