The indoor air can harbor a slew of irritants. These irritants will keep on circulating in your home until it’s removed or ventilated properly. Many of you are surely wondering: what allergies are in the air?
Airborne allergens can be anything from typical dust or health-threatening molds. It’s important to identify what’s causing your allergies, so you can take the necessary steps to clean the air.
What is an allergic reaction?
To understand how allergic reactions occur, it’s important to know first how our immune system works.
Our immune system acts as the soldier of our bodies. It’s responsible for identifying which are ‘invaders’ among the substances that enter your body. It can be the particulates in the air you breathe, the food you eat, or the things that touch your skin. Anything that gets in contact with your body gets checked by the immune system.
However, our immune systems aren’t always accurate. There are times that the immune system will ‘flag’ a certain substance as an ‘invader’ even if it’s not. This is where allergies occur.
For example, if you inhale dust, your immune system can identify it as an irritant. It will start to attack the mistaken invader, which will wreak havoc on your body. This will lead to intense sneezing, coughing, rashes, and even fever. And when the immune system goes into overdrive, anaphylaxis will ensue.
In short, allergic reactions are our bodies’ overreaction to typically harmless substances. The following are its common symptoms:
- Runny and itchy nose
- Watery eyes
- Red rashes
- Swollen eyes, face, lips, or tongue
- Cracked and red skin
Take note that it’s not the air itself that triggers the allergies. The culprit here is the irritants suspended in the air and inhaled by our bodies. Unfortunately, most of these irritants aren’t visible to the naked eye. So when you turn your air conditioner on and start sneezing, you tend to think that you’re allergic to the air or the AC itself.
What are the allergies in the air?
If you seem to get allergic reactions inside your home, the following allergens might be the culprit:
1. Dust mites
Dust can harbor microscopic mites called ‘dust mites’. These insects feed on human skin and thrive in household dust. They are close relatives of spiders and ticks but too small to be seen by the naked eye.
Due to their minuscule size, dust mites can hide on your carpet, bedding, furniture, and almost every crack or crevice. Also, they love humid and warm environments, which is why dust mite allergies are notorious during the summer season.
It’s actually the fecal matter of dust mites that go airborne. Once a person inhales it, there’s a chance that the fecal particle will trigger an adverse bodily reaction.
The following are signs that you’re suffering from dust mite allergy:
- Runny nose
- Difficulty breathing
Those with asthma have a chance of suffering from an attack upon inhaling the dust mite droppings. If your family member has similar respiratory problems, it’s crucial to address the dust problem in your home and know which air pollutants contribute to asthma.
Another notorious airborne allergen is pollens. This is seasonal and often peaks during the summer season when flowers bloom. Also known as hay fever or seasonal allergic rhinitis, pollen allergies can be triggered by the pollens from weeds, trees, and grasses.
As the wind sweeps the pollens, they will be transported into residential areas. These pollens can easily enter your home through open windows or every time you open your doors. Pollens are dry and light, which allows them to go airborne.
Of all the possible sources of pollens, ragweed is the most notorious. Still, the likes of pigweed, sagebrush, tumbleweed, and lamb’s quarters are also culprits behind the allergy.
If the pollens accumulated in your home, it will appear as if there’s a layer of dust on surfaces. Upon close inspection, you’ll see the bright yellow color.
3. Molds and mildew
Mold allergy triggers similar symptoms as with other airborne allergens. In addition, it will make you sneeze, cough, and experience congestion.
Take note that molds can come from two sources: indoor and outdoor.
With indoor molds, the spores are thriving all year round. It’s often found behind walls and along water pipes where moisture tends to accumulate. Also, indoor mold spores are smaller and tend to produce in large concentrations.
With this, indoor mold spores can easily enter the lungs after inhalation. In addition, unlike bigger outdoor molds, indoor molds won’t always trigger natural defenses like sneezing right away. This spells a more severe case of an allergic reaction, especially for those with asthma and other respiratory conditions.
Another big difference between indoor and outdoor mold spores is their temperature preference. Indoor mold thrives in warmth while outdoor spores like colder temperatures.
But whatever type of mold is in your indoor air, it’s extremely important to get rid of it. The tricky part with molds is it grows in silence and darkness. As a result, most homeowners will only realize a mold outbreak once they are already suffering from allergic reactions.
4. Pet dander
Pet dander allergy is very common, even for those who are eager to own a pet. Contrary to previous beliefs, it’s not the fur of pets that makes you sneeze. It’ actually their dead skin cells, also known as dander. As these loose skin cells go airborne, anyone can easily inhale such allergen.
This pet allergy is usually associated with cats and dogs, though any animal with fur can produce dander. Just note that dander production isn’t equal per animal or breed. Some breeds produce higher levels of dander, while others only produce a minimal amount – the so-called hypoallergenic cats or dogs.
Reducing your exposure to the animal is the guaranteed way to avoid pet dander allergies. Those with asthma and pre-existing respiratory problems should be careful when in contact with pets. If you start sneezing, itching, and coughing a few minutes after being close to a cat or dog, you should stay away immediately.
