Many people suffer from seasonal allergies caused by pollen. Yet for some people, being cooped up indoors all winter long is just as bad. Indoor allergens are a common cause of wheezing, sneezing, itchy eyes and other annoying symptoms.
“Indoor allergens are very common among children and adults with asthma and allergic rhinitis or nasal allergies,” says Dr. Erica Yalavarthi, a physician with Internal Medicine of St. Luke’s. “The most common types of indoor allergens are dust mites and pet dander. Other causes are cockroaches and indoor molds.”
For those who are allergic to these triggers, symptoms can persist all year, adds Dr. Hamsa Subramanian, an allergist on staff at Missouri Baptist Medical Center. “Sometimes patients notice symptoms more at night or on weekends, if they are allergic to something like pet dander,” she says.
Because indoor allergens cause the same types of symptoms seen with pollen allergies, treatment is much the same. “The initial treatment is oral antihistamines,” says Dr. James Temprano, a physician with Mercy Clinic Allergy and Immunology. “If symptoms persist despite these over-the-counter medications, allergy testing is indicated. Prescription medications, such as intranasal steroids or intranasal antihistamines, can be used. For severe symptoms, allergy injections are an option for some individuals.”
Environmental adjustments also can make a difference. For example, for someone who is allergic to pet dander, keeping the pet out of the bedroom can help ensure a more comfortable night’s sleep. However, while washing dogs twice a week may help, washing cats has not been shown to be effective.
Frequent vacuuming can help reduce dust, and encasing mattresses and pillows in allergen-impermeable covers may reduce dust mite allergies. Dehumidifiers can help mitigate mold. Subramanian adds that large fish tanks and overwatered house plants also may be sources of indoor mold that may have to be removed.
Home air filtration machines and systems often claim to help reduce allergy symptoms, but portable machines tend to clean only small areas. “Home air filtration machines are worth considering if you have asthma or suffer from allergies, but they are not the sole solution to controlling allergy symptoms,” Yalavarthi says. “If you use an air filtration machine, a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter is recommended. Remember that an air filter can only remove airborne allergens. It will not help with allergens that are on bedding, carpets or drapes. To find a quality air cleaner, look for a statement of the FDA’s Class II approval.”
If environmental adjustments and over-the-counter medications are not enough to control symptoms, see your primary-care physician. Treat your indoor allergies, and brace for the pollen onslaught of spring!