Better Breathing Through Environmental Control
Environmental control is a treatment that can significantly reduce allergy and asthma symptoms. It refers to the elimination or reduction of allergens and irritants in your environment. Not only is environmental control easy, it can cut down on the costs of medication, doctor and hospital visits as well as time lost from work and school. These measures are not meant to curtail a person’s lifestyle, but to improve the quality of life.
Protecting Your Home
Home is the first place on which to focus. One of the most common indoor allergens comes from the house dust mite, a microscopic spider-like creature often found in bedding, carpeting and upholstered furniture. Cat allergen is another potent allergenic substance often found in homes and offices, even in those that have never had a cat.
Levels of allergens can vary considerably from home to home. There is a simple laboratory test (ALK Indoor Allergen Analysis) which measures cat and mite allergen levels in dust samples from the home or workplace. Measuring allergen levels in the home is useful for targeting areas that need attention, and for monitoring the effectiveness of environmental control measures.
Allergen-Free Bedrooms Are Critical
A person spends more than eight hours a day in the bedroom-sleeping, reading, listening to the radio or watching television-so it is important to keep it as allergen-free as possible. Ideally, the bedroom should contain as few dust collectibles as possible (books, papers, stuffed animals, knickknacks, etc.) Avoid feather pillows and down comforters. Tile, wood or linoleum floors are recommended as carpeting collects dirt, dust and provides an ideal habitat for house dust mites. Pets (which are not recommended in the house at all) should be barred from the bedroom. House plants in wicker baskets (which can become moldy) also should be avoided. Dried and silk flower arrangements can be dust collectors. Aerosols should be avoided in any room. Windows in the bedroom should be kept shut to keep out pollen. Forced air heating vents should be closed or covered with a synthetic filter, such as VentGuard. Smoking should not be allowed in the home at all.
Mold is an allergenic substance which often grows in the kitchen and bathroom. All leaks should be repaired promptly and mold removed as soon as possible. There are some products that can be added to paint to kill or prevent mold from forming: Impregnon found in some pharmacies, and Captan, found at plant nurseries. Cleaning products often produce irritating fumes; the allergic patient should wear a mask or avoid using these altogether.
One of the most painful subjects in environmental control is removing the family pet from the home. Cats, dogs, rodents and birds are not recommended and should never be allowed in the bedroom. Even if the animal is banned from the bedroom (an absolute first step if one is allergic), its dander (skin scales) or feathers can be spread throughout the house by other people (their bodies and clothing), and by the air currents produced by fans, air conditioning and forced air heating. Sadly, the family dog or cat may have to find a loving nonallergic home elsewhere. As an alternative, small aquariums are recommended (the larger ones may produce mold). Snakes, lizards and turtles may also be considered since they are relatively allergen-free.
Outside the Home
Yardwork is usually hard on an allergic or asthmatic person. A mask and preventative medication may help, but ideally, yardwork should be avoided. Enlist the aid of someone else to remove weeds and debris around the home as soon as possible. If these accumulate, not only are they a source of pollen, but they can produce mold spores.
The car is another area that should also be kept clean and dust-free. Portable air cleaners and filters can be used in the car. Keeping the car windows closed and using the air conditioning can be helpful when driving in heavy pollen areas. Sheepskin and lambskin seat covers are not recommended; they can become damp and moldy. Smoking should never be allowed in the car.
Allergy environmental control should also be practiced in the workplace as much as possible. More and more employers are finding that these measures cut down on absenteeism and increase productivity.
Environmental control can be a significant part of the allergic patient’s medical regimen. The simple techniques discussed here can make a great difference in the patient’s health and comfort.