Top 5 Household Allergens That Are Living Right Under Your Nose

By: Marie Willsey

So cute. So cuddly. So dangerous. See more cat pictures.
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Your allergies have struck again. Bring out the tissues for your runny nose and watery eyes. Your sinuses are killing you, and you're coughing and wheezing everywhere. You're used to it, but that doesn't make the experience any better.

Allergies are the result of the body trying to protect itself. If your immune system thinks something you've come into contact with is bad for you, it will fight that substance off. The result may be an upset stomach, a skin rash, or that all-too-familiar dripping, coughing, sneezing reaction in your sinuses and breathing passages.


At best, allergies are annoying. At worst, they can be life-threatening if the sufferer goes into anaphylactic shock.

If you or your child has recurring food allergies, you've probably learned to avoid those foods. If you're allergic to insect stings, you know to avoid insects and carry medication. Most people determine which substances cause recurring skin allergies -- contact dermatitis or eczema -- and try to avoid those. Most people know that smoking indoors may trigger allergies.

If there are substances outdoors that trigger your allergies, you can try to avoid them, but our homes -- even smoke-free ones -- aren't safe zones. In fact, most homes harbor a number of allergens that send us into sniffling, hacking misery.

What culprits are likely lurking inside your home? Read on to find out.

5: Pollen

Pollen is one of the most common household allergens, and one of the hardest to avoid.
Pollen is one of the most common household allergens, and one of the hardest to avoid.
Stockbyte/Getty Images

You might think that pollen is just an outdoor problem. But the pesky stuff has a way of drifting inside your home -- unless you fight it.

Where you live largely determines the type of pollen you have to contend with and when it's at its worst. In many areas, only the dead of winter offers relief from pollen. But early spring brings pollen from trees and flowers. Summer means grass allergies. And in the fall, prepare for another round of pollen from ragweed and other late-blooming plants.


Staying inside isn't enough, although you'll want to do so on windy days and in the mornings. To avoid pollen, keep windows and doors closed. Use the air conditioner during warm months for temperature regulation, since fans just stir up dust and pollen. Cover air-conditioner vents with cheesecloth, and clean or change filters frequently. Dust with a damp cloth so you don't spread any pollen that might have made its way inside.

Keep reading to learn about other household allergens that may be waiting to make you sick.

4: Cockroaches

Cockroaches are creepy, disgusting, and spread bacteria and disease. They also trigger allergies in lots of people. Even if you don't see roaches in your house, you are likely to have some, especially if you live in an inner city or in the South. You may bring them in unseen on grocery bags, or they may sneak in from outside. Once they're in your home, they breed like crazy, year-round.

Roach sprays may cause allergic reactions, too, or, if used improperly, poison people or pets. There are two major ways to control cockroaches.


Boric acid is a white powder is made from water and the mineral boron. Boron is widely used in laundry products and in personal products such as toothpaste, and boric acid is sold in grocery stores as bug killer, ready to use. Dust it where cockroaches like to hide: in cracks and corners, under and behind fixtures and appliances. Spread the powder thinly, as cockroaches avoid piles or heavy lines. They'll pick up the powder as they walk through it and poison themselves when they clean it from their antennae and legs.

You can also try roach baits. Commercially available cockroach baits also kill the pests without triggering more allergies, or endangering people or pets. The roaches crawl into the plastic cover, eat the bait and then crawl away to die in their nesting area, where the bait will kill fellow roaches. Put baits in areas roaches like, especially in kitchens and bathrooms.

3: Mold Spores

Many people are allergic to mold spores. If your house has such a serious problem that you can smell the mold, perhaps in walls or under floors, you may need professional help.

Otherwise, the best way to prevent mold is to deny it damp places to grow:


  • Keep fresh air circulating through the house all year. Air conditioners help reduce moisture in summer.
  • Use a dehumidifier if the air conditioner doesn't do the trick. Clean it regularly.
  • Clean under sinks, behind toilets, in corners of the shower and in other areas that stay moist.
  • Soak bath mats and shower curtains in bleach solution if necessary.
  • Don't have carpets in the bathroom. Wash any throw rugs or mats often.
  • Hang wet mats, towels and robes to dry, and wash them often.
  • Avoid or minimize houseplants. Mold can grow in the soil.
  • Use bleach. A cleaning solution of 10-to-1 water and bleach works well. If you can see mold, try five parts water to one part bleach. Open the window while using bleach if the fumes bother you.
  • Avoid harsh chemical cleansers, because they may trigger allergies.
  • Wash dirty clothes and other damp or food-stained items promptly.

