11 Tips to Reduce Indoor Allergens

Dust mites, mold spores, and other allergens in your home can trigger those miserable symptoms all winter long. Learn how to get relief.
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Winter brings many people with allergies a break from their symptoms. But for others, winter can be the start of a whole new allergy season. “Winter allergies are typically going to be the indoor allergens such as pets, dust mites, and mold,” says Julie McNairn, MD, an allergist/immunologist in Cincinnati. She says that for people who live in tropical climates, pollen allergies can linger year-round, even through the winter. But in places where temperatures dip in the winter, it’s generally indoor allergens that cause symptoms.
Dust Mites, Dander, Roaches, and Mold

Household dust, pet dander, cockroach droppings, and mold are common indoor allergens that can trigger allergies in susceptible people.

Dust. Found in all homes, dust is the breeding ground for microscopic organisms called dust mites. The droppings of these dust mites are a common trigger for indoor allergies. Though dust mites can be found just about everywhere, they are particularly common in humid parts of the house and where human dander (flakes of dead skin) collects.
Animal dander, or the dead skin flakes of warm-blooded animals, contains proteins that can trigger allergies in some people.
Cockroaches. If you needed another reason to hate them, here it is: A protein that is found in the droppings of cockroaches triggers allergy and asthma symptoms in some people.
Mold. While many molds do not survive outdoors after the first winter frost, they can linger in your home throughout the winter, especially in humid areas such as basements or bathrooms. “Be very careful if you have a humidifier on your furnace or a room humidifier because you can end up with mold growth,” says Dr. McNairn. Spores released by mold can act as allergens in some people.

Tips for Reducing Indoor Allergies

Here are some ways you can reduce the potential allergens in your home:

Keep humidity levels low. “Keeping the relative humidity less than 50 percent is going to be important,” says McNairn. You can lower the humidity in your home by using a dehumidifier in damp areas such as a basement.
Use hardwood, linoleum, or tile. Replace carpeting and rugs with hard-surface flooring. Your carpet and rugs can trap in allergens within the fibers, as opposed to hard surface flooring, which you can regularly dust.
Clean carpeting. If you are unable or unwilling to remove all carpet, have your carpeting and rugs regularly cleaned to reduce the amount of allergens in them.
Cover your bedding. Use special allergen-proof mattress and pillow covers under regular sheets and pillowcases.
Wash bedding. Wash bedding in hot water and dry it on high heat weekly.
Leave the cleaning to someone else. Have your floors regularly vacuumed with a HEPA (high efficiency particle air) vacuum. “It’s a good idea for the allergic person not to do the cleaning,” says McNairn. “If they do, they should wear a face mask and goggles.” HEPA vacuums suck up smaller particles than do traditional vacuum cleaners, leaving you with fewer allergens left behind.
Find pets a new home. In the case of animal dander allergies, consider removing a pet from the home or keeping the pet outdoors. And keep pets out of the bedroom.
Cover food. Store food in tight-lidded containers, and keep your home clean to prevent cockroach infestation.
Rid the house of cockroaches. If you see a cockroach, have a professional exterminator get rid of any remaining roaches.
Eliminate visible mold. “Any visible mold should be cleaned with a diluted bleach solution,” says McNairn.
Consider an indoor air cleaner. “HEPA air cleaners can help with pet dander,” says McNairn. There are many varieties available; for more on air purifiers, see Allergy Relief for Indoor Air Pollution.

Controlling indoor allergens during the winter months will make life more comfortable for anyone who’s allergic to them. The added bonus: You’ll always have a clean house!

7 Ways to Get Dust Mites Under Control

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Winter can be tough on people who have allergies to dust mites, one of the biggest culprits when it comes to indoor allergies. As many as 10 percent of Americans are sensitive to dust mites and in some regions they play a role in 90 percent of allergic asthma cases, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

Where Are Dust Mites Found?

Dust mites are everywhere, even in the cleanest of houses. “You can’t get rid of [dust mites]; there is no way,” says Julie McNairn, MD, an allergist/immunologist in Cincinnati. “You have to just contain them.” Dead dust mites and dust mite waste products make up some of the dust you can see floating in the air or sitting on a hard surface. They also live in your bedding, upholstered furniture, rugs, and carpeting.
Diagnosing Dust Mite Allergies

Symptoms of allergic rhinitis from dust mite allergens are like those from other causes of allergic rhinitis, including pollen, animal dander, and include itchy eyes and nose, sneezing, and a runny nose. Allergens from dust mites can also trigger asthma symptoms.

If you have asthma or sneezing, a runny nose, and itchy and watery eyes that bother you all year — or all season — long, an allergist can find out if dust mite allergens are triggering your symptoms.

Without allergy testing, it’ll be difficult to tell whether you’re reacting to dust mites or have an allergy to another substance, such as pollen or mold. But one clue, says Dr. McNairn, is that people with dust mite allergies tend to have the most severe symptoms first thing in the morning. The reason: “You have been sleeping in your room with the dust mites all night long,” McNairn says. “And your bedroom is where the dust levels are high.”
Managing Dust Mite Allergies

Allergy medications and immunotherapy (allergy shots) can help manage symptoms in people who have an allergy to dust mites. And while you can’t get rid of dust mites, you can learn to reduce your daily exposure to them, says McNairn. Here’s how.

