Is Your House Making You Sick? - WSET.com - ABC13

Is Your House Making You Sick?

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Lynchburg, VA - All winter long we've been fighting one virus or another, but that cough, runny nose, sneezing and watery eyes might not be a virus at all -- rather an indoor allergy. 

Home sweet home may not be so sweet if you suffer from allergies.  The place where you live could actually be making you very sick. Gene Foster suffered for years.

"My allergies go back a long time," Foster explained. "I've been living with them all my life."

By living, Foster was really just getting by.

"I have asthma, it is allergy induced," Foster said. "So allergies have conflicted my life -- complicated it."

So when Foster built his home in Bedford County five years ago, he took his allergies into consideration.

"We went wild.  We thought, 'What can we do?'" Foster remembered.  "We knew we wanted a house that was friendly to people like us -- people with allergies."

He may not live in a bubble, but from top to bottom Foster certainly tried to cut down on his allergy triggers.  The floors and most of the furniture are hardwood, he has special covers on the mattress and pillows. 

What's even more impressive is the humidity control and air filtration system centrally installed in the home.

So maybe we can't all build an allergy free-ish house like Foster, but allergist Dr. Joseph Lane said there's a lot you can do to find relief.

The first step is to know what you are allergic to by visiting a doctor.

"One of the questions I ask people when they are coming to see me, especially if they have new symptoms or worsening of symptoms is did anything change in your home environment?  Did you get a new pet, did you get new carpeting, did you move?"  Lane said.

Anything like that can trigger a symptom -- even if you've never had allergies before.

Lane walked through one house with ABC 13 News anchor Danner Evans on a mission to point out the main allergy culprits, dust mites, mold and animal dander, and expose where they hide.

"If you are allergic to something and can stay away from it you should do fine," Lane said. "That works great in theory but it's not very practical for a lot of people."

So Lane had a few suggestions:

First really look at your living spaces - places like the den, the bedroom, kitchen and bathroom.  Realize that animal dander and dust mites tend to lurk in these spots, so getting rid of carpeting or drapes will help.

Lane said to pitch the humidifier you may have in your room too.

"If people are bothered by dry nose just some saline nasal spray is a better way to soothe those nasal passages," Lane explained.

Replace it with a dehumidifier to help kill off mold and dust mites.

Cover your bedding with an allergen impermeable cover, like a mattress pad, to cut down on those mites too.

Lane recommends you wash your bedding once a week in hot water; It takes a water temperature of up to 130 degrees or higher to kill dust mites.

Also, if your kids are sick, the allergens may be hiding in their stuffed animals. Only keep one or two around and put them in a bag in the freezer over night to help retard the growth of dust mites once a week.

To clean the air you breathe a HEPA air filtration system (for either just the room or whole house) will also help with animal dander and mold allergens. 

"I do not recommend things that use ionizing radiation, for instance sharper image came out with an ionic breeze," Lane explained. "We found that made people worse."

Another spot where allergens lie is in your basement.

"The basement is a place of high humidity so things you would worry about are mold and potential dust mites," Lane said.

So clean up mold, watch for leaks and take care of them too.  Also change your air filters once a month.

"Even though you don't spend a lot of time in here, for allergens that aerosolize easily, like mold spore and animal dander, if you come in here and spend any time that allergen can get on your clothing and skin and you can take it back into the rest of the house so you can actually be a vector yourself for transmission of those allergens," Lane said.

Knowing what you are allergic to and where your triggers lie can help turn your house back into a home.  

It's worked wonders for Foster.

"Actually I have very few full blown allergy attacks. Probably just two to three a year.  Before it was almost a constant thing," Foster said. "It has really increased the quality of my life."

For hypoallergenic encasements for mattresses and pillows, click here or here.

For indoor allergen tips to remember, click here

Indoor allergen 101, click here

For information in dust allergy management, click here

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