How to Limit the Effect of Indoor Allergens
Sometimes seasonal allergies can be so bad that we almost forget indoor allergens could be contributing to our symptoms too. One way to determine if indoor allergens are causing your red, itchy eyes is by noticing if your symptoms get worse during or shortly after certain indoor activities. For example, you might notice your eyes get swollen, red, or irritated after completing some housecleaning or after playing with or grooming your pet.
Pet dander, mold, dust, and dust mites can cause eye allergies at any time of the year. However, you might notice them more in the winter when you’ve spent more time in the house. To relieve eye allergies from indoor allergens, it helps to first know the symptoms you might experience and the types of indoor allergens that can trigger a reaction.
Eye Allergy Symptoms
The key to knowing you have an eye allergy, instead of an eye infection or pink eye, is that you’ll have symptoms and irritation in both eyes, not just one. And, the symptoms usually arise within minutes to hours of being exposed to the allergen.
Symptoms of eye allergies due to indoor allergens mimic those you might see with outdoor allergens. They include:
- Watery eyes
- Dry, irritated eyes
- Swollen eyelids
Types of Indoor Allergens
Having a reaction to indoor allergens does not mean your home is dirty. If you suspect something in your home is causing your symptoms, please don’t be afraid or ashamed to discuss it with your doctor or allergist. Types of allergens include:
- Dust mites – You may think you have a dust allergy, but the reality is you may have an allergy to dust mites. These tiny pests feed on dead human skin cells and can live in your pillows, mattress, curtains, stuffed furniture (like sofas), and carpet.
- Mold –There are many reasons why mold can grow in a home, including water trapped behind walls, moisture in HVAC systems, plants inside and outside, and other damp or humid areas. Inhaling mold spores can cause allergic reactions, and mold may also cause eyes to become red, itchy, and watery.
- Pets – Pet dander (a protein in the saliva and on the skin of dogs, cats, birds, and other animals with fur or feathers) is a common cause of indoor allergies and eye allergies. People who have a severe allergy to pet dander may, for example, pet a cat or dog and suddenly find their eyes are red and swollen.
- Rodents and Insects – Mice, as furry animals, shed dander too and can be a hidden source of allergies in the home. Cockroaches also shed a similar protein that can cause year-round allergies or repeated asthma attacks.
- Chemicals – Cleaning agents, household detergents, and perfumes or colognes can also trigger eye allergies, especially if you have a sensitivity to chemicals or fragrances.
- Pollen – While pollen is considered an outdoor allergen, if you keep your windows open during the day or night—in spring and fall, especially — pollen enters your house and it settles like dust on windowsills, furniture, and carpets.
5 Ways to Reduce Indoor Allergens
1. Keep the relative humidity level in your home below 50%. Both mold and dust mites thrive in warm, moist environments. If you live in a naturally humid region, invest in a dehumidifier attached to your heating and cooling system. If you have a basement or certain rooms that stay humid, use a room dehumidifier. Use exhaust fans while showering or cooking to vent the warm, moist air outdoors.
2. Use dust-mite-repellent bedding. Encase your mattress and bed pillows in hypoallergenic covers that repel dust mites. This can help limit dust mites’ ability to live within your bedding and lower your exposure. Also, be sure to wash your bedsheets, pillowcases, and comforters frequently to get rid of dust mites and any other allergens that might transfer from a pet or from outdoors.
3. Clean smarter and more often. Dust and vacuum at least once a week or more if you have a pet. Use a microfiber or electrostatic cloth when you dust so that dust gets trapped instead of becoming airborne. Use a high-quality vacuum that incorporates a HEPA filter. Clean and change that filter as recommended by the manufacturer, and don’t forget to change your heater/air conditioner filter as directed also. Choose cleaning agents or make your own (from natural ingredients like vinegar) that are less likely to trigger a reaction if you tend to be sensitive to certain scents or chemicals.
4. Install flooring instead of carpet. Carpets can trap indoor and outdoor allergens (that you bring in from outside) as well as other dirt and bacteria. Plus, vacuuming can re-release these allergens into the air. Eliminating carpets in favor of flooring helps reduce trapped dust, dust mites, mold spores, and pet dander.
5. Groom your pet more often. Brush your pet regularly to remove dead skin cells and loose fur. If you can, brush the pet outside or in a well-ventilated room that is not carpeted. Bathe your pet regularly, as recommended by your veterinarian, but do not bathe so often it results in dry, flaky skin as this could make the shedding of dander worse. Use special pet grooming wipes to get outdoor allergens off your dog before coming back inside and between pet baths.
There are many pet products available that can help limit dander and dry skin, as well as sprays and other products that can help limit dander on bedding, furniture, etc. If you have pet dander allergies, it’s best not to let your pet sleep in your bed or even your bedroom.