Findings from the largest indoor allergen study to date showed that over 90 percent of homes had three or more allergens, and 73 percent of homes had at least one allergen at elevated levels.
After looking at levels of eight common allergens in homes, researchers from the National Institutes of Health found that several factors -- including the presence of pests and pets in the home and the type of housing -- had a major influence on allergen levels.
Specifically, the researchers say certain types of homes -- including mobile homes, older homes, rental homes, and homes in rural areas -- were more likely to have elevated levels of multiple allergens. Homes in rural settings were also more likely to have higher levels of cat and dust mite allergens compared to urban settings.
Indoor allergens can trigger asthma and cause a number of other adverse effects on health, including itchy, watery eyes, runny nose, sneezing, coughing, and wheezing. In order to reduce your risk of experiencing these symptoms, it’s important to know which allergens you are most affected by.
In an interview with ConsumerAffairs, Dr. Susan LeLacheur, a primary care clinician and infectious disease expert, explained that allergens come from a variety of sources depending on the individual's specific allergy.
“Common respiratory allergies in homes are from animals, both the welcome kind (pet dander from dogs and cats) to the unwelcome (cockroaches are highly allergenic),” she said. “Allergies are basically an excessive or abnormal immune response to an external thing.”
Reducing allergens in your home
Fortunately, there are several things consumers can do to reduce their exposure to indoor allergens and irritants.
To minimize common household respiratory allergens, LaLacheur recommends keeping things as clean as possible. Vacuum carpets and upholstered furniture and wash sheets and blankets in hot water every week to kill allergy-triggering dust mites and their eggs.
For some allergy sufferers, it may be best to avoid having pets altogether -- but for others, pet ownership may still be in the cards. LeLacheur recommends consulting an allergist for help determining if you have a specific pet allergy. If you are only allergic to cats, for example, you may be able to share your home with a dog.
Pet owners should keep pets off of furniture and bed linens. Letting pets curl up in your bed isn’t a good idea, experts say; pet dander that settles on bed linens becomes a food source for dust mites. Special allergen-impermeable mattress and pillow covers can be purchased to help keep your bedroom free of dust mites and other allergens.
To keep bugs at bay, seal any possible entry points and remove their food and water sources. Never eat on the floor or on furniture since crumbs can attract cockroaches.
To make your home less hospitable to mites and mold, use a dehumidifier in bedrooms and other areas to keep humidity at 50 percent or less. For more tips on boosting your indoor air quality, click here.