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By Dr Ahmed El Rafei, Allergist
In an ideal world, avoidance is the best solution for dealing with allergies. But this is not always possible, especially when it comes to environmental allergies, whether to mold, dust, pet hair, airborne pollen, fabrics, or any others.
The two best tools in allergy relief for you or your child are an effective house-cleaning method, and controlling your air quality. Patients can find plenty of allergy-proofing tips on the internet, but tend either to go overboard – wasting vast amounts of time and money – or they feel so overwhelmed by all the options and information available, that they do nothing! The good news is, just a few simple measures can make an enormous difference.
As we spend so much time in our bedrooms, this is the main area to focus on. If you are moving or can change the furnishings, there are several initial choices that will make allergy-proofing much easier. The key is to keep furnishings simple and avoid anything that collects dust, such as open bookshelves or ornate furniture. Even houseplants attract dust and mold. Also think about coverings and flooring: replacing carpets with a hard-surfaced floor can eliminate over 90% of dust mites. Similarly, prefer foam to feather pillows and synthetic roll-up window coverings to curtains, and choose furnishings in wood, vinyl, leather, canvas or rubber, rather than upholstery. Look for durable bedding that can withstand frequent washing.
Again, our focus is on the bedroom as, in addition to being the room where we spend about 1/3 of our time, it has the highest concentration of dust mites. You will need to regularly wash bedclothes and other fabrics at a temperature of at least 130⁰F (55⁰C) to kill the dust mites. Use allergen-proof encasings for pillow, mattresses and box springs. For the mattress and any carpets, curtains and furniture, you will need a vacuum cleaner with a high-quality HEPA filter (a High-Efficiency Particulate Air-filter – it’s expensive, but your allergy clinic should be able to organize a discount). While regular vacuuming is essential, remember that it can stir up the dust mite particles and leave them suspended in the air for about 15 minutes, so the allergy sufferer should not be there. In addition, clean all surfaces in the room with a damp cloth once or twice a week to minimize dust. For mold control, be particularly vigilant in cleaning the bathrooms using a suitable preparation containing bleach and ammonia.
Air-conditioning (set between 20-22⁰C) is vital as dust mites thrive in high heat and humidity, while mold and pollen particles need to be filtered. Luckily we have excellent air-conditioning systems in the UAE. However, without proper cleaning and maintenance, they could add to your problem, with mold collecting in the ducts. Don’t rely on your landlord for this upkeep, get a company that uses robots to clean and provides before-and-after photos (your clinic’s environmental advisor should be able to arrange this). Also, avoid air sprays, and ensure that no one smokes in your house – children exposed to cigarette smoke have a 21% increased risk of developing asthma. Unless you are dealing with an infant or young child with croup, the air-conditioning should be sufficient and a humidifier is not necessary.