What do we need know about dealing with a dust allergy?

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By: the_light_show – CC BY 2.0
By: the_light_showCC BY 2.0
My partner is seriously allergic to dust (yes, he takes allergy medicine, as well as daily medication for asthma control). We know that we should vacuum and dust regularly, as well as have our air vents cleaned, but we recently started looking into things like air purifiers and mattress covers.

We were overwhelmed by the variety of options for these kinds of products, and aren't even sure whether air purifiers, mattress covers, and other such things actually help.

What can the Homies tell us about their experiences with mattresses and allergies or about air purifiers and allergies? Are there any good products we should know about that can help us deal with dust and allergens in the home? -maryr

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  1. A good air purifier definitely cuts down on larger particulates in the air. We have four cats and friends with allergies – whenever they come over we turn on the two standing filters we have for whatever room everyone is hanging out in, and they say it makes a difference. I don't know how it'd work with very fine particles like dust, but my thinking is if it can get some of the larger stuff out of the air, there's less 'invisible' junk for the tiny stuff to stick to?

    2 agree
  2. My fiance and I both have dust allergies, so we have a few methods of attacking dust in the house: (1) A good air purifier in your bedroom is worth its weight in gold – we have a Honeywell, and it does a great job. (2) If you can afford to, I recommend purchasing a Dyson vacuum. They're amazingly efficient, and will get dirt and dust out of your carpets that you didn't even know was there. While they're quite expensive, they last for years and years, and the warranty is solid. (3) Allergy covers for your pillows are a nice way to protect them from absorbing allergens. They're inexpensive, and we have a few that we rotate through. They're machine washable. (4) We went ahead and purchased a carpet cleaner for about $150 on Amazon. We purchased it simply because we wanted to shampoo our carpets, and it was about the price of two Rug Doctor rentals. We were amazed by what it got out of our carpets, and we've been surprised by how much using it room by room has improved our allergies.

    Hope that helps!

    7 agree
    • If you must have carpet, you must be responsible for regularly cleaning (shampooing or steaming) the carpet. That made a huge difference for my allergies – and my dog's, interestingly. I have a good vacuum and vacuum regularly, but shampooing the carpet made me realize how filthy my carpets were despite this.

      3 agree
  3. Okay I'm just going to word vomit everything I've done and learned that made a difference for me.

    -The Sweethome has a great list of air purifiers. I bought their number one pick which was expensive but has seriously made a huge difference in my home.
    -Hardwood floors and no carpet if you can help it.
    -Keep it dry. Dust mites thrive in humidity. When I lived in Houston, which always has over 50% humidity, this was helped by a small personal dehumidifier.
    -Your bedroom is the worst place ever. Concentrate your efforts here. Mattress covers and pillow covers are a must.
    -Wash your sheets once a week. Must. I can always tell when it's been over a week because my eyes get runny and I can't breathe at night.
    -Remember to take extra meds if you're staying in a hotel. Some of my worst allergy attacks have been in hotels.
    -This sucks but avoid pets with hair if you can.

    Good luck!

    8 agree
    • All of this. The air purifier also supplies wonderful white noise.

      Also, invest in good air filters for your hvac and change regularly. (My hubby teased me that he's never had to buy a $13 filter before we got married)

      Are allergy shots an option for your partner? It takes awhile, but I know someone who was completely cured of their allergies this way.

      1 agrees
    • I was going to throw in my two cents as an allergy sufferer, but it looks like you covered it!

  4. For years, I used to say I'm allergic to cleaning, because dust and ammonia send me into sneezing, wheezing, face-itching fits. Luckily, my husband has taken on all the dust-busting duties (only when I'm not in the same room).

    I have a HEPA air purifier in my bedroom that blows clean air at my face. I LOVE it. It also tends to dry out the air, which is both helpful and annoying at times. Definitely invest in one with a HEPA filter, and change it when the instruction manual tells you to.

    1 agrees
  5. Buy a bunch of cheap pillow covers and bring them along when you travel. It is hard to get into the habit of remembering to bring them home but it makes a difference. Take air quality into account when booking a hotel.
    A big second to air cleaners for both the bedroom and main living space. We also have the #1 on the Sweethome, it is super expensive but worth it
    He should wear a mask when cleaning (or if he is around when you are) since that can disturb settled dust.
    Memory foam mattress- dust mites can't live in there

  6. Purge your stuff. I don't have many books or knick-knacks, because they lead to dust accumulation. Same goes for stuffed animals, decorative pillows, curtains, etc. Your decor can be a huge culprit when it comes to dust allergies.

    On a related note, be very careful with what you bring into your house. I am firm when well intentioned relatives try to give me old books or bedding or stuffed animals, because other people's stuff can make me quite ill. I also need to be cautious when returning from a dusty environment (travel, second hand shop, older homes) and make sure that my clothes go straight to the wash, and I go straight to the shower. Otherwise all that dust (and allergens, and cigarette smoke, and strong cleaning agents) travels with me and through my house and I get sick.

    The pet suggestion one is painful, but can be a huge improvement in terms of quality of life. Re-home pets if you must, don't replace them when they die, don't get them in the first place.

  7. Thanks, commenters! I actually submitted this question a while ago, and we've since purchased mattress/pillow covers, as well as an air purifier. I will comb through the other suggestions and make use of them for sure.