There’s no cure for pet dander allergy, and prolonged exposure to it won’t help build tolerance. Your best bet is an antihistamine and proper hygiene at home.
5. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
Volatile organic compounds or VOCs are gasses that could come from the construction material of your home. New paint, carpeting, floorboards, insulation, and so on can off-gas VOCs. Some of the most notorious are formaldehyde, xylene, toluene, ethylene glycol, and methylene chloride.
These gasses can wreak havoc on your health when inhaled continuously. At first, it will cause respiratory irritation like coughing and sneezing. However, prolonged exposure can lead to kidney and liver damage. Problems with the central nervous system can also happen.
Moreover, it’s observed that VOCs are about 2 to 5 times higher in an indoor setting than outdoors. Again, poor ventilation is the leading cause here, especially for newly constructed properties.
As much as VOCs are harmful, there are easy ways to reduce their levels in your home. Avoiding formaldehyde-laced products and increasing ventilation are some of the easiest steps.
6. Cockroach droppings
Similar to dust mite allergies, sensitivity to cockroach droppings can also occur to some people. Aside from that, the smell of dead cockroaches can trigger allergic reactions to some. If your home is infested with roaches, it’s best to act on it before respiratory problems occur.
7. Bacteria and viruses
While they are pathogens and not merely allergens, it’s important to highlight that bacteria and viruses can also get airborne. This means you can inhale these irritants that can make you sick. Some of the airborne infectious organisms are coronavirus, influenza virus, and enterovirus, and Mycobacterium tuberculosis.
But where do these airborne pathogens come from? Sources can be another person, your pet, your garbage cans, dirty humidifiers, and a filthy HVAC system.
Tips to get rid of allergens in the air
Your indoor air is dirtier than you think. If you’re sneezing and having a runny nose every time you go home, there are probably unseen irritants floating around. The following tips will be a big help:
- Use an air purifier. An air purifier can do wonders in your indoor air quality. Get one with a True HEPA filter that can eliminate up to 0.3 microns of particulates. Medical-grade filters are even better since they can trap particles as small as 0.1 microns.
- Clean your filters. Make it a habit to clean your air conditioner filters every 30 days. If your area gets higher levels of dust and pollens, you should wash it every week. This will prevent allergens from recirculating in your home.
- Wash the fabrics. See to it that you wash all your curtains, pillowcases, bedsheets, and drapes. These fabrics can harbor more dust than you can see. For pillowcases and sheets, you should wash them every 2 to 3 weeks.
- Seal your windows. You can stop pollen and dust from entering your home by sealing gaps on your windows and doors. During the allergy season, you should keep your windows shut. While swinging it open seems like a wise choice for ventilation, doing so will only allow irritants to accumulate in your house.
- Invest in the right vacuum cleaner. If your family has a bad case of allergies, you should splurge on a powerful vacuum cleaner. Make sure that the unit has enough suction power to lift deep-seated dust on surfaces.
- Fix water damage. Water damage is the bosom buddy of molds. Letting moistures sitting inside your home will allow the mold spores to proliferate. In a matter of weeks, molds will start to trigger allergic reactions.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Will a HEPA filter help with allergies?
A: A HEPA filter will do a great job in removing airborne allergens like dust, dander, mold spores, and pollens. Just make sure that you clean or replace the filter regularly to prevent the collected allergens from recirculating. Also, you should only use True HEPA filters rated to remove specific allergens.
Q: How do I know what I’m allergic to?
A: If you don’t know what’s on the air that makes you allergic, you can undergo a skin allergy test. During this procedure, a medical practitioner will deposit a small allergen sample on your skin. These are common inhalants like dust, pollens, molds, and more. If your skin developed a rash, it’s a sign that you’re allergic to that specific irritant.
Q: What are the worst allergy months?
A: The summer season is notorious for high cases of allergies. This is due to the increased level of pollen and dust in the air. In the United States, the allergy season starts in May and continues up to September. Those living in the south suffer from the allergy season the most.
Q: Do allergies get worse with age?
A: There’s no specific proof that aging can make allergies worse. Some report that their allergies went away over the years, while some said it has gotten worse. It depends on your body’s reaction to the irritant and how much you get exposed to it.
Q: Can allergies be cured?
A: Allergies can’t be cured, but there are many ways to manage them. You can easily control your symptoms by limiting your exposure to the allergen and taking proper medications. You can also consult an allergist doctor to get professional help on your sensitivities.
Q: Do allergies change as you age?
A: There’s a possibility that your allergies will change as you grow older. For example, some homeowners report being allergic to pet dander then to pollens after a few years. Our immune system is ever-changing, and so its reaction to various irritants.
What are allergies in the air? Even if it’s not seen by the naked eye, dust, pollens, dander, and more are in your indoor air. It’s important to reduce these allergens to prevent adverse respiratory reactions on your part. If all your efforts aren’t working, you can always tap the help of indoor air quality professionals.
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Home Air Quality is founded by Bernard K to provide information on Indoor Air Quality in Homes and enlighten people about what they need to know about creating and maintaining a comfortable and healthy home environment.
We believe that “Quality air brings a healthy life.”