How to Minimize Allergies in Your Home

If you have terrible seasonal and indoor allergies, here’s how to minimize them when you’re indoors.


For a tree pollen allergy sufferer like me, spring is torture. Flowering trees are my kryptonite, and during peak bloom it feels like pollen stokes a six-week permasneeze from which there’s no reprieve until the end of June. And since 2018’s Fourth National Climate Assessment suggests that increasing carbon dioxide means an earlier, longer pollen season and higher levels of airborne allergens, it might last even longer in the future.

I’m far from alone in my sneezing. According to a 2017 survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 19.9 million Americans reported being diagnosed with hay fever in the preceding 12 months. The World Allergy Organization says 400 million people worldwide get allergic rhinitis, which includes illnesses caused by indoor and outdoor airborne allergens.

What to do if you’re suffering? Immunotherapy — getting shots that can help desensitize your immune system to an allergen — can help over time, but if you’re not ready for needle treatment, you can take a few other steps to minimize allergens’ effects inside the house. We talked to allergists to get their best tips for minimizing the effects of the most common outdoor and indoor allergens when you’re at home, from pet dander to dust mites.

Clear the air

For people who suffer from outdoor allergies to ragweed or grass, the best solution is to stay indoors, especially in the morning when pollen counts are highest, and to seal the clean air in. “Central air conditioning is best because they can keep windows closed and that prevents some of the pollen from coming in,” said Dr. Paul V. Williams, a clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington. “Monitor pollen counts and avoid extensive outdoor activity when the pollen counts are high.”

Making sure your furnace or HVAC system’s filter is clean, and replacing it regularly, can help too. Wirecutter, the product recommendation site owned by The New York Times Company, recommends choosing filters with a MERV rating in the 8 to 13 range; these filters remove 90 percent or more of smaller particles like those of pollen and smoke.

A standalone air purifier can help with airborne allergens such as mold and dander, according to Dr. Purvi Parikh, allergist and immunologist and spokeswoman for the Allergy and Asthma Network. Dr. Williams also suggests using a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filter in the bedroom. Wirecutter recommends an air purifier that can circulate air at least four times per hour for the room size it’s rated for and can run quietly while you sleep.

In damp regions, a dehumidifier can help reduce the moisture below 50 percent — what Dr. Williams called a “second-line measure” against the kind of humidity that mold and dust mites prefer (as one 2001 study found). If you are concerned about the possibility of mold, Dr. Neil Gershman, an allergist and immunologist and fellow of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, recommends hiring a mold inspector to take air samples both inside and outside your house.

If your scourge is year-round indoor allergens — say, pet dander or dust mites — do the opposite and open your windows to circulate clean air in.

Clean your bedroom

In a study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology of dust collected from the bedrooms of 7,000 households in 2005 and 2006, 74 percent had three to six out of the eight allergens the researchers tested for. It pays to be vigilant about cleaning the room you sleep in: “Think of the bedroom as the place you want to do the most aggressive environmental control because you’re in that room a third of your life,” Dr. Gershman said.

Mattress protectors for both your mattress and box spring, as well as pillow protectors, are woven tightly enough to keep dust mites from taking up residence in your bedding. (Wirecutter recommends Protect-A-Bed AllerZip Smooth Mattress Encasement.) Although a 2008 meta-review of 54 studies did not find strong enough evidence to recommend physical encasements to reduce asthma, the allergists we spoke to all recommended their use.

Whether you suffer from year-round indoor allergies or seasonal outdoor allergies, it’s important to vacuum regularly to pick up allergens that are heavy enough to fall on the floor. Remove carpet and clutter so you have fewer surfaces to vacuum. Washing clothes and bedding weekly in hot water will help wash dander away and kill dust mites. (Wirecutter has several recommendations for vacuums for different living situations.)

If you’re allergic to the pollen outside, rinse yourself at the end of the day before you climb into bed. “We recommend showers at night before going to bed to get pollen off their hair so it doesn’t get deposited on the pillow and get breathed in all night,”Dr. Williams said.

Although the hygiene hypothesis posits that our oversanitized world is causing an increase in allergies, it’s not a good excuse to stop cleaning the house. “That’s only helpful before you develop allergies. Once you have allergies, it’s not a good idea because if you don’t keep your house clean, you’ll have a lot of problems, ”Dr. Parikh said.

If you have pet allergies

There is no such thing as a hypoallergenic cat or dog, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, and shorthaired pets are no less likely to cause a reaction than longhaired pets. The first piece of advice Dr. Gershman gives to a family with pet allergies is to remove the pet from the house, but many people don’t heed it. “People would rather get rid of their allergist than their animal,” he said.

If you can’t bear to live without your pet, the allergists we spoke to suggested keeping the pet out of the bedroom at minimum, washing the pet regularly and using an air purifier with a HEPA filter or equivalent HVAC filter to remove airborne particles.

The American Lung Association says that two times as many people report cat allergies as they do dog allergies, even though a higher number of homes keep dogs as pets. “The allergen from cats is a smaller particle and it tends to be airborne for longer periods of time and can circulate around the house,” Dr. Williams said. He explained that allergens can be found in the saliva and oil glands of a cat, which means that even washing the cat (if you can manage to do it) doesn’t provide lasting results.

If you are taking over-the-counter medications and your allergies get worse or if you have any breathing difficulties, Dr. Parikh recommends seeing a physician. “People can get asthma from allergies and that can be very dangerous if it’s left untreated,” she said.

Ganda Suthivarakom

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