Unfortunately, a common allergen source may be warm and cuddly. Read on to learn more.

2: Pet Dander

This adorable puppy may be the reason you're coughing and wheezing all over the place.
This adorable puppy may be the reason you're coughing and wheezing all over the place.
Larry Grant/Getty Images

Animal dander -- small flakes of skin -- is one of the most common and powerful allergens known to man. People may also be allergic to fur and feathers, as well as animal saliva or urine. Dogs, cats, hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, rabbits, rats and birds are common sources of dander. Getting a shorthaired cat or dog doesn't necessarily help, because dander is simply dead skin cells. Sometimes, the pet dander isn't the problem, but rather the pollen or mold spores the pet brings into the house from outdoors.

The simplest way to deal with pet allergies is to have no pets. If you must, however, other measures can help:


  • Don't let the pet on the furniture.
  • Don't let the pet sleep with the allergic person or even go into the bedroom.
  • Avoid upholstered furniture. Use leather or something else, instead.
  • Avoid carpets. Wash any throw rugs frequently.
  • Have someone who's not allergic bathe and groom the pet weekly.
  • Have someone who's not allergic clean the pet's bed and litter box often.
  • Vacuum frequently with a machine that has an HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter. Consider HEPA air filters for the home.

Want to know the worst culprit that's likely living under your nose -- and giving your nose fits? Keep reading.

1: Dust Mites

Forget the bedbug scare. Everybody lives with dust mites -- and they're horrible. Just look at a picture of one.

Dust provides a home for mites, a primary cause of allergies. They eat the dead skin you shed, so one of their favorite places is in your bed. You might have millions of the critters in your mattress, pillows and bedding. They also hang out in dust on books, furniture and knickknacks -- anywhere dust collects.


The best way to fight the mites is to fight the dust. Keep things clean. Reduce clutter to make the cleaning easier. Instead of carpets, use hardwood or tile floors and washable rugs. Go for leather rather than upholstered furniture. Vacuum twice weekly with a machine with an HEPA filter. Wash bedding in hot water at least once a week. Allergen-resistant covers for mattresses and pillows can help. Allergens often gather on blinds and long drapes. If you have them, clean them often.

Stuffed animals are a great home for dust mites. Limit the number a child can have. Get washable toys, and wash them often. If a favorite stuffed toy isn't washable, put it into a plastic bag and leave it in the freezer for 24 hours or more.

When you dust, use a damp cloth. If you swipe with a dry rag or duster, you're scattering mites into the air -- right under your nose!

Read on for lots more information.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • "Indoor Allergens -- What they are and how to get rid of them." (Accessed June 18, 2011)
  • Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. "Tips to Control Indoor Allergens." (Accessed June 19, 2011)
  • Fisher, Jeanette Joy. "Fight Household Allergens." Environmental Psychology. (Accessed June 17, 2011)
  • Hamlin, Emily. "How to battle allergies by making some changes in your home: Full House." The Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 18, 2009. (Accessed June 18, 2011)
  • Mayo Clinic. "Allergies." (Accessed June 19, 2011)
  • Mayo Clinic. "Pet Allergy." (Accessed June 19, 2011)
  • Potter, Michael F. "Cockroach Elimination." University of Kentucky College of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service. (Accessed June 25, 2011)
  • Schmitt, Barton D., M.D. "Your Child's Health." Revised Edition. Bantam Books. New York, 1991.
  • WebMD. "Household Allergens: Are You at Risk? Allergy-Proof Your Environment." (Accessed June 18, 2011)
  • Welch, Michael J., M.D. "Health Issues: When Pets Are the Problem." Healthy Children Magazine. American Academy of Pediatrics. 2007.