YOUR ENVIRONMENTAL SURVEY
Your physician will ask you some of the following questions. Your answers will reveal problem areas in your environment. We have listed these questions with the rationale for each. Check those that may pose a problem.
Do you live in a city or in a rural area?
In an urban environment, you are more vulnerable to industrial air pollution, which can trigger allergy attacks. On the other hand, living in a rural area may predispose you to high concentrations of pollen that can exacerbate your allergy. Either situation calls for preventative action.
How old is your house?
The older your house, the more likelihood of the presence of dust, mold, fumes, and so on. There usually are more “nooks and crannies” in older houses, encouraging greater dust accumulation. Construction materials also can create problems for allergy sufferers.
What type of flooring does it have?
Hardwood or linoleum floors are best for the allergy sufferer. Older carpets can be an enormous reservoir of allergens: dust, breakdown of carpet fibers, insects, food, and other waste materials.
Are some rooms damp or musty?
Dampness can lead to rampant mold and/or mildew formation as well as possible insect infestation.
What type of heating?
Conventional furnaces without regular cleaning as well as air filter and duct maintenance are a source of circulating dust, animal dander, and pollen. (Do you find yourself sneezing when the furnace starts up? House dust may be the causative agent.)
The same holds true here as for carpeting. The older the window coverings, the more problematic. Certain materials are better than others. Blinds act as dust catchers.
(Is this questionnaire starting to overwhelm you? Here are succinct checklists on environmental factors; it is surprising how quickly you can make things better with some planning and the services of a few experts.)
Are the bedrooms cluttered?
This is one of the most important aspects of environmental control. You spend much of your life in your bedroom. If you can “purify” the environment here, the benefits are enormous. Eight hours in a cleaner atmosphere gives the lungs, immune system, and entire respiratory tract a chance to build up resistance and meet the outside world with increased resilience.
How old are the mattresses?
This is part of bedroom assessment, but it is worth special mention. Among the most powerful offending allergens is a minute bug one cannot detect with the naked eye. It is called the house dust mite. These repulsive-looking insects feed on dead skin that we shed daily. They are in plentiful supply in mattress covers. It is important to note that they do not bite but simply subsist on shed skin cells. Their excrement and decomposed bodies (disgusting, isn’t it?) are extremely powerful allergens. If you notice that you sneeze or have the sniffles when you first lie down on your bed, it’s probable that this reaction is caused by the dust mite debris becoming airborne. There are methods for handling this problem: special mattress covers, and wiping down the mattress.
What about hobbies?
Glue fumes, wood dust, the list of possible irritants is endless. These can create problems for you and family members.
Do you have pets?
Even neighbors’ pets can trigger reactions, so consideration of this factor is important.
Do you have indoor plants?
Plants can be a source of molds and/or insects. Check them for infestation. Remove them, if necessary.
Do you have upholstered furniture?
“Stuffed” chairs, sofas, and so on are significant dust catchers and often harbor dust mites and other debris.
This is a sampling of the kind of questions your physician may ask you. His/her questioning will depend on your symptoms and when and where they occur. It is hoped that this section has given you insights into the detective work your physician applies in diagnosing your allergies.
A useful aid for your doctor and for you would be a complete record of your allergy problems. This record could be kept for several months or even for a year, or it could be for one week of intense symptoms.
IS ENVIRONMENTAL CONTROL COSTLY?
If money were no object, the ultimate goal would be a house designed to be one hundred percent allergy free! In fact, you can dramatically improve your environment by following some simple guidelines along with, perhaps, the purchase of an appropriate mechanical device. The keys to successful environmental control are planning, thoroughness in making the changes, and disciplined maintenance.
SYMPTOM ASSOCIATION DIARY
Back to the “Sherlock Holmes” approach. Complete the Symptom Association Diary for a week, a month, or a year. Record your symptoms, where they occurred, and what you were doing when you experienced them. What was the weather like? Did you notice odors or smells? Record what you suspect the cause(s) of the attack was (were) but remember that the cause(s) or trigger(s) should be confirmed by your physician.
Living with allergies often is a lifelong challenge. We know some allergies are seasonal, which is why it may be appropriate to record your symptoms for a year. Your physician may ask you to complete this diary (or something similar to it) to aid in pinpointing the cause(s) of your symptoms.