    We don't have any pets, but I'm really thankful for the comments about them. I LOVE cats, but my partner doesn't. I usually say "my boyfriend has allergies" when people ask me why I don't have a cat (because I'm the most obvious cat lady, I guess), but the confirmation that pets are definitely a bad idea for those with dust allergies (even if not a specific allergy to animal hair) is nice to read. I'll stop dreaming about sneaking a cat into our apartment and go back to volunteering with recue cats. 😉

    • We are both allergic, but have pets anyway. We are more allergic to the cat than the dog. We're also allergic to dust, mites & various kinds of pollen. We didn't know we were allergic before we got pets, so we've tried to make the best of it. Our doctor had great advice. He has pets too so he understood how we felt. Here is how we deal with our allergies:
      – Husband had shots which made a huge difference for him. I may get shots later, but my allergies aren't as bad.
      – I prefer hard floors, but not everyone has a choice. I use scatter rugs around the doors from outside & the garage. We have "indoor shoes" & slippers to slow down the tracking in. We have a kitty door to the garage & keep her litter box there. I also have a mat in front of the litter box to help cut down on her tracking.
      – For a very long time we kept the pets out of the bedroom, with the door closed, since kitty likes to sneak in & sleep on the bed. Now they have their own beds in the bedroom, but are only allowed in when we are there to keep them off the bed. I wash their bedding regularly.
      – We brush the pets outside. This means we don't get it done as often in the winter, but it makes a big difference. Also, the birds & squirrels seem to like the fur for their nests.
      – I have gradually replaced some of our upholstered furniture with leather or faux leather instead of fabric, so I can just wipe it down. Of course, kitty likes a fabric chair so I keep a folded blanket there for her and I throw it in the wash. If company drops in, I put the blanket in the coat closet for the time being. I also vacuum the pieces with fabric upholstery & the lamp shades. Plain fabric shades without pleats are the easiest to vacuum. Sometimes, I use lint roller tape or a lint brush on them.
      – HEPA filters in the vacuum & HVAC. We cut normal filters to fit the return air vents, which has really cut back how often we had to buy the expensive HVAC filters. I vacuum the return air filters to keep the system working efficiently. Otherwise, the buildup of fur interferes with air flow & causes problems. I also write the date the filters were changed directly on the filter, so I always know how long it has been.
      – We never bought the expensive mattress or pillow covers, but I vacuum the mattress a couple times a year. Seasonally is best, but I often lose track of the time.
      – Wash bedding in 140*F water. (Check the labels first) From what I've read, 140 is the magic number for killing mites. When I had to replace my washing machine, I bought one that will heat the water to that temp. It was worth the extra cost. Prior to that, we kept the water heater set to 140*. In addition to the normal schedule for sheets, I wash the blankets & pillows about every 3-4 months.
      – Anything that doesn't tolerate 140* hot water gets put in the freezer for 24hrs before washing, which is also supposed to kill mites. This includes wool blankets & sweaters, which go on the "hand wash" setting or go in the dryer with dry cleaning sheets. This seems to be working. I had given up on using wool blankets.
      – This is all a lot of work, especially the laundry and I am thinking about getting a robot vacuum, so it gets done more often. We still have days when we need to take allergy pills, but for us, it was better than giving up our pets. We may never have another kitty, but we hope this one will live a long life with us. Unless it just becomes impossible, I imagine we will always have a dog.

      1 agrees
    • I'll say that just because he is allergic to dust doesn't mean he's allergic to pet dander. I have allergies to dust mites, among other things, but not animals, and indoor cats don't bother me at all.

      1 agrees
  8. I've been trying to find a lampshade that is large, transparent, but crucially wipe clean. Our paper shade gathers so much dust and it's a real pain to vacuum. In summer any breeze from the open window shifts the dust off the shade and onto the bed below which is horrible. I'd love to be able to wipe it down with a damp cloth regularly enough so it doesn't do this.

    I thought there'd be plenty of this sort of thing for anti-allergy reasons but I've not seen anything. Has anyone got any lampshades like this? I'm UK based.

    • There are definitely many glass lampshades, and I think also metal and plastic ones. I don't know whether you'll find one for your specific lamp though?

  9. The biggest and best advice I can give is look into your health care coverage – if you test positive for severe allergies, insurance often either covers things like home treatment systems, covers, etc…. or at least allows you to utilize FLEX or HSA accounts for these purchases. It also helps to get a justification if you need any changes made at work – for example, I simply cannot dust anything without getting sick. I can pay someone to dust my home for me when my fiance is too busy. But that's not the case with my work station, so with a doctor's note I was able to get approval to have the office services clean my station as requested – especially the air vent and shades behind me desk. This would have been especially effective when I had a job in retail before I was tested – I knew I had bad reactions to dust but I didn't know just how horrible my allergies were (I tested just under 100 for those of you familiar with the allergy scales!) and they gave me a very hard time when I declined doing dusting tasks.

    My notes are pretty similar to other people's – and of course you said you've found some solutions since you posted this question. Don't dust or vacuum when he is around or let him be the one to empty the vacuum – or buy a vacuum with a double bag system. The mattress and pillow covers definitely help. Reducing curtains and blinds as much as you're able to with balancing light and privacy.

    If you own your home and ever need to upgrade your air system, I find it extremely effective and worthwhile to get an air treatment system as part of this rather than room-by-room purifiers. Reducing carpets or steam cleaning them as well as other upholstered furniture regularly make a big difference as well.

    Unless he has specific pet allergies, I do find that dust management tools are just as effective in managing pet fur so I think its worth the extra effort to reduce dust caused by pets for the enjoyment of having them.

  10. Mopsping floors helps prevent allergens from getting kicked up into the air.
    We have lived in rental houses, so we has access to change the furnace filter. They say once a year, bit we were doing it every 2 months because it helped my allergies so much. I found that more effective than purifiers for specific rooms since it took care of the whole house.

    • Good point. We should probably make management come in and change the furnace/ac filters. I think they only come in and do it once or twice a year otherwise.

  11. Have you tired calling the American Lung Association's helpline? They are free to call and are happy to talk to you about dust and other great ways to mitigate asthma. 1-800-LUNGUSA

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