Spotting Hidden Allergy Triggers, Like Dust Mites, Mold, and Pollen


If you’ve been hair. But the allergens themselves are so tiny that they can go right through the filter, rocketing out of the vacuum’s exhaust. “Vacuuming with a low-efficiency vacuum is probably making things worse,” says Portnoy. “You’re turning your vacuum into an allergen dispersal device.”

What should you do? Much as we might all like to have a doctor-approved excuse for giving up on housework, that’s not an option. People with allergies need to vacuum regularly, since a buildup of dust — full of allergens like pollens, sneezing anyway. Just explain the problem and any reasonable person should understand. If none of this works, try to meet your friends outside your home.

  • Humidity — too much or too little. As you probably know, moisture is a crucial ingredient for the growth of mold. also thrive in a moist environment. So experts say that if you have allergies, you should try to keep humidity levels at 40% or below.

    But air that’s too dry — under 20% humidity — isn’t any good either. When the air is dry, the body’s natural response is to moisturize it. In the process, Portnoy says, your nasal passages generate excess mucus and make you stuffed up.

    “>allergy symptoms in the fall and winter,” Portnoy tells WebMD. “But I think it’s more likely just the body’s response to dry air.”

    Here’s a tip: get a hygrometer, a simple device that reads the humidity in your home. That way, you can either humidify or dehumidify, depending on the moisture levels.

  • Electrical appliances — especially your fancy air filter. You might have shelled out hundreds on a special ionizing air filter to protect your . But it might be doing you more harm than good.

    “>asthma should stay inside on days with high ozone levels. But what’s even worse is that many air cleaners deliberately churn out ozone as a means of freshening the air.

    “These devices are a big problem,” says Bernstein. “Ozone can really be dangerous for people with asthma.”

  • Stoves and heaters. Combustion — in gas stoves, fireplaces, kerosene lamps, and many other devices and appliances — can produce nitrogen dioxide and other pollutants. If they’re not vented to the outside, the gases they produce are coming directly into your living space. So, if possible, avoid using unvented appliances. Use fireplaces and wood stoves sparingly. And try not to rely on portable kerosene or unvented gas heaters at all.
  • Furniture, rugs, and home improvements. If you’re remodeling or redecorating,don’t be surprised if your allergies act up. Many furnishings and construction materials contain formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that might irritate your airways. They include the glue used in carpet installation, the particleboard on your kitchen cabinets, the foam in your furniture, or the insulation in your walls, says Portnoy.

    Most of these irritants will fade over time, but it can take weeks or months. “If you can still smell it, it’s definitely still a potential irritant,” says Portnoy.

    If possible, start with prevention. Choose products that are less likely to cause symptoms. Go for real wood over particleboard, or at least seal the particleboard with a low-VOC sealant. Ask for carpets that are free of formaldehyde. Use low-VOC paints. If VOC-producing products are already in the house, try to limit your exposure. Ventilate the home as well as you can, so that the irritant doesn’t become too concentrated.

  • Your spouse’s workplace. Yes, even someone else’s on-the-job exposure to irritants can affect you. If someone in your family works at a factory, garage, or laboratory — or anywhere else with chemical irritants — they can bring them home. And that could start you and coughing. If possible, ask your spouse to change their clothing after work or immediately upon arriving home.
  • Global warming. Many experts believe that climate change is making life worse for allergy sufferers. Global warming is associated with increased levels of carbon dioxide (CO2.) “Plants are happier as CO2 levels increase,” says Portnoy. So what’s the result? Some species of plants are thriving, and the length of their pollen season is getting longer.

    Portnoy says that the ragweed allergy season has been extended by almost a month over the last 10 or 15years. While it used to run from Aug. 15 to Oct. 1, Portnoy says that it’s now dragging on from Aug. 1 through the middle of October. And that’s not all. “There’s also been an overall increase in ragweed pollen counts and the potency of the pollen,” he says.

    Aside from doing your bit to slow climate change, there’s not much you can do about this on your own. Just be aware that the pollen season might be coming sooner than you expect — and be ready for it.

  • Finding Hidden Allergy Triggers

    If you’re suffering from allergies but can’t figure out the cause, you might feel a bit hopeless. But there are things you can do. First see a doctor, preferably an allergist or immunologist. They can make sure you really have allergies, as opposed to something else.

    Allergy testing is a great way to nail down what allergens are causing you trouble. Unfortunately, there’s no simple test to find out what irritants — obvious or hidden — might be causing your allergy symptoms. You just have to rely on trial and error, using yourself as a guinea pig, Windom says.

    You can also consider hiring a company to do an environmental assessment of your home. Professionals might be able to find hidden allergy triggers that you can’t. But it can be costly. See if your health care provider will pay for any of it, although don’t get your hopes up.

    Many people try another solution: surrender. In despair, they relocate, either to a new home in the area or somewhere far across the country. However, experts say this isn’t a good idea. You might move across the country, but come back into contact with the same mystery allergen. Or you could just develop a new allergy.

    So as tempting as it might be, outrunning allergies usually doesn’t work. It’s best to stick it out. With some time, dedication, and the help of an expert, you should finally be able to unmask the hidden allergy triggers that have been making your life miserable.