If you're among the 40 million people who suffer from indoor/outdoor allergies, it may be hard to think of your home as your castle this time of year. Warmer weather can mean more pollen, and when mixed with household dust -- and the resulting dust mites -- you could feel like you have around-the-clock hay fever.
Fortunately, there are several ways to lower the allergens in your home and get some relief, says Mike Tringale, vice president of external affairs at the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America in Landover, Md. People react differently to particles in the air, so the first step is to diagnose your sensitivity, he says.
In general, seasonal allergy sufferers are allergic to pollen, pet dander, dust mites, or a mix of all three. "Most doctors can do a simple blood test to determine what you're allergic to," Tringale says. Once you know what's causing the allergies, you can take steps to eliminate the sources.
There is no one way to 100 percent rid your home of all allergens, but if you use a combination of the following four tips, you can greatly reduce irritating particles which can provide relief, says Tringale.
4 ways to allergy-proof your home
No. 1: Change your home's air filter. If you have a forced air heating and cooling system, changing a dirty filter is a simple but critical step in ridding your home of sneeze-inducing particles, says Ted Myatt, a senior scientist at Environmental Health and Engineering in Needham, Mass.
Check the owners' manual of your HVAC system to find the correct size and location for your disposable air filter, then replace it, he says. A filter generally costs around $20 and can be purchased from any home improvement store, Myatt says.
"Make sure it is changed every three to four months," Myatt recommends. Otherwise, the filter could get dirty and not clean the air as well.
Completing this simple task can also help your system run more efficiently, which can save hundreds of dollars in heating and cooling costs.
No. 2: Use allergy-proof pillow and mattress covers. You probably spend more hours of the day in your bed than in any other place in your home, so use dust-proof bed and linen covers if you suspect you are allergic to dust mites, says Dr. Marjorie Slankard, an allergist at ColumbiaDoctors Eastside in New York City.
No matter how clean your home is, microscopic dust mites (and their waste products) can nestle in your pillows and mattresses, so covering them up can keep the offending allergens away from your nasal passages while you sleep, she says.
Be sure to launder the dust covers and your bed linen regularly. "Wash them at least once a week, and make sure the water is at least 130 degrees (Fahrenheit)," says Tringale. The water needs to be hot in order to kill dust mites, he says.
No. 3: Make sure your vacuum is HEPA-ready. If your vacuum doesn't have enough suction, it can leave behind dander and other particles that provide a steady food source for dust mites, says Caroline Blazovsky of HealthyHomeExpert.com.
Combat that by making sure you have a good high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter in your vacuum cleaner. "HEPA filters allow you to pick up small microscopic dander that a regular vacuum cannot," Blazovsky says.
Regular maintenance is a must. Every few months, take apart your vacuum and clean the filter, vacuum bag chamber, and brushes, and check the integrity of the belt in the system, she says.
No. 4: Invest in an air purifier. Technically, these machines are called "room air filters," says Tringale. They circulate air throughout a room, while at the same time trapping allergy-causing pollen and other particles through filters, all before you have a chance to inhale them.
"Air purifiers have HEPA filters, and that's how they're able to remove so many particles," Tringale says. He adds that you should look for units with labels certifying that they capture 99.97 percent or more of the small particles.
Purifiers are priced anywhere from about $50 to nearly $300, depending on the size of the room the machine can accommodate. You'll also have to buy replacement filters every six months or so, and those can cost between $20 and $50.
Most allergy sufferers find that there's no one way to rid their home of microscopic irritants 100 percent of the time. However, if you follow the four tips listed above, you have a very good chance of being able to reduce allergens and breathe easier in your home this allergy season.
Margarette Burnette is an Atlanta-based freelance writer who specializes in personal finance and real estate topics. In her twelve years of corporate and journalistic experience, she's written for dozens of publications, including Good Housekeeping, American Express, Essence, Black Enterprise and many others.