It might seem early to start worrying about the miserable days ahead when fall allergies will kick in, but in actuality, it’s just around the corner. Some experts predict that global climate changes, including record high temperatures this year, may even extend allergy season an additional three weeks.
Fall can signal a perfect storm for allergy sufferers who find pesky allergens hard to avoid indoors or out. Ragweed pollen is probably the biggest cause of fall allergy misery, but some of the other weeds such as goldenrod can cause symptoms as well, although it doesn’t account for nearly the amount of windborne pollen that ragweed does. With mold spores growing both in the home and outside in moist areas, and ragweed coming into the house through open doors and windows and on pets, it can make you want to throw up your hands. Furthermore, trying to avoid outdoor allergens by spending more time indoors can trigger other allergies if you’re sensitive to indoor allergens like dust mites, mold spore and pet dander.
To head off fall allergies before they have time to attack, one solution is to give your house a good pre-fall cleaning!
Get down to basics around the house.
Forget about sweeping with a broom. For a good allergy housecleaning, use a damp cloth, damp mop, and a good all-purpose detergent mixed with water. You also need a cyclonic vacuum or a vacuum with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter, as well as a mold and mildew spray to clean damp areas. If you suffer from allergies and have to do the cleaning, wear a mask that’s NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) approved as you go room-to-room. After cleaning, leave the house for a few hours to let any dust or vapors from cleaning products settle down.
Living Room Living areas can harbor the greatest accumulation of dust mites, pet dander, and ragweed pollen brought in from the outside. Carpeting, upholstery, and window drapes are common culprits. That’s why allergy specialists suggest easy-to-clean flooring and blinds instead of heavy drapes. Vacuum all your furniture and window treatments along with the floor. If you have carpeting, have it steam-cleaned (if you must keep it). Don’t forget to wipe down all windowsills and doorjambs. And, this is a perfect time to toss any old throw rugs to reduce clutter. Finally, don’t forget to service your heat/ air-conditioning unit and change all your filters (replacing with HEPA filters) before turning on the heat.
Kitchen The heart of your home is a favorite spot for wily roaches, and mold can make itself at home under the sink, dishwasher and refrigerator. Make sure to remove all traces of food or garbage and clean inside the fridge and dishwasher. Clean out your trash container, and make sure it has a tight cover. Wash any floor mats to remove tiny or ground-in food particles.
Bathroom Moisture makes your bathroom is the perfect environment for mold. Use your mold and mildew spray under the sink, under the toilet, and inside the shower, including on shower curtains. Consider replacing your shower curtain with a new mold-resistant kind. Make sure you don’t leave any moisture behind. Wash bath towels and mats frequently.
Bedroom You probably spend more time in your bedroom than any other room, so it makes sense to clean it carefully. Your bedding and mattress are favorite gathering places for dust mites. In children’s bedrooms, stuffed animals are also popular lures. If your mattresses and pillows aren’t already encased in allergy-resistant covers that close with a zipper, make covering them part of your pre-allergy season cleaning project. Wash all bedding in water hot enough to kill dust mites (at least 130 degrees). You should also wash any washable stuffed animals in hot water and dry them at a high temp as well.
Basement and/or Attic If your home has a basement or attic, they could be favorite allergy hangouts for cockroaches, rodents and mold. Look for mold growing around your home’s foundation, under pipes, and around the water heater. In the basement if you use a dehumidifier, be sure to clean and sanitize the unit. Call a professional exterminator if you see roach or rodent droppings.
Pet beds and cushions Whether your favorite four-legged friends have the run of the house or maybe the house and yard, they will be a major source of allergens that can trigger fall misery. Make sure they are bathed frequently and (if possible) keep them off furniture and out of bedrooms, especially during the height of allergy season. Wash pet-bed cushions in hot water often and dry in high heat.
When it comes to treatment, take a pre-emptive stance.
If you or other members of your family take prescription and/or OTC medications for seasonal allergies, talk to your primary care provider or specialist about starting your meds before the onset of allergy season to pre-empt and lessen the severity of your reaction.
“If you have a consistent pattern of allergic symptoms that occurs at roughly the same time every year, there is no need to wait and see what will happen ‘this year’– it is going to happen again,” advises Dr. Casano. “So with that expectation, it is prudent to begin treatment in advance to prevent symptoms rather than trying to treat them after they have begun. The most effective medications for nasal symptoms are the steroid and/or antihistamine sprays. There are many studies that compare sprays, such as Flonase, to oral medications such as Zyrtec, Allegra, Claritin, and for nasal symptoms every study shows the sprays are superior.” We also asked Dr. Casano what is new in the treatment of seasonal or year-round allergies.
“’What’s new’ is that some of the best of the medicines, like Flonase, are now available in OTC versions,” notes Casano. “The other new thing, although it is not something needed by most people, are three new immunotherapy medications for allergy treatment that can be administered under the tongue. These new allergy treatments are similar in principle to immunotherapy shots that can fundamentally change the allergic response in people, but without a shot. Their role isn’t fully clear yet but in the right patient they are safe and helpful.”
“For young children it is fairly uncommon for allergies to explain nasal symptoms, except for those with exzema and/or asthma,” adds Dr.Casano. “A common diagnosis for chronic runny nose in toddlers and younger children is ‘allergies,’ but that diagnosis is often incorrect. Recurring viral infections, enlarged adenoids, or chronic sinus infections are more common. Many young children are prescribed Zyrtec when it probably is not needed except in a small fraction of kids. That said, however, it is safe and if it helps then that’s fine. If it doesn’t seem to help, then the symptoms are probably not allergy related.”
If you or a loved one suffers from seasonal (or year-round) allergies and have not been tested, make an appointment to see your general practitioner, an Ear Nose and Throat specialist (Otolaryngologist) or an allergy specialist now. Get help before fall allergies strike. Forewarned is forearmed in the battle against seasonal allergies.