Keep the relative humidity in your home below 50 percent. A dehumidifier placed in damp areas such as the basement can help accomplish this.
Replace carpeting with hard floor surfaces such as hardwood, linoleum, or tile.
Wash your bedding in hot water regularly.
Minimize the number of soft objects in your home that you can’t clean (stuffed animals and pillows, for instance).
Have a person who is not allergic to dust mites or other indoor allergens do the cleaning in your home.
If you clean, wear a face mask and goggles to limit your exposure to airborne dust mite allergens.
Consider replacing upholstered furniture with leather furniture, which can be wiped down.

It might take a little work to keep the dust mites under control, but it’ll be worth it — and your house will be cleaner for it.

Allergies Swollen Tongue

Your tongue can swell for a number of reasons, most commonly due to medications, allergies, and underlying medical problems. The swelling may be referred to as angioedema, which means the swelling occurs in the deeper layers of the skin.

Sometimes, it is not only the visible part of the tongue that swells, but also the back of the tongue, the mouth, the gums, and occasionally the larynx or voice box, says Lorraine Smith, MD, of the Osborne Head and Neck Institute in Los Angeles.

The tongue is primarily a muscular structure covered by layers of cells called epithelium. Its surface is lined with taste buds, which allows us to differentiate tastes like bitter, sweet, and salty. Like the tongue, the taste buds on your tongue can swell.

Because a swollen tongue can interfere with your airways and cause serious problems with your breathing, it is usually a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment.

What Causes a Swollen Tongue?

Swelling is an important defense mechanism in our bodies. Swelling fights off harmful bacteria and parasites, and helps with injury and healing. However, inappropriate swelling or swelling that persists can be harmful.

There are multiple chemical pathways that turn swelling on and off, which are complicated and only partially understood, says Anna Feldweg, MD, a clinical instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and attending physician in allergy and immunology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. A swollen tongue can happen when something — a medication, allergen (something that causes an allergic reaction), or medical problem — interferes with these pathways. Here’s a look at some common causes.

  • Medications. Many cases of a swollen tongue are the result of a reaction to a medication such as an ACE inhibitor, used to treat high blood pressure, or an NSAID, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, such as aspirin, ibuprofen [Advil, Motrin], or naproxen [Aleve, Naprosyn]. A swollen tongue due to a reaction to ACE inhibitors usually occurs during the first year of taking the medication, but can also happen after years of taking it, says Dr. Feldweg.
  • Allergens. In addition to allergic reactions to medications, allergic reactions to other substances — such as foods or bee stings — can cause swelling. In food allergies and bee sting allergies, the tongue can swell, but it is less common to have a swollen tongue than it is to have a swollen throat or lips.
  • Infection. Another possible cause of a swollen tongue is an infection deep inside the tongue or in the floor of the mouth. This usually develops over a day or two — more slowly than the allergic type of swelling.

Some people develop fungal infections in the mouth known as thrush. Fungal infections are caused by the fungus Candida and usually occur after a course of antibiotics. It’s the same fungus that can cause vaginal yeast infections. People with compromised immune systems, like those with HIV, also are susceptible to this yeast, also called simply candida thrush, that can cause the tongue to swell. Candida thrush can be treated with thrush medications that you swish and swallow, or swish and spit, Dr. Smith says. An oral medication often used to treat recurring thrush is fluconazole (Diflucan).

Herpes viruses also can cause infections that result in swelling of the tongue. “While there is no treatment for viral infections, recovery can sometimes be enhanced with the medicine acyclovir (Zovirax),” Smith says. Other similar drugs may also help. Herpes tongue lesions or ulcers are often extremely painful. They present as a red sore with a white overlying layer that can be wiped off with a cotton swab.

  • Medical illness. Very slow swelling of the tongue over weeks or months can occur in a condition called amyloid, a disease in which harmful amyloid proteins are deposited into tissues and organs. “With [amyloid], the tongue gets bigger and bigger over time,” says Feldweg.
  • Irritants and trauma. You may find that your tongue swells if you accidentally bite it or burn your tongue with hot liquids or hot foods. Dental appliances also can irritate your tongue and cause it to swell. Tobacco is yet another irritant that can cause tongue pain and swelling.
  • Tongue cancer. Tongue cancer is a common cancer of the head and neck — more than 10,000 new cases are diagnosed in men and women in the United States each year. Highly curable if caught early, tongue cancer usually starts as a lump, ulcer, or white spot or patch on the outer layer of the tongue or a surrounding area.

“Cancer of the tongue is often painful,” Smith says. An infection tends to be self-limiting and will go away, whereas tongue lesions associated with cancer often persist and increase in size with time. Suspicious lesions need to be biopsied and treated appropriately if found to be cancerous, Smith says. “Some tongue cancers may not involve pain but any mass that persists for more than two weeks needs to be biopsied.”

