Your home is your sanctuary, but if you or a member of your family has allergies, health risks prowl in every corner of your house. Studies show that mould, dust mites, animal dander, and roach droppings can cause the immune system of allergic individuals to overreact, leaving them sniffing, swelling and itching.
In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency – EPA, as well as its Science Advisory Board have continued to insist that indoor air pollution is one of the five primary environmental threats to public health. In addition, the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology states that 50 percent of all health conditions are either directly or indirectly caused by polluted indoor air.
With millions of Australians suffering from bio-pollution induced allergies, you should seek to reduce your family’s exposure to allergens that trigger allergy or asthma episodes.
1. Create an Allergen Control Plan
The first step is to identify the allergens that affect you or members of your family in order to target those in your preventative measures. Your regular doctor or clinic can assist you with this. At times, the doctor may recommend medication or an adjustment of lifestyle depending on the frequency of asthma flares. Maintain an asthma diary to monitor your work easily.
Use simple, easy and cost effective ways, like cleaning.
Prepare a cleaning plan for every room in your home, starting with the bedroom since that is where you or the allergic family member spends a third or more of their day. The cleaning process should include:
- Washing beddings and curtains
- Cleaning window frames and seals
- Vacuuming and damp dusting
- Wet mopping your hard surface floors
Dust Mites are found in every home, and are a trigger for allergy or asthma flares. You cannot see them but they feed on your skin flakes, which mean that they will be found in your bedroom, where you spend most of your time. Dust Mites are found in your mattresses, pillows, beddings and bedroom carpets. They can be controlled by controlling dust and keeping your beddings clean.
There are mite-proof covers that prevent dust mites from gaining entry into pillows. They are also known as allergen impermeable covers. If you do not use these covers, you should wash the pillows after every three months, and also replace them every year.
You should have your carpets, upholstery and mattresses professionally cleaned twice a year. The most common method for reducing allergens in mattresses is the extraction method. Alternatively, the professional cleaner can reduce allergen irritants by applying a neutralising spray between regular cleaning.
While it requires specialist cleaning series to eliminate dust mites from your home, you can help to control them by:
- Washing your sheets in hot water every week
- Using mite-proof covers or washing pillows a minimum of four times a year
- Washing comforters and blankets at least once a month
- Getting professional cleaners to clean your mattress every six months
- Using air filter devices in your rooms
Warm and damp conditions like those found in your bathroom provide the perfect spots for the growth of mould and mildew. These tiny plants release undetectable “spores” that float around in the home air causing allergy and asthma reactions. Moreover, the spores begin to grow new mould wherever they land, including on appliances like humidifiers, extraction filters and air conditioners. Clean such appliances regularly and carry out maintenance practices as required by the manufacturers.
You can also find products that control or remove mildew by reading their labels. Remember to follow the instructions indicated on the product, such as wearing protective clothing if required. Clean toilets and bathrooms regularly, about twice a week, at times using antibacterial product to prevent mould from growing again. Also, clean soap scum frequently and keep the under section of sinks clean and dry.
Cockroaches come in second place after dust mites, as the most populous indoor allergens. They are attracted to the kitchen where there is plenty of food and moisture – including plain water, cooking grease and crumbs. Cockroaches are most active at night, so, you should make sure to cover all water and food before going to bed.
Cockroaches look for damp places that have food spills such as the refrigerator area. This environment is also favourable for mould. As such, cleaning the refrigerator and surrounding areas as per the instructions of the manufacturers can help to control allergens. Other sanitary measures to control kitchen related allergies include:
- Keeping your food in containers with tight fitting lids
- Daily cleaning of the stove and other cooking areas to remove food and grease
- Clean counter tops and floors to remove any food crumbs and liquid spillages
- Keeping damp kitchen areas such as below the sink dry
- Cleaning both inside and outside the refrigerator
- Empty the trash on a daily basis
- Washing floors on a weekly basis
- Using approved products to eliminate cockroaches, such as gels and bait
5. Living Areas
Children are exposed to allergens in the living areas as they play and crawl all over the floor. As such, you should ensure that your carpets, furniture and other upholstery are dust free and clean. It is important to seek regular professional carpet cleaning services. The cleaning frequency is dependent on multiple factors including the number of people dwelling in your home, presence of smokers and pets, and the level of dust and pollution in the area surrounding your home.
If the cleaning is not done by a professional, you should ensure that the person vacuuming is not allergic. You can also have the individual wear protective attire like goggles and a dust mask to protect oneself from the allergens thrown in the air as they are released from the carpet and upholstery. You can vacuum once a week or more often if there is a house pet.
Use a vacuum with an efficient HEPA filter or one that has a specially designed bag to contain allergens. Depending on whether the bag is disposable, you can throw it away or empty it when half full.
To clean carpets, you can use an upright vacuum or a canister that has a powered nozzle. For upholstery, blinds, draperies and light dusting tasks, you can use a non-powered canister vacuum. Use professional cleaning services to restore carpets that have been wet for longer than 24 hours in order to prevent mould and germs from growing. Other living area cleaning guidelines include:
- Regular professional cleaning of carpets and upholstery
- Remove damp carpets and have them restored
- Use a proper vacuum to clean carpets on a weekly basis;
- Use a proper vacuum to clean furniture and upholstery regularly
- Clean window frames and seals regularly
- Clean light fixtures and ceiling fans at least once a month
- Use washable door rags to catch pollen, dust and soil, and clean them at least monthly
- Dampen hard surface floors before mopping them at least once a week
6. Air Handling System
Most homes and office buildings have heating and cooling systems, as well as air conditioning systems. Modern homes prefer the central heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system – HVAC. Whichever system you have installed, you should ensure that it is cleaned and maintained on a regular basis.
