About 40 million people suffer from indoor allergies, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. "When you have indoor allergies, you often feel miserable, tired, and your eyes water all the time. It really impacts your quality of life," says Dr. Pamela A. Georgeson, a board-certified allergist for more than 16 years and president of Kenwood Allergy and Asthma Center in Chesterfield Township, Michigan. "You don't have to go to extremes, though, to make changes in the home that can allow you to live a normal life." Here are several ways to reduce your exposure to allergens:
Dark, Damp Spaces
Trigger: In basements, bathrooms, and any place that moisture collects, mold can form and release spores that cause allergies to flare up. You may smell the musty odor of mold before noticing any discoloration at the edges of windows, tubs, and shower or in basements.
Fix: First, dry up the moisture; seal any cracks, leaks, or drips. Keep the humidity in your home below 50 percent. A dehumidifier along with a monitor can help rein in moisture. To clean mold from surfaces, use a mixture of 5 parts bleach to 95 parts water. If the mold covers less than 10 square feet, you can deal with cleanup yourself. Anything over that, you'll need professionals to remove the contamination.
Trigger: Microscopic dust mites feed off shed human skin, and one of their favorite lunch spots happens to be your bed. In drier parts of the country, like Arizona, dust mites aren't a problem because they have no moisture to promote their growth. For most of us, though, we spend 7 to 12 hours of the day in the bed exposed to this potential allergen.
Fix: Buy allergen-proof zippered, sealed covers for pillows, mattress, and box springs. Find them at most stores that sell bedding. Washing bedclothes in hot water also kills the little insects. The water needs to be at least 130 degrees to work, so check your water heater temperature dial to make sure it's set that high. If it's not, notch it up until you finish washing the bedding.
Trigger: You might be surprised to know that saliva and dander, not fur, because most pet allergies. Proteins in the saliva stick to the fur which then floats into your nose or lungs to cause an allergic reaction.
Fix: The hard-hearted (yet best) solution is to remove the pet from the home. But if the family can't part with Fluffy, don't allow her access to bedrooms. Grooming or bathing your pet every three or four weeks can also help keep allergens to a minimum.
Trigger: Your home ventilation system can be a friend or a foe. Properly maintained, it can filter out allergens. However, if you don't check it and clean filters, a central air system can circulate allergens such as pollen and animal dander. It can also be a source of mold itself if an attached humidifier pumps too much moisture through the system.
Fix: Clean your dehumidifier once every two weeks. Change your furnace filters religiously according to the manufacturer's directions (or the filter maker's directions). Use ceiling fans to circulate air to help prevent water from condensing and mold from forming. Have fans in rooms of your house that involve water, such as a shower, sink, or toilet. These fixtures can trap vapor in a room.
Trigger: Open windows can expose you to outdoor allergen triggers, such as pollen. However, the flip side is having a house that's too sealed up, which can keep potential irritants in, concentrating their levels.
Fix: Keep windows closed, especially during peak allergy seasons of spring and fall, and before you go to sleep. The highest pollen counts are from 4 a.m. to 10 a.m. You'll wake up feeling symptoms after having a window open all night. You'll wake up with runny nose and tearing, which is no way to start a day.