Your first step towards feeling better on a daily basis is avoiding the things that cause your allergic reactions. Once you have been tested and you know what you're allergic to, there are specific steps to take.

Many people don't realize that the air we breathe inside our own homes can be laden with airborne allergens and irritants. Here is a list of the most common culprits and ways to minimize them:

  • Pollen -- Stay indoors on days with high pollen levels. If you need to be outside for a while, consider taking a shower to wash your face and hair after coming indoors. Change your clothes and wash them, and don't dry them on an outdoor clothesline. Keep doors and windows closed, and use the air conditioner if you can. (This applies while you're riding in a car as well.) Obviously, pollen is impossible to avoid outdoors, but you can minimize some of the exposure indoors.
  • Dust mites -- Encase mattresses, boxsprings, and pillows with mite-proof covers. Wash bedding once a week in hot water. Replace upholstered furniture with wooden, leather, or vinyl alternatives. Try to keep the indoor humidity level lower than 50%. Remove clutter and stuffed animals from the bedroom. Wipe dust with a damp cloth. Replace wall-to-wall carpet with hardwood or other flooring -- though costly, this can significantly reduce the dust mite populations in your home.
  • Mold spores -- Try to keep the indoor humidity less than 50%. Keep sinks and tubs dry and clean, and fix leaky pipes. Clean the refrigerator tray when necessary. Use an exhaust fan in the bathroom while showering. Avoid putting damp clothes into a basket or hamper. Mold spores can grow in any area of the house that has been damaged by water.
  • Pet dander -- One of the most important first steps you should try is keeping your pet off beds and linens; in fact, out of the bedroom entirely. Since you lie in bed all night long, you definitely don't want allergens accumulating on your bedding. Try to keep pets off upholstered furniture and carpets as well. Some allergists recommend washing your pet once a week to minimize the amount of allergen given off, but that may be impractical. Consider installing a HEPA filter if you have a central air conditioning system to remove airborne pet allergen. Vacuum cleaners with HEPA filters may or may not help. If these measures don't help and your symptoms are greatly impacting your life, you may have to consider anti-allergy medicine. If that is not effective, you may need to have immunotherapy or find your pet a new home.
  • Cockroaches -- Wipe off counters in the kitchen, and avoid leaving dirty dishes in the sink. Keep food in closed containers. Take out the trash regularly, including bags, newspapers, and cardboard boxes. Use roach traps.
  • Tobacco or wood smoke -- Don't allow smoking in the house or car. Encourage family members and friends to stop smoking around you. Avoid using fireplaces. If you need to burn wood, use an air-tight woodburning stove.
  • Cleaning agents -- Avoid using cleaning agents and sprays (such as bleach) that can irritate the airways of someone with allergies and asthma.

Avoid outdoor allergens and irritants

You may have more trouble avoiding outdoor allergens, especially during pollen season, but here are some suggestions for avoiding common culprits:

  • Pollen/mold spores -- Wear a face mask while doing outdoor activities, like yard work, on days when pollen levels are high. Have someone without allergies cut the grass.
  • Ozone -- Refrain from outdoor activities during peak ozone periods, which often occur in the afternoon on hot summer days.
  • Insect stings -- An allergic reaction to insect sting venom can lead to anaphylaxis. If you know you are allergic to insect stings, you should always carry an injectable epinephrine kit (such as EpiPen or Twinject) with you. To avoid getting stung, you need to take certain precautions.

Review Date: 6/29/2011

Reviewed By: Paula J. Busse, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Clinical Immunology, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, NY, Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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