Are you–or someone else in your family–an allergy or asthma sufferer?
Adding air filters to your home’s AC/central heating system or air purification system could help purify the indoor air you breathe. HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters remove the most allergens — dust, pollen and smoke — and can be replaced when needed.
If you must buy a separate air purification unit, study your choices carefully. The highly-touted electrostatic precipitators are nearly useless – Sharper Image, Brookstone, Honeywell, Oreck – and only give a false sense of protection. A couple of consumer-recommended units are Friedrich and Kenmore, priced between $370 and $500. (Consumer Reports, December 2007)
Efficient portable units should produce a clean-air delivery rate (CADR) of 350 or more. Recommended filter purifiers – most use HEPA filters – are Whirlpool, Kenmore, and Hunter, which cost less than $300.
Heavily-promoted electrostatic precipitators all produce some ozone, a known irritant that can cause chest pain, shortness of breath, and can actually worsen asthma. Consumer-recommended, professionally-installed electrostatic precipitators that emit less than 50 ppb of ozone – Trane, Aprilaire, Carrier – cost between $450 and $1,100. The Lennox produced no ozone and cost $350.
Some household vacuums use HEPA filters and offer similar protection. Carpeting, drapes, and upholstered furniture harbor some of the same airborne particulates that trigger asthma attacks.
Upright vacuums always rate better for deep-cleaning carpets, but canisters are best for bare floors, stairs, drapes, and upholstery. Prices for consumer-recommended, upright models – Kenmore, Electrolux, Kirby, Hoover, Dyson and Bissell – range from about $150 to $850; canisters – Electrolux, Kenmore, Hoover, Sebo, Miele, Bosch – cost between $250 to $880. (Consumer Reports, October 2008)
For someone who has frequent, serious allergy problems, consider going to an allergy specialist who can figure out the specific allergens that act as triggers. Allergic people can then undergo allergy-desensitization shots (immunotherapy). The program often continues for three to five years, and costs several hundred dollars, but the results can be quite satisfactory.
Other tips for allergy and asthma sufferers: keep indoor air as clean as possible and avoid bringing in outdoor airborne problems. Also, when feasible, open windows to replace stale air that contains dust, smoke, and moulds.
1) Vacuum and dust frequently. Some of the worst allergy offenders are dust, pollen, and smoke. Shelved books can collect more dust than you can shake your vacuum at. Try keeping books or dust-collecting memorabilia in plastic boxes or store them in glass-enclosed bookcases.
Change your vacuum’s HEPA filter bags often; don’t choose a bagless vacuum, which spouts dust at change time.
Buy a vacuum that’s been tested by unbiased consumer groups. Choose the best one you can afford that removes dirt without spewing it back into the room.
Consider using a particulate respirator, half or full-faced masks, while doing jobs you know set you off, like dusting or mowing grass. Simple respirators cost about $2 each; specialty masks (for fumes from acids, chemicals, and lead) can run $20 or more.
Good quality dusters can pick up dust like a magnet. Shake well outdoors. (This is the time to have a sympathetic partner do this “favor” for you and prevent an attack.) Also, wash your dust cloths frequently or use disposable towels and rags.
2) Remove carpeting from affected peoples’ bedrooms; the less carpeting used throughout the house, the better. Frequently clean hard floors with a duster mop, wet mop or vacuum.
3) Pets. Furry pets can be a serious problem for allergy sufferers. Avoid adopting problem pets in the first place, if you can, but if you already have pets that are dear to your heart, keep their dander and shedding hair to a minimum.
Bathe and brush “pet offenders” frequently. Some pets will let you vacuum them. This reduces outdoor allergens brought in on their fur, and will further reduce the total amount of dander. Use low-fragrance shampoos on them.
4) Use caution with home cleaning products. In reality, trapped indoor air can be more problematic than outdoor air. Many products are marked allergy-free, odorless, or all natural. These may be safer for people with allergies and asthma. Use water-moistened cloths or vinegar or baking soda products for quick clean-ups. Don’t use irritating or strongly-fragranced chemical sprays.
Watch for molds, anywhere, anytime. Molds can naturally form near any water source: around tubs, showers and sinks, in basements, around aquariums, in humidifiers, etc. You can often destroy mold with a rag moistened with a chlorine type product, like Clorox. Spray cleaners usually aren’t a good idea, but you’ll learn what you can get away with.
5) Watch out for allergens brought indoors. If you are allergic to fresh flowers, use artificial ones. Don’t use acorns, sticks, greens and other nature-products for decorating; they can produce molds and allergens. You are better off safe than sorry:
If you know what you are sensitive to, avoid it. That’s sounds simple enough, but sometimes it isn’t possible. If you know you’re going to be exposed to something that triggers you, keep quick-relief asthma medicine with you. If you have a chronic condition, you should be on a long-term control program, taking daily medication to avoid serious bouts.
Allergy sufferers often learn during what seasons they have the most problems. Sometimes taking daily medication, like antihistamines, can help sufferers avoid serious allergy attacks. Some good medications are sold over the counter; some require a prescription. Benadryl is an OTC antihistamine product that is often effective for allergy sufferers, but people with overactive thyroids and some others should not use the product. Always keep doctor-recommended medications handy. For severe attacks, a physician can offer corticosteroids, like prednisone.
Prevention is always better than needing a cure.
Consumer Reports December 2007, “Air Purifiers: Filtering the Claims.”
Consumer Reports October 2008, “Vacuums.” CR is published by Consumers Union, which is based in Yonkers, NY.