What’s in the air?
As we go about our daily lives we are exposed to various particulates, chemicals, pollens, dust, dirt and mold spores. Most things that make us have allergic symptoms are too small to see, while other large particles pose as an irritant to our sinuses. Everyone will respond in different ways to irritants and allergic particulates. One of the main factors contributing to allergies is the concentration of particulates to which we are exposed to. Even people that are typically not allergic can have allergic symptoms when they are exposed to high levels of particulates. Additionally, when pollen counts are high and when high winds stir everything into the atmosphere the air born particulate levels increase greatly. Which in turn will increase the likelihood of allergic symptoms becoming worse for that period of time.
Airborne particles are solids suspended in the air. One micron (μm) is 1/1000 mm (1/25,000 of an inch). Airborne particles are usually described in microns. Generally speaking, the human eye can see debris and dust that are approximately 25 microns in size.
Larger particles – larger than 100 μm
- Terminal velocities > 0.5 m/s
- Fall out quickly
- Includes hail, snow, insect debris, room dust, soot aggregates, coarse sand, gravel, and sea
Medium-size particles – in the range 1 to 100 μm
- Sedimentation velocities greater than 0.2 m/s
- Settles out slowly
- Includes fine ice crystals, pollen, hair, large bacteria, windblown dust, fly ash, coal dust, silt, fine sand, and small dust.
Small particles – less than 1 μm
- Falls slowly, take days to years to settle out of a quiet atmosphere. In a turbulent atmosphere they may never settle out
- Can be washed out by water or rain
- Includes viruses, small bacteria, metallurgical fumes, soot, oil smoke, tobacco smoke, clay, and fumes
Another important concept is the Total Load. You are more likely to have allergic symptoms if your body is overwhelmed with many allergies (high wind, high pollen). If we can control just some of your allergies, you will be able to tolerate others better. Developing allergies is a dynamic process. Once you have allergies you are susceptible to developing new allergies. There is also an infinite number of potential allergens in the air, soil, water. There is scientific evidence that allergy treatment will decrease your chances of developing new allergies.
Allergen avoidance is an essential step in managing allergies. Identifying the allergen causing symptoms is a vital part of treating allergic diseases. Once the causes are correctly identified, the following practical advice on avoiding or minimizing your exposure to allergens will help.
Pollens (tree, weed, and grass)
The average pollen particle is less than the width of a human hair. When pollen is released from its source the estimated total number of pollen grains produced range from 2 to 25 million depending on the type of plant. Pollens can remain on your skin and hair for hours after spending time outdoors. Pollens can travel as far as 400 miles and up to two miles high in the air.
What factors affect the amount of pollen in the air?
High humidity, moisture and barometric pressure cause pollen to rupture into microscopic grains that are easily inhaled, which can lead to reactions in allergic individuals. Winds then can carry and distribute airborne pollen for many miles.
Each pollen ‘season’ can alter slightly with each year, but it is known when the different types of pollens are generally released from each plant type. How pollen affects an individual on a daily basis differs depending on weather conditions, such as humidity and temperature, as well as the time of day and which way the wind is blowing.
However, pollen is not limited to the outside; these microscopic particles are often brought into the home on clothes, skin and hair and through open windows. This remains a potential problem once inside the home, once the home is saturated it will become disturbed and cause ongoing symptoms.
Tips to reduce pollen exposure:
It is difficult to avoid pollen. However, one can effectively reduce exposure and manage the symptoms. Once you know what you are allergic to, you can take steps to reduce your exposure.
- Be aware of the pollen count for the area you will be in, plan accordingly.
- Keep windows closed during the night and the early morning hours when pollen counts are at their peak.
- Plan outdoor activity after 10 a.m., when pollen counts are lower.
- Consider exercising indoors or later in the day.
- Keep car and house windows closed, use air conditioning in your car and home. Use re-circulated air in the car when pollen levels are high (many cars are fitted with pollen filters).
- Change and wash clothing after being outdoors.
- Make your bedroom as pollen free as possible by not allowing contamination on the pillows and blankets.
- Avoid activities known to cause increased exposure to pollen, such as mowing grass.
Ranging in size from 3 to 10 microns (human hair is 100-150 microns), mold spores are ubiquitous – they are literally everywhere. There is no reasonable, reliable and cost-effective means of eliminating them from environments that humans inhabit.
