(Health.com) -- Winter might be over -- and along with it flu and cold season. Back to a sneeze-free life? Think again.
Pollen can make being outside miserable for allergy sufferers, but other irritants lurk indoors.
Pollen, spring's big offender, sneaks in with the new season and can linger into summer. Plus, your house may be harboring a gang of other allergens -- dust mites lurking in bedding and carpet, mold thriving on humidity, beloved pets full of dander, not to mention cockroaches and mice ready to come in from the soon-to-be cold.
Sounds like it's a good time to fortify your germ defenses with these spring-cleaning tips from our allergy experts.
Whole home target: Pollen and other airborne uglies
Spring's arrival means sneezing, runny noses, and itchy eyes for up lots of pollen-allergic Americans. Meanwhile, mold and dust mites may already be triggering allergic reactions.
Action plan: Crank up the AC. It filters incoming air and dehumidifies your house, a hedge against mold and dust mites. Effective air conditioners should keep the humidity level around 30 to 40 percent. To monitor the level of moisture in your air, try a humidity gauge (available at home-improvement stores).
If you get a reading above 50 percent with the AC on, your unit may not be powerful enough. Filter it. Change the filter for your heating-and-AC system monthly to combat clogs that keep it from doing its allergy-fighting job.
Clean the air. Put a free-standing air purifier (www.natlallergy.com has a good selection) in rooms where you spend a lot of time; it may reduce allergic reactions if it has true HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air filter) technology, the gold standard when it comes to removing tiny airborne particles. Make sure the packaging has the HEPA label.
But avoid ozone-generating purifiers; too much ozone is an airway irritant.
Bedroom target: Dust mites
About 20 million of us are allergic to dust mites. But don't let them get between you and a good night's sleep.
Action plan: Bathe your bedding. Use only washable linens, and launder them weekly in water that's at least 130 degrees. Turn up the water heater for the job, and then return it to the safe zone.
Wrap it up. Studies show that allergenic mattress wraps (find many at www.allergybuyersclub.com) can keep dust mite waste from puffing out into your air.
Living room target: Dust mites and dander
Dust mites live here, too, along with invited guests: Dogs and cats harbor allergens in their saliva, urine, and dander.
Action plan: Vacuum smart. Invest in a high-quality vac that has a HEPA filter or double-layer bags. Also, wear a dust mask or (happily) delegate this chore. Fight the fur. A vacuum's upholstery attachment can de-fur furnishings, but keep pets off of them as much as possible.
Ideally, pets should get a weekly bath. Try Allerpet's line of towel-applied shampoos (www.amazon.com) -- no soaking of cranky animals required.
Bathroom target: Mold
Mold loves wet, steamy surroundings, and experts caution that its tiny spores can be inhaled. If you're allergic to pollens and dander, chances are you'll have some sensitivity to mold spores, too.
Action plan: Scrub the tight spots. Give the corners of your shower or tub a weekly once-over with a cleaning solution containing 5 percent chlorine bleach and a small amount of detergent. Always use the ventilation fan when you shower. And if you see mildew on that wallpaper? Time to strip it.
Tend to the floor. Bare floors, like easy-to-clean tile or marble, are best. Clean bath mats in hot water weekly, and make sure they dry out between uses.
Kitchen target: Cockroaches and mice
Allergens in their saliva and droppings can make you sneeze. Also, studies have shown that exposure to cockroaches can trigger or worsen asthma.
Action plan: Control crumbs. Clean regularly under your stove, refrigerator, and toaster, where crumbs tend to gather. Don't leave dishes in the sink. And keep all food sealed tight.
Deny access. Caulk areas where pests can enter wall, window, and floor cracks. E-mail to a friend
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