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Fight back against allergies, even in the wintertime.

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, about 60 million or so Americans have allergies such as hay fever, eczema and hives, and 75 percent of them have symptoms triggered by indoor allergens that affect them yearlong. Research suggests that exposure to allergens--including dust mites, animal dander (shed skin flakes), mold and cockroaches--is common in U.S. homes, with 52 percent having at least six detectable allergens, and 46 percent having three or more at increased levels.

Hiding in your home. Although your home may look spotless, allergens can lurk where you least expect them, so it's possible that sniff and sneeze you've developed might not be a cold at all--it could be an allergic reaction. "Allergic rhinitis--also known as hay fever--is a common allergic response," says Marc Riedl, MD, an allergist at UCLA Health System. "It manifests as a runny and/or congested nose, itchy eyes and sneezing--natural nasal responses to inflammation and irritation." Asthma may be triggered by the same allergens.

You expose yourself to the allergens that can cause these reactions when you dust, sweep and vacuum your home, because vigorous cleaning can introduce more dust into the air--dust that is a potent mixture of dust mites, mold, pollen, mouse droppings, cockroach droppings and saliva, and animal dander (shed skin flakes) if you own a pet. "Dust mites are particularly likely to cause indoor allergies, and there may be as many as 19,000 in one gram of dust," Dr. Riedl observes. "They typically colonize bedding, so sneezing repeatedly when you wake in the mornings may be a red flag that you're reacting to them."

If you're allergic to specific allergens, environmental control measures can make a significant difference to your symptoms if you're bothered by indoor exposure. Focus on the areas where allergens are most likely to accumulate, and draw up a priority list.

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Dehumidify your home.

"Humidity levels higher than about 55 percent create ideal conditions for mold growth and dust mite reproduction," Dr. Riedl notes. "Conversely, if the relative humidity in your home is too low--for example, less than 30 percent--allergens dry out and become airborne, where they can be readily inhaled." As a general rule, keep indoor humidity levels between 30 and 50 percent.

Choose bedding carefully. "If you're allergic to dust mites, allergen-proof covers for pillows and mattresses effectively reduce dust mite exposure," Dr. Riedl says. "Covers made from breathable fabric are generally preferred for comfort, and can be permanently placed underneath sheets and pillow cases." Wash your bedding at a temperature of 140[degrees]F once a week to help eradicate dust mites.

Decrease dust. Ornaments and books can be a source of dust and mold, so keep them in cabinets with doors. Avoid Venetian blinds too, as these can collect dust--install roll-up washable cotton or synthetic window shades instead. "If you use air conditioning, change the air filter every three months to prevent dust circulating," Dr. Riedl advises. "HEPA filters are most effective at removing allergen particles."

Keep pests out. Controlling cockroaches and mice is crucial when it comes to allergy-proofing your home, so block off gaps around pipes, fill cracks in walls and fit draught excluders at the bottom of doors. "Clean up after meal preparation, and take out the trash as often as you can," Dr. Riedl says. "If you have a cockroach infestation, get professional advice." Signs of infestation include tiny pinhead-sized droppings and brown stains on furniture.

Ban pets from the bedroom.

Don't allow your pet in your bedroom at night and don't let it sleep on your bed at any time. "Regularly brushing and washing your pet can help, but ask someone else to do it to avoid triggering your symptoms," Dr. Riedl adds.

RELATED ARTICLE: WHAT YOU CAN DO

* Avoid treating allergy symptoms without knowing what you're allergic to--more than two-thirds of spring allergy sufferers actually have year-round allergies. Your doctor can refer you to an allergist for tests to pinpoint what's causing your allergies.

* Check with your doctor before using over-the-counter allergy medications, as they may interact with other drugs you take.

* If your symptoms increase in the spring, keep your windows shut, take a shower when you come inside, and stay indoors or avoid vigorous outdoor activity early in the day, when pollen counts are highest.
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Title Annotation:HEALTHY AGING
Publication:Healthy Years
Date:Mar 1, 2011
Words:718
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