Pollens, dust mites, pet allergens... sneezes start with a small particle of something that the nasal passages detect as an invader. For the allergic child, that invader does more than merely provoke an ejection reaction; it activates the whole immune system in a miserable, futile battle.
The Family Pet: Wash With Care
The family pet, beloved by all, teacher of many tender lessons of life, could also be the source of the sneezes and itchy skin your child suffers.
Frequent washing and brushing removes pet danders, and washes away saliva and traces of urine on fur. These – not the fur itself – are the true source of allergic reactions, so a clean pet may prove safe for an allergic child to pet and play with.
Even a washed pet should sleep and spend most of its time in a different room to ensure that as allergens build up after washing, they are not left lurking where your allergic child spends the most time. Keep your child's clothing, even scarves and outerwear, off the floor and away from the pet as well.
In most cases, a bit of care in pet hygiene can prevent allergies, and perhaps equally important, prevent a tearful parting from a beloved friend.
Air Pollutants: Fresh Air Without Air Freshener
All of us prefer to breathe clean air, but for a child with allergies, clean air can be a medical necessity. Tobacco smoke, air pollution, and other particles can make allergy symptoms worse even if they do not provoke allergic reactions themselves, so avoid activities that can pollute the air your child breathes.
There is no hard-and-fast rule for keeping windows closed versus airing the house. When pollen counts are high, or in neighborhoods with high traffic pollution rates, closed windows are better. Or check pollen counts with your local weather station or health center to pick the best time of day to open windows – don't believe advice you read on the web that gives special hours each day that are safe from pollens because the safe hours change with the seasons, depending upon which plants are pollinating.
When indoor pollutants such as dust mites and molds or mildews cause reactions, open windows help. In winter, open windows wide in several places to cross-ventilate for five minutes and then close them to maximize air turnover but minimize costs of reheating the cold air.
If windows must be kept closed, consider using an indoor air filter equipped with HEPA-filter technology for high efficiency particulate removal. Humidity levels should be kept below 50% with a dehumidifier, to minimize mold, mildew, and dust mite growth.
Avoid putting allergens into the air when house cleaning by using a HEPA-filter equipped vacuum cleaner. Use a damp cloth when dusting or cleaning hard floors so dust sticks instead of spreading.
Finally: no air fresheners. It may be hard to believe, but most air fresheners actually contain ingredients that can cause allergies. Look for cleaning products that advertise allergy safety rather than fresh scents. In the best case, these serve only to mask the truly fresh, clean air smell you are trying to achieve without the help of chemicals.
Dust Mites: Hide-and-Seek with an Invisible Opponent
Dust mites make finding the sources of allergies like a game of hide-and-seek. You can win faster if you know where these mites like to hide. Mites make their homes in bedding because their favorite source of food – dead skin – can be found there in abundance. Choose washable quilts and wash bedclothes weekly in hot water (at least 130°F), drying them thoroughly. Dust mites can cause problems even with allergy-safe pillows, so if your child still wakes with a sniffle, find a mite-proof pillowcase, which zips the pillow into a tightly woven fabric case – usually sufficient to restore peaceful sleep. In severe cases, allergy-proof bedsheets and quilt covers may be required as well.
Carpets furnish allergens an invisibility cloak. Plush carpets harbor, and "poof", more baddies than tightly woven rugs. Wall-to-wall carpets are impossible to remove for periodic steam or dry cleaning, giving throw rugs an advantage for allergy sufferers with cold feet. Vacuum carpets once or twice per week using a HEPA – or high efficiency particulate air filter to ensure dust from the floor is not blown back into the air by the vacuum. Opt for hard floors if allergies persist, especially in spaces where little ones spend time on the ground.
Keep dust collectors to a minimum. Choose hard chairs instead of upholstered seating. Children present particular challenges when trying to prevent hiding places for allergens, because they love to nest in piles of plush toys. If your child is allergic, try to keep dust-collecting toys to a minimum and keep toys clean.