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Controlling Indoor Allergies

Pediatric Allergy Basics

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Updated March 11, 2009

Ceiling fans can collect dust and spread dust mites, triggering allergies in some kids.

Ceiling fans can collect dust and spread dust mites, triggering allergies in some kids.

Photo (c) Kenneth O'Quinn
Although some kids with allergies only have seasonal allergies, for example, having allergy symptoms when pollen, grass, or mold counts are high in the fall or spring, many others have year round allergies.

While most things that cause seasonal allergies are outside, these children with year round or perennial allergies are usually allergic to things inside your house, including dust mites, indoor molds, animal dander, and cockroaches, etc.

Even if you don't know what your child is allergic to, if he has year round allergies or other types of allergic conditions, such as asthma and eczema, then it can be a good idea to allergy proof your home using the following tips:

  • Look up,
  • Look down.
  • Where your child lies down,
  • And all around.

Look Up

Even if you keep your home fairly dust free, it is very easy to miss the areas that are more out of site, including the tops of ceiling fan blades, air vents, and the top surface of high bookcases and other pieces of furniture. Not using the ceiling fan may be the best idea though, since dust mites are most likely to cause allergies when they become disturbed and airborne, which a ceiling fan is likely to do.

Regularly replacing the filters in the air conditioner or heating system your home uses is also a good idea.

Look Down

When you look down, you are likely to see a big source of dust mites, your carpeted floor. If possible, most experts recommend that you remove carpets and replace them with hard flooring, such as wood, vinyl, or tile. It that isn't possible, then vacuum the carpets weekly, using a vacuum or vacuum bag that traps dust mites. Also, try to vacuum when your child won't be in the room for at least 20 minutes, since vacuuming can push dust mites into the air for a short time, worsening your child's allergies. Keep in mind that vacuuming simply removes the surface dust mites and it usually isn't possible to remove all of the dust mites from your carpet.

If your child spends time on the floor, you might also consider letting him sit or lie on a plastic mat or washable throw rug, and then wash it weekly in hot water.

Where Your Child Lies Down

Surprisingly to many people, your child's bed is probably the biggest source of dust mites and dust mite allergen exposure for kids with dust mite allergies. This is both because kids spend a lot of time in their beds and because dust mites thrive in pillows and mattresses.

Since you can't easily wash a pillow or mattress, it is best to encase or trap the dust mites inside by using an allergy proof or allergen impermeable cover on the bed's pillow, mattress, and box spring. These are usually either made of vinyl or a semipermeable fabric. In addition, wash the pillow case and other bedding in hot water (at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit) each week.

In addition to your child's bed, dust mites can thrive in upholstered furniture, and it can be a good idea to replace them with vinyl, leather, or wood furniture. Or at least have your child sit or lie down on furniture that isn't upholstered.

And All Around

When you look around your house, you will find other ways to help control indoor allergens, or things that trigger indoor allergies. Taking steps to avoid these allergy triggers are important, especially if your child has hard-to-control allergies:
  • Since both dust mites and mold like humidity, avoid using humidifiers and consider using a dehumidifier in your home or in your child's bedroom.

  • If your child is allergic to your family pet, such as having cat or dog allergies, and finding a new home for your pet isn't an option, then take steps to minimize your child's contact with the pet. Keeping the dog or cat out of your child's bedroom and washing your pet weekly sometimes can help minimize allergy symptoms. You should also keep your pet off of upholstered furniture and carpeted areas of your home.

  • You can also control dust mites by replacing heavy drapes with blinds, washing stuffed animals and toys regularly, and cleaning dust off of furniture with a damp cloth.

  • You look for cockroaches and mold and take steps to control and prevent them from coming back.

What You Need To Know

  • If you are only going to do one thing to control indoor allergens, then work to protect your child from dust mites in his pillow and bed.

  • Most experts recommend washing things in hot water of 130 degrees Fahrenheit or higher to kill dust mites. Keep in mind that this is higher than the 120 degree temperature that safety experts recommend that you set your hot water heater to prevent scalding burns.

  • If you are having trouble preventing your child's allergy symptoms by trying to control his exposure to allergy triggers in your home, then consider allergy testing to help you figure out what he is allergic too.

  • Since many children have both allergies to indoor and outdoor allergy triggers, it is possible to be allergic to things inside your house, like dust mites, and things outside, such as ragweed, which is harder to avoid.

  • When avoiding allergy triggers isn't working, ask your pediatrician about allergy medicines, such as Allegra (fexofenadine), Claritin (loratadine), Singulair (montelukast), Xyzal (levocetirizine), or Zyrtec (cetirizine), Nasonex (mometasone), Flonase (fluticasone), Rhinocort Aqua (budesonide), and/or Veramyst (fluticasone), etc.

  • Keep in mind allergy shots, which are often overlooked as an option to treat children with hard-to-control asthma and allergies.



Sources:

The biology of dust mites and the remediation of mite allergens in allergic disease. Arlian LG - J Allergy Clin Immunol - 01-MAR-2001; 107(3 Suppl): S406-13

Biology, ecology, and prevalence of dust mites. Arlian LG - Immunol Allergy Clin North Am - 01-AUG-2003; 23(3): 443-68

Environmental control of allergic diseases. German JA - Am Fam Physician - 1-AUG-2002; 66(3): 421-6

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