Most people spend over 90 percent of their time indoors—in homes, offices, cars, and stores. According to the Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio, indoor environments usually have higher contaminant levels and provide more immediate and prolonged exposure to pollutants—a fact that could pose health problems for your family.
"A three-pronged approach can be used to tackle indoor allergies," according to Dr. Derek Johnson, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics, and director of the Division of Allergy and Clinical Immunology at Temple University Children's Medical Center in Philadelphia.
First, identify the allergen with a skin or allergy test at a doctor's office. Next, move on to avoidance. Finally, medical treatment can be used if necessary.
Before discussing allergy prevention and treatment, it is important to distinguish between an allergen and an irritant, Dr. Johnson says.
Allergens are any substance that can activate the immune system and cause an immune (or allergic) reaction. Allergens include pet dander (the protein from the saliva of animals, which can become airborne and stick to surfaces around the house), or cockroach or rat allergen (especially in urban areas), dust mites (tiny organisms from the arachnid family), and molds (which are a problem in a moist, humid environment).
Irritants, such as cigarette smoke or windblown dirt, can cause irritation, such as sneezing or watery eyes. However, they do not trigger a true allergy because they do not activate the immune system.
Treatment and Prevention
"Big differences can be made by using a HEPA high-efficiency filter in home heating systems," explains Johnson, who is also on the board of advisors for The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. "This filter should be changed once a month. There are two different kinds: a disposable or a washable filter. If you have filters that you can wash with a garden hose, it is very important to make sure they are thoroughly dried and not put back in when they are wet as that can only increase the chance of mold," he says.