One in four Americans suffer from allergies or asthma, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. A large number of allergens live and thrive within the walls of your home, with the list led by dust mites, mold, pet dander, and droppings from cockroaches and mice. Many allergens, such as pollen, are outside the home and float inside through window screens and cracks in the walls.
The impact on allergy and asthma sufferers can be significant. The academy reports that asthma alone causes 5,000 emergency room visits every day in the U.S; allergies and asthma together account for tens of millions of missed days of work and school.
Fortunately, there are solutions to reduce the impact of allergies and asthma in homes. These can be broken into four main categories: ridding the places where allergens can be found, sealing the house against outdoor allergens, controlling the growth of mold, and filtering the air inside the house.
Eliminating Places Where Allergens Live
Getting rid of carpet is one of the most cost-effective and easiest ways to control allergies. That's because mold spores and dust mites, which are a natural part of the environment, live by the millions in carpet, as well as in bedding, drapes, upholstered furniture, or anything else that's “nice, warm, and fuzzy,” says Frank Hammes, president of California-based IQAir North America, a manufacturer of air filtration systems. Replace your carpet with hard-surface flooring, such as wood or wood laminate, tile, vinyl, linoleum, or even concrete. Luckily, houses without carpet are considered upscale these days so not only will your house be healthier for your allergies, it will also be stylish.
Sealing Up the House
Better Living Now, a medical supply company in Hauppauge, NY., that works with insurers to help patients with asthma control their symptoms, visits homes to find problem areas that will trigger symptoms. Among the most powerful tools in their fight against allergens are caulk, weatherstripping and screening. “We stress simple things,” says Todd Rynecki, a pharmacist and vice president of sales for Better Living Now. “They're very inexpensive materials.”
Caulk is used to seal small cracks and holes in the walls and floors, weatherstripping seals spaces around doors and windows, and screening covers kitchen, laundry room and bathroom vents that go to the outside. These solutions aim to help keep mice and cockroaches-a big problem for people with allergies and asthma-out of the home, Rynecki says. Droppings from rodents and cockroaches become airborne easily and are powerful respiratory irritants.
Filtering the Air
If you're building a new house or upgrading your heating and cooling system, that's a perfect time to improve your indoor air quality, especially if you have outdoor allergies, such as grass or ragweed.
“We recommend that people with significant outdoor allergies run their air conditioner or heat 24 hours a day and keep the doors and windows closed,” Dr. Doshi says. “That minimizes the introduction of outdoor pollen into the home. Having a very good ventilation system is vital; we recommend ones with built-in air filtration.”
You don't have to put in a new air conditioning system to get cleaner air in your house, though. You may be able to tie a whole-house air filtration system into your existing system, says Randy Scott, vice president of product systems management for Tyler, TX-based Trane. Their CleanEffect air filtration system removes up to 99.98% of particles and allergens from a home's air compared to the one percent removed by the standard, one-inch filters that most people use - and rarely change. “If a consumer is replacing a heating and cooling system, it can be installed with a system change-out,” Scott says. “If they've purchased a system in the last few years, it can be added where there's enough space.”
Two other ideas to consider if you're building a new house or doing a major remodeling job are installing a gas fireplace, which doesn't produce irritating smoke, and a central vacuuming system. “A central vacuuming system is a great idea when you're building a house,” Hammes says. “For $2,000 to $3,000, you have something to transport allergens out of the central area.”