The air duct systems conceal dust mite allergens, animal dander, pollen, mould spores and dust, in addition to mould due to the condensation process in the system. As such, you should ensure that the moisture in the air conditioning system is drained properly, and the drip pans cleaned thoroughly. Change replaceable filters on a monthly basis, and use a filter enhancer spray on disposable filters to enhance their efficiency. If there is someone in your home who suffers from allergies and your have never cleaned your air system before, then it is best to seek the services of professional cleaners.
Studies by the Environmental Protection Agency claim that there are more hazardous pollutants indoors than in the outdoor environment. Considering that people spend a significant amount of time indoors, about 90%, you should ensure that your air handling unit is clean by draining moisture and cleaning ducts, and changing the filters in a timely manner.
7. Cleaning Products
While manufacturers test their cleaning products to ensure that they are safe for human use, accidents can happen when children are involved, or due to increased sensitivity to chemicals in the product. As such, it is important for you to go through the ingredients listed on the product label before purchasing it. Other guidelines to ensure safe use of cleaning products include:
- Ask allergic individuals to leave the room when cleaning, and open all windows for proper ventilation
- Cleaning buckets should not be left unattended since they can trap young children and pets, and possibly drown them
- Do not mix cleaning products since they can release toxic fumes
- Make sure that the products are kept away from food and hidden from children
- Keep cleaning products in their original, well labelled containers
- Always read the instructions on the label before using a cleaning product
- Avoid products with high levels of volatile organic compounds – VOCs
- Just in case an accident happens, keep the number of a local poison control centre close by
8. Prepare a Clutter Plan
Leaving stuff all over the room not only causes it to clutter, but it also makes cleaning more challenging and provides a place for dust and allergens to collect. To tidy up the place and prevent allergens from collecting, you should prepare a clutter plan that includes:
Sorting out the clutter: beginning with the bedrooms, remove everything from the closets, drawers, boxes, shelves and beneath the bed. Put the stuff in different piles, such as frequently worn clothes, old clothes that are not worn, shoes, books, school supplies, and sports equipment, among others. Pick all items that are not used any more and put them in a separate pile.
Finding a place to put it: with all the items sorted in piles, you should put them where they will be easy to access for their different purposes. For instance, clothes and other items that are not used should be put in a box and taken to a storage area for donation or another purpose, school supplies should be kept in a drawer or desk close to where children do their homework, toys should be nicely arranged in the store area, and so on.
Covering it: the items should be covered to prevent dust from collecting on them. You can put them in drawers, containers, closets or boxes, and label them.
With your clutter plan ready, review it with other members of the family and educate them on the importance of the plan in reducing asthma attacks. You can also prepare a short, daily, clean-up schedule to make the process easier for children.
9. Home Flooding
Water incursions can damage your home and property. When your flooring, carpets and walls are drenched for longer than 24 hours, bacteria and mould begin to grow on them. This can cause allergens to be released, such as mytotoxins from mould that produce toxic substances that affect internal organs and the immune system.
As such, you must repair any damages water systems such as broken pipes, leakages and damaged roofing, immediately. You should also take the necessary steps to hire a professional water damage contractor to dry the room and its contents.
Mould can grow in moist places between your house walls or under flooring, and remain undetected for a long time. Therefore, you should contact your insurance company whenever you have a flooding problem: whether caused by natural floods or damaged home water systems. Other precautionary measures against water incursions include:
- Contact a plumber to stop the flow of water from broken pipes
- Contact your insurance company immediately your home floods for quick compensation
- Turn off the main power switch when you notice standing water
- Get an electrician to check your electrical appliances before turning them on
- Get the services of a contractor to dry your home and other content
- Avoid drying your floor with newspapers
10. Cleaning with Allergies or Asthma
Cleaning practices like dusting or vacuuming cause dust and allergens to float in the air. Similarly, fumes from cleaning products can fill the air and trigger an allergic reaction. Not cleaning is not an option since allergens like mould and dust will build up and worsen the allergies. Consequently, it is necessary to clean your home for your good health and that of your family. If you are the one cleaning, and have allergies or asthma, you should follow the following tips:
- Stick to the manufacturer’s instructions when using cleaning products. You should follow the directions indicated on the labels since they indicate the right amount of product to be used, how to use it and safety measures.
- When using spray products, spray into the wiping cloth as opposed to directly on the surface
- Use non-scented cleaning products since different perfumes may cause you to react
- Also use “green” cleaning products that do not contain toxic ingredients like VOTs
- For thorough cleaning, prepare a cleaning schedule that distributes the tasks over several days instead of one day
- Ensure that the room is well ventilated by opening all doors and windows, and switching on the exhaust fan. Also leave the room after cleaning until it air out.
You may also want to ask someone else to do your cleaning for you if your reaction is severe. Do not ask asthmatic children to dust or vacuum. In fact, anyone who is asthmatic should leave the room before cleaning starts, or wear a mask if you have to be there.