By Joan Lehach, MD
As frigid temperatures and unusually snowy conditions over much of the nation continue to keep many Americans indoors, a veteran allergy expert reminds us that staying inside may keep us warm, but also gives us prolonged exposure to four powerful indoor allergens capable of triggering a variety of cold and flu-like symptoms.
“If you experience more than nine days of continuing congestion, coughing, sneezing, watery eyes and nasal drip, chances are good that you are reacting to the presence of either dust mites, cockroaches, animal dander, or mold somewhere in your home, office or school,” said Dr. Joan Lehach, integrative medicine physician specializing in allergy, asthma and clinical immunology at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. “Many times, and especially in the inner city where populations are dense, all four of these allergens are present and must be addressed.”
Dr. Lehach’s tips for controlling your indoor allergy symptoms:
1. Mold inspection: The first step for controlling your allergy symptoms is to do a little inspection for mold inside the house. The most common places to find it are on shower curtains, wallpaper, carpets, and the sink. Mold also grows in the drain, which can be cleaned with bleach and detergent.
2. Cockroach hunt: Studies have found cockroach allergens to be present in at least half of inner city homes and in nearly three-quarters of inner city schools. Cockroaches do not have to be alive to trigger respiratory problems. Dust containing molecules of crushed carcasses can still cause problems for humans. Professionals can be consulted to discover and clean out hidden colonies. Nesting areas and pathways where cockroaches may have been traveling should be thoroughly cleaned.
3. Dry up dust mites: Keep your indoor humidity at 50 percent or lower, as higher humidity will breed dust mites. You can purchase a humidity gauge for about $5.
4. Filter out animal dander: If you have a pet allergy, you probably are going to need to be on allergy medications until you can consult with an allergist and see if you want to be desensitized. Meanwhile, a small HEPA air purifier placed in each room will keep airborne dander from spreading throughout the house. Mice or other fur-bearing pests living under the house or in the attic must be searched for and removed.
5. Get symptom relief: A mixture of sinus-friendly Chinese herbs, like Rootology, can temporarily halt most allergy symptoms in less than 20 minutes. Rootology can also be used to control winter cold and flu symptoms.
6. Start an immune-building diet: Eliminate foods that are weakening your immune system, like processed and packaged foods, and start eating immune boosting, allergy-fighting foods, like blackberries and blueberries. Also important are multivitamin supplements and digestive enzymes to help you access more of the nutrients in the food you consume.
7. Get sufficient sleep: Our immune system is very “sleep-driven,” and allergies are precipitated by weakened immunity.
8. Stay hydrated: When you become dehydrated you get dry nasal mucosa and can develop microscopic cracks in the nasal lining, making it easier for allergens to enter your bloodstream.
9. Use the “hot” setting: Wash your bedding in hot water (at least 130 degrees) to properly neutralize allergens.
10. Wash your face and hands: Not only to maintain popularity with family, friends, and co-workers, but if there is dander, mold, or dust on your face or hands, chances are good that you will end up inhaling it.
About Joan Lehach, MD (www.joanlehachmd.com)
An integrative medicine physician specializing in allergy, asthma, and clinical immunology at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, Dr. Joan Lehach has 27 years of experience treating patients in the New York City area and has the largest solo asthma and allergy practice in the Bronx. Named by US News and World Report as one of the top physicians in New York, she lectures extensively on allergy and asthma. and has helped design asthma protocols for a number of health plans.