Combating Fall Indoor Allergens

A woman blowing her nose into a tissue with a yellow-leaved tree behind her in the fall.
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It’s typical for people to think of spring when allergies are brought up in conversation—spring is the season pollen becomes visible again following the winter months as trees, grasses, and weeds release these tiny grains into the air to fertilize other plants. However, allergies must not be taken lightly come autumn. In fact, according to Honeywell Air Purifiers Environmental Allergen Report, weed pollen—one of the more common allergens humans have sensitivities to—is most prevalent mid-September.

Even though weed pollen is considered an outdoor allergen, most people don’t realize how easy it is for these outdoor allergens to find their way into homes. Outdoor allergens can come inside on your clothes, shoes, and hair as well as through poorly insulated doors, windows, and roofs. If pets go outdoors, they can transport allergens inside on their fur, especially if they roll in the grass.

1. Consider Your Home Environment

A woman putting white sheets into the washing machine.

Since staying inside will not prevent you from being exposed to outdoor allergens, the first line of defense must happen at home. For many of my patients, it's second nature to pick up an over-the-counter antihistamine once allergy symptoms set in. However, I am a firm believer in first evaluating your home environment and taking steps to remove or minimize the sources of allergens to reduce exposure naturally.

Taking steps such as closing your windows, using vacuums with HEPA filters, laundering bed linens weekly in hot water, and running a HEPA air purifier are all tactics you should implement regularly to reduce allergens inside. Practicing these simple steps may go a long way in helping to reduce indoor allergens. When used in the specified room size, air purifiers can circulate the air in the room five times per hour, constantly filtering out pollutants. In fact, true HEPA air purifiers can remove up to 99.97 percent of microscopic airborne particles (as small as 0.3 microns in size, from the air that passes through the filters). Compared to other more expensive brands, I consider Honeywell True HEPA air purifiers one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce environmental exposure to airborne allergens.

2. Don't Stir up Dust Particles When Cleaning

While vacuuming and dusting are important steps in helping to reduce indoor allergens, it's important to not make matters worse by stirring up (or aerosolizing) particles into the air. To help reduce aerosolized particles and minimize exposure during cleaning, use a vacuum with a HEPA filter, dust with a damp cloth, and wear a dust mask.

The same concept applies to air purifiers. Vacuumable filters may be convenient, but may lead to recontamination if you’re not careful with cleaning. The feature I like the most about Honeywell True HEPA air purifiers is that they have replaceable filters to avoid this issue of recontamination. If you're using units with replaceable filters, carefully disposing old filters and starting with a fresh filter is the best way to ensure you are not reintroducing captured allergens into the air.

3. Discern Between Myth and Fact

A park scene with fall colored leaves and sunshine.

It’s equally as important to recognize common allergen myths. One of the biggest misconceptions I’ve encountered with patients is that they think common household flowers like daffodils, roses, or mums contribute to indoor allergies. As a rule of thumb, the prettier the flower is, the less likely they are to trigger allergy symptoms. This is because they are insect-pollinated and have heavier, sticky pollen that is transported by bees, not the air. Wind-pollinated plants like grasses, weeds, and trees are the big offenders to watch out for in the fall since their pollen is more likely to be airborne and can travel long distances. Because of this, avoid opening windows on windy days.

4. Possible Treatments

In summary, I always recommend a three-pronged approach to treating allergy symptoms. While not all allergy sufferers will require all treatment options, the three possible treatments include the following:

1. Reduce both indoor and outdoor environmental exposure by keeping your home, especially bedrooms, as clean as possible and minimizing time outdoors

2. Take medication, such as over-the-counter or prescribed medications

3. Take immunotherapy, or allergy shots, to help desensitize your immune system to better tolerate various allergens.

Dr. Bob Geng, M.D., is a board certified Allergist/Immunologist and a medical advisor working with Honeywell Air Purifiers. He practices at Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego and is an assistant clinical professor at UC San Diego School of Medicine. Dr. Geng sees both pediatric and adult patients for allergic and immunologic conditions, including seasonal allergies and asthma.