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Allergies lurk indoors, too

Home: Sneezing, wheezing, itchy eyes? Indoor triggers such as dust mites and dander can cause allerg

Posted: August 19, 2010 5:30 p.m.
Updated: August 20, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Hardwood floors are an ideal surface for allergy sufferers, as carpet tends to trap dander, dust mites and other allergens for months and even years. If you have carpets, it is suggested to vacuum with a HEPA-filter vacuum at least once a week.

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When it comes to inducing uncomfortable symptoms such as itchy eyes, runny nose, sneezing and sinus pressure, allergies don’t discriminate.

Though the allergic condition may be closely associated with outdoor triggers, such as pollen and certain kinds of weeds or grasses, indoor causes can be just as devastating to allergy sufferers.

“Indoor-allergen sensitivity is extremely common. I see it in about 70 percent of my patients,” said Dr. Marc Meth, an allergist with a private practice in Los Angeles. “Indoor allergies manifest themselves similarly to outdoor allergens, and triggers can include dust mites, dander from pet hair, cockroaches, and mold. All allergies are mediated by the chemical histamine.”

Found in all body tissues, histamine, as described by medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com, is known to “induce capillary dilation, which can result in increased capillary permeability and lowered blood pressure; contraction of most smooth-muscle tissue; increased gastric acid secretion; and accelerated heart rate.”

As allergy sufferers can attest, histamine is also a mediator of immediate             hypersensitivity.

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, an estimated 50 million Americans suffer from a type of allergies and allergy is the fifth leading chronic disease in the U.S. among all ages, and the third most common chronic disease among children under 18 years old.

While there is no cure for allergies, symptoms can be maintained or even prevented. However, the allergen needs to be determined.

At Meth’s office, patients are given a skin test. Using plastic prongs, small droplets of environmental proteins are applied to the skin, where it can take up to 15 minutes to show a reaction

“Allergists generally prefer to do skin testing. It’s more sensitive than blood testing,” Meth said. “Patients often like it, too, as they can see a response.”

To keep symptoms under control, Meth usually prescribes medications such as oral antihistamines, nasal steroids or allergy shots.

“When someone goes on an allergy shot, it’s usually once a week for several months, then once a month. Shots range from one to four per visit. It’s a small-gauge needle, which is not painless, but it’s not terribly painful. It’s very mild,” he said.

Meth also recommends ways for patients to reduce or remove allergic triggers in the home.

Sealing cracks in the kitchen and bathroom areas are one way to combat cockroaches, as well as to prevent humidity from entering. Using bleach to clean a bathroom is effective at stopping mold.

For pet owners who may be allergic to hair or dander, he advises removing the pet from the bedroom or most commonly used areas of the home and to clean carpets at least once a week with a HEPA-filter vacuum.

“Cat dander, especially, tends to stick around in carpets. Hardwood floors are ideal,” Meth said. “People do go on shots for dog and cat allergies. It can be somewhat effective, but it’s not a panacea.”

Dust-mite allergies can be greatly reduced by encasing pillows, mattresses and box springs in dust-mite proof products, noted.

At Sit N’ Sleep in Stevenson Ranch, such products range from $25 for queen-size pillow covers to $69 and up to $159 for queen-size mattress enclosures.

“Many of my customers wake up with stuffy nose or nasal blockage. That’s why we offer so many different mattress protectors,” said Matt Creeks, Sit N’ Sleep manager. “It’s certainly an option we bring up to every customer. We probably have about a 70-percent attachment rate on protection products.”

According to Creeks, approximately 40,000 skin cells are shed each minute and adults sweat upwards of four gallons of perspiration at night in a month.

“That moisture and the skin cells, oh, those dust mites are happy little clams. They’re microscopic arachnids that reproduce heavily in mattresses,” Creeks said. “The objective is to keep dead skin cells off the mattress, which is food for dust mites. It‘s not the dust mite people are allergic to, it’s their poop.”

Creeks further explained that the average mattress doubles in weight every decade due to dust mites and their excretions, and are recommended to be replaced. Some Sit N’ Sleep customers upgrade to pure latex mattresses, which can cost between $2,000 and $3,000, but are widely considered to the ultimate protection.

As Creeks illustrated, one Sit N’ Sleep customer, a microbiologist and latex mattress owner, recently purchased a king latex mattress. Before disposing of his old mattress, the customer carved out a chunk and looked at it under a microscope. There were no signs of dust mites.

“That’s huge, if you’re an allergy sufferer,” Creeks said. “Sleep benefits health, and how you deal with people. A good night’s sleep is something we all need.”

Valencia Wellness offers a holistic approach to the allergy problem. Homepathic remedies specifically for mold yeast and dust, toxic mold, animal dander, cockroaches, and dust mites are available in standalone treatments or combination formulas ranging in price from $7.99 to $18.99 at their retail location on Lyons Ave.

“We have tablets or liquids that can be taken under the tongue or distilled in a bottle of water and sipped on throughout the day,” said Kim Wahl, manager. “Right now, probably 40 to 50 percent of my clients are looking for allergy relief.”

Wahl, who suffered from allergies for several decades before becoming a holistic practitioner 23 years ago, cited the high mold count due to rain and heat as the current allergy culprit in the Santa Clarita Valley.

“When people think of mold, they think of their house, but I don’t have a moldy shower,” she said. “Look at the valley, with the hillsides being graded down and moved over. Dust has mold spores in it and those can land on your dresser.”

Whatever the reason someone may become allergic, Wahl believes a holistic approach is best.

“We’re not trained in Western society to ask why the body is reacting. Is it environmental or emotional, the nearby park or a new plant?” she said. “It’s not about suppressing the system, it’s about helping the body overcome the problem and bringing the immune system up. I’m more of a mechanic. I look at why.”

Sit N’ Sleep, 25017 The Old Road, Stevenson Ranch. (661) 287-4150. Valencia Wellness, 23550 Lyons Ave., Valencia. (661) 255-6217.

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