Mold thrives in damp environments. Areas such as air conditioning vents, water traps, refrigerator drip trays, and shower stalls, leaky sinks, and damp basements are particularly vulnerable to mold growth if not cleaned regularly. Most of the mold spores enter the home from the outside air. However, under certain circumstances, mold growth in the home can be significant and worsen allergy symptoms.
To reduce the growth of mold in the home, it is necessary to remove existing mold and also to reduce humidity to prevent future growth of mold. Humidity can be reduced by removing sources of standing water and persistent dampness. Removing house plants, fixing leaky plumbing, correcting sinks and showers that do not drain completely, removing bathroom carpeting that is exposed to steam and moisture, using exhaust fans in the bathroom when bathing, and dehumidifying damp areas to levels below 50 percent are a few steps that can help to reduce or prevent growth of indoor mold.
Indoor garbage pails should be regularly disinfected, and an electric dehumidifier should be used to remove moisture from wet or humid basements. Old books, newspapers, and clothing should be discarded or donated rather than stored. Water damaged carpets and wall or ceiling boards should be thrown out because it is difficult or impossible to eliminate mold in this situation, even with thorough cleaning.
Mold thrives on soap film that covers tiles, sinks, and grout. Sinks, tubs, and other surfaces with visible mold growth should be cleaned at least every four weeks with dilute bleach (one ounce [30 mL] bleach diluted in one quart [one liter] of water)
- Avoid dark, damp areas inside and out.
- Ensure adequate natural ventilation including the use of extractor fans
- If the area you are in smells “musty,” there are probably mold spores in the air.
- Mold will be in damp soil, leaves and pine needles, compost piles, areas where flooding has occurred, in swamp coolers and dehumidifiers/humidifiers, refrigerator and freezer drip pans, etc.
Animal dander is made up of the dead skin cells or scales (like dandruff) that are constantly shed by animals. Any breed of dog or cat is capable of being allergenic, although the levels given off by individual animals may vary to some degree. In cats, the protein that causes most people’s allergies is found in the cat’s saliva, skin glands, and urinary/reproductive tract. Accordingly, short-haired cats are not necessarily less allergenic than long-haired animals, and furless cats have allergen levels similar to furred cats.
Other animals, such as rodents, birds, and ferrets can also trigger symptoms in an allergic individual. Pets without feathers or fur, such as reptiles, turtles, and fish rarely cause allergy, although deposits of fish food that build up under the covers of fish tanks are an excellent source of food for dust mite colonies.
If a person is found to be allergic to a pet, the most effective option is to remove the pet from the home. Once a pet has left a home, careful cleaning (or removal) of carpets, sofas, curtain, and bedding must follow. This is particularly true for cat allergens because they are “sticky” and adhere to a variety of indoor surfaces. Even after a cat has been removed from a home and it has been thoroughly cleaned, it can take months for the level of cat allergen to drop. For this reason, it may take months for the person’s symptoms to fully reflect the absence of the pet.
When removal of the animal is not an option there are avoidance measures that can be done to help reduce the ongoing reactions that an allergic individual will experience.
- Do not allow the animal into the bedroom.
- Whenever possible, let someone else groom your pets.
- Brush them outside before allowing them back into the house to remove pollens that may be sticking to their fur/hair.
- Bathe animals weekly to remove any dander.
Most people will experience nearly identical symptoms as allergic patients when they are exposed to airborne irritants. They are not related to your allergies. When irritants enter your nose, mouth or lungs the body’s natural response is to remove the irritant or to protect itself.
Protection – Involves coating its membranes with mucus in response to cold air or dusty conditions.
Removal – Is achieved by producing phlegm so you may blow your nose successfully removing the irritant.
Types of irritants include but are not limited to:
- Cold air – Cover your nose and mouth with a scarf.
- Particulate’s – Anything that is air borne and floating in the air that may be inhaled.
- Odors – Stay away from strong odors such as perfume, hair spray, paint, cooking exhaust, cleaning products and insecticides. Room air fresheners and electronic air cleaners also can trigger symptoms.
- Colds and infections – Wash hands frequently.
- Exhaust – If you have an attached garage, don’t start the car and let it run in there. Fumes can make their way into the home even when the garage door is open