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Allergy-proof your home

Don't let pet, dust, mold or pollen allergies make you miserable in your own home. Room by room, you can take these steps to have an allergen-free abode. If you have hay fever or allergic asthma symptoms throughout the year, take a few steps to reduce allergens in your home. Here are some room-by-room suggestions.

Bedroom
Encase pillows, mattresses and box springs in dust-mite-proof covers. Wash sheets, pillowcases and blankets at least once a week in water heated to at least 130 F (54 C). Remove, wash or cover comforters. Replace wool or feather bedding with synthetic materials. Remove carpeting and use hardwood or linoleum flooring and washable area rugs. If that isn't an option, use low-pile instead of high-pile carpeting and vacuum weekly with a vacuum cleaner that has a small-particle or high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter. Shampoo the carpet frequently. Use washable curtains made of plain cotton or synthetic fabric. Replace horizontal blinds with washable roller-type shades. Close windows and rely on air conditioning during pollen season. Clean mold and condensation from window frames and sills. Use double-paned windows if you live in a cold climate. Choose easy-to-clean chairs, dressers and nightstands made of leather, wood, metal or plastic. Avoid upholstered furniture. Remove items that collect dust, such as knickknacks, tabletop ornaments, books and magazines. Store children's toys, games and stuffed animals in plastic bins. If you can't find a new home for your dog, cat or other furry pet, at least keep animals out of the bedroom. Bathing pets at least once a week may reduce the amount of allergen in the dander they shed. Choose an air filter that has a small-particle or HEPA filter. Try adjusting your air filter so that it directs clean air toward your head when you sleep.

Living room
Remove carpeting and use hardwood or linoleum flooring and washable area rugs. If that isn't an option, use low-pile instead of high-pile carpeting and vacuum weekly with a vacuum cleaner that has a small-particle or high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter. Wash area rugs and floor mats weekly, and shampoo wall-to-wall carpets periodically. Consider replacing upholstered sofas and chairs with furniture made of leather, wood, metal or plastic. Use washable curtains made of plain cotton or synthetic fabric. Replace horizontal blinds with washable roller-type shades. Close windows and rely on air conditioning during pollen season. Clean mold and condensation from window frames and sills. Use double-paned windows if you live in a cold climate. Find a new home for potted plants or spread aquarium gravel over the dirt to help contain mold. If you can't find a new home for your dog or cat, consider keeping it outside if weather permits. Avoid the use of wood-burning fireplaces or stoves because smoke and gases can worsen respiratory allergies. Most natural gas fireplaces won't cause this problem.

Kitchen
Install and use a vented exhaust fan to remove cooking fumes and reduce moisture. Most stove-top hoods simply filter cooking particulates without venting outside. Wash dishes daily. Scrub the sink and faucets to remove mold and food debris. Wipe up excessive moisture to avoid mold growth. Discard moldy or out-of-date food. Regularly empty and clean the dripping pan and clean or replace moldy rubber seals around doors. Clean cabinets and countertops with detergent and water. Check under-sink cabinets for plumbing leaks. Store food ‐ including pet food ‐ in sealed containers. Place garbage in a can with an insect-proof lid and empty trash daily. Keeping the kitchen free of food crumbs will help reduce the chance that you'll have rodents or cockroaches.

Bathroom
Install and use an exhaust fan to reduce moisture while taking baths or showers. Remove carpeting and use tile, vinyl, wood or linoleum flooring. Use washable rugs. Remove wallpaper and install tile, or paint the walls with mold-resistant enamel paint. Towel-dry the tub and enclosure after use. Scrub mold from the tub, shower and faucets with bleach. Clean or replace moldy shower curtains and bathmats. Scrub mold from plumbing fixtures. Repair leaks.

Basement
Remove moldy or water-damaged carpeting. If possible, use concrete, vinyl or linoleum flooring. Consider replacing upholstered sofas and chairs with furniture made of leather, wood, metal or plastic. Check for and repair any sources of leaks or water damage. Use a dehumidifier to reduce dampness, and clean it once a week. Store collectibles and clothes in plastic storage bins. Vent moisture outside.

Entire house
Hot, humid houses are breeding grounds for dust mites and mold. Maintain the temperature between 68 F (20 C) and 72 F (22 C) and keep relative humidity no higher than 50 percent. Clean or replace small-particle filters in central heating and cooling systems and in room air conditioners at least once a month. Control cockroaches and mice with inexpensive traps from the hardware store. If that's not effective, hire a professional exterminator. To remove allergy-triggering insect and mouse residue, thoroughly vacuum carpeting and wash hard surfaces. To prevent re-infestation, seal cracks or other possible entryways. Close doors and windows during warm weather and use air conditioning and dehumidifiers. Remove non-washable contaminated materials such as carpeting. Clean washable material with a solution of 5 percent chlorine bleach, and wear a protective mask when cleaning away mold. Check the roof and ceilings for water leaks. Damp-mop wood or linoleum flooring and vacuum carpeting. Use a vacuum cleaner with a small-particle or a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter. Use a damp cloth to clean other surfaces, including the tops of doors, windowsills and window frames. If you have allergies, either wear a dust mask or get someone who doesn't have allergies to do this job. Don't allow smoking anywhere inside your house.

Nasal spray addiction: Is it real?

Should I be concerned about nasal spray addiction? If you use over-the-counter nasal decongestant sprays regularly, after a few days of using this type of nasal spray, your nose may become less responsive to the effects of the medication. As a result, you may need to use more and more of the medication to control congestion. Your congestion also may worsen if you stop using the medication. Some people may mistake this rebound effect for addiction, but it isn't. True addiction is a compulsive physiological need for and use of a habit-forming substance known to be physically, psychologically or socially harmful. Over-the-counter nasal sprays don't cause the physiological cravings that mark an addiction. To prevent rebound congestion, use over-the-counter decongestant nasal sprays for no more than five days in a row, with as few doses as possible each day. Prescription nasal sprays containing steroids don't cause this rebound effect, so they can be used on a daily basis for years.