Other tongue cancer symptoms include pain when chewing or swallowing, ear pain, numbness in the mouth, bleeding in the mouth, and a persistent sore throat.

A red patch on the tongue is often painless, but has a higher chance of being associated with cancer than a white patch on the tongue. But both patches need to be biopsied to get a definite diagnosis, Smith says, and to be able to apply the appropriate treatment.

Both tongue disorders and cancers of the tongue may present with swollen lymph nodes — under the chin and in the mandible region. If you have an infection, the swollen lymph nodes or swollen taste buds near the tongue will eventually go away after the infection clears. But another tongue cancer sign is if the swelling continues to progress and doesn’t go away, Smith says.

Related Conditions

In addition, a swollen tongue can be caused by:

  • Hormonal disorders such as acromegaly
  • Congenital disorders such as Beckwith Wiedemann syndrome
  • Genetic disorders such as Down syndrome and hereditary angioedema
  • Hypothyroidism, an underactive thyroid
  • Poor vitamin B12 absorption
  • Pituitary gland disorder

Treating a Swollen Tongue

Because a swollen tongue can lead to breathing problems, it should be looked at as an emergency situation. Medical personnel usually treat a dangerously swollen tongue with an injection of epinephrine, which may or may not work, depending on the cause. Once the person arrives at the hospital, “we usually give people steroids and antibiotics in the emergency room,” says Feldweg, adding that treatment for a swollen tongue ultimately depends on the cause.

If the swollen tongue is caused by a drug reaction, the person must stop taking the medication. In food allergies, foods that trigger the swelling must be avoided. Anyone who has a history of a swollen tongue due to an allergic reaction will probably be advised to carry an injectable dose of epinephrine with them, which may help control the swelling if the tongue begins to swell again. If the cause is infection or amyloid, those will be treated accordingly.

There are many different causes of a swollen tongue. Most are straightforward to treat and the swelling goes away. If your tongue swells and interferes with your breathing, you need to go to the ER for treatment. If it’s a persistent problem, see your doctor so he can determine the cause of your tongue swelling and find the most appropriate treatment.

Sinus Allergy Rhinitis Affects Millions


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Nasal congestion, runny nose, and sneezing? Itching in the nose, roof of the mouth, throat, eyes, or ears? If this sums up your symptoms, you could have rhinitis, a condition in which the lining of the nose becomes inflamed or irritated. More than 50 million Americans have it, too.
Allergic vs. Non-Allergic Rhinitis

There are two types of rhinitis: allergic rhinitis (sometimes called a “sinus allergy”) and non-allergic rhinitis. If you have allergic rhinitis, your body produces IgE (or immunoglobulin E) antibodies to certain substances you are allergic to, called allergens. When you come into contact with these allergens, IgE triggers the allergic reaction and your immune system releases substances called histamine and leukotriene that cause the lining of your nose to become inflamed. “In allergic rhinitis, you can identify IgE antibodies to various proteins,” explains Julie McNairn, MD, an allergist/immunologist in Cincinnati.

An allergist can help identify what allergens are causing your allergic rhinitis by administering skin or blood tests. People who suffer from seasonal allergic rhinitis — known as hay fever — may be allergic to trees, grasses, weed pollens, or mold spores that are more common during a particular season of the year. Those who experience symptoms year-round, a condition called “perennial allergic rhinitis,” are usually allergic to dust mites, pet dander, mold spores, or foods.

If your allergist is not able to identify an allergen that is causing your rhinitis, you may have non-allergic rhinitis. One in three people with rhinitis don’t seem to have a specific allergen that triggers the problem. “In non-allergic rhinitis, there are no identifiable IgE antibodies against a specific protein,” says Dr. McNairn, noting that irritants such as cigarette smoke, odors, weather changes, and dust are common culprits for people with non-allergic rhinitis. “Anything that is irritating to the mucus membranes can cause non-allergic rhinitis,” she adds. These irritants are thought to lead to inflammation of the sinuses.

Non-allergic rhinitis can also be caused by long-term use of nasal decongestant sprays. People who have non-allergic rhinitis usually suffer from their symptoms all year long.
Treatment Options for Rhinitis

How you and your doctor decide to treat your rhinitis will depend on your preferences, symptoms, and the cause of your rhinitis. Treatment options for rhinitis are many, and include:

Reducing allergens in your home
Leukotriene inhibitors
Corticosteroid nasal sprays
Ipratropium nasal spray
Allergen immunotherapy (allergy shots)

Living With Rhinitis

“People tend to underestimate just how much of a problem rhinitis is,” says McNairn. Rhinitis contributes to a lot of missed school and work, and those with rhinitis may function poorly in their daily activities because they are probably not sleeping well.

If you have prolonged sneezing, runny nose, or nasal congestion, you should consider seeing an allergist, who can determine if you have rhinitis. If you do, the allergist can identify the allergens — if any — triggering your symptoms and help you find the best way to treat your condition.