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Living With Severe Allergies

Experts share 3 strategies to cope with chronic allergies.

Controlling Animal Dander continued...

Allergy symptoms can pop up immediately after contact or even up to 12 hours later.

The only way to eliminate the allergen, allergists say, is to get rid of the pets. But the advice often falls on deaf ears, Williams says. "Most of the time, patients won't eliminate the pet from their environment."

Even if an allergic person does part with a dog, the animal's allergens may hang on in the house for a year or longer, according to the Academy.

If parting with the pet is not possible, Williams says:  "Keep the pet out of the bedroom and no carpeting in the bedroom." Hardwood or tile floors collect less allergen. Damp mop floors often to reduce allergen levels, he suggests.

"Have at least one 'safe zone' in the house" if you can't part with a pet, advises Neeti Gupta, MD, an allergist in East Windsor, N.J.  Your bedroom would be ideal as a safe room that's off limits to your pet.

Brushing a dog regularly -- outdoors, so the allergen doesn't get trapped inside -- can also help, Williams says.

And if you're furniture shopping for sofas or chairs, pick leather over fabric if possible, Williams says. "You can wipe it off," he says.

Controlling Dust Mites

Dust mites feed on common house dust, a mixture of small pieces of plant and animal material. The microscopic creatures also cling to carpets, bedding and furniture.  The dust mites' fecal matter contains the allergens, Williams says, and these allergens are airborne for a short time before dropping to surfaces. "Most exposure comes from being up close and personal with the dust mite."

Put barriers between you and those mites, he says, by buying and using the allergy-proof covers for bedding.

Miller suggests allergy-proof encasings for the mattress, pillows, and box springs.  "The mites feed on skin cells, and they live on your bed. They dig down into the mattress. The encasings don't allow them to penetrate into the mattress."

Pay close attention to the cleanliness of your bedding, too, to avoid allergens. Wash it weekly in hot water that is 130 F or higher, Williams says, to kill the critters. Newer models of washers may be capable of heating the water this hot, he says, but "most of the time you have to turn up the water heater."

His advice: "Turn it up and measure the water the next day, 12 to 24 hours later, with a candy thermometer. If there are kids in the home, turn it up a day before you do the wash [and then lower it later, to reduce the risk of scalding]."

Using a dehumidifier to keep the humidity lower than 50% can help control your dust-mite population, according to experts at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

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