This past week, I had an allergy attack to end all allergy attacks. After a long day in Manhattan, I walked in the door and raced upstairs to put on some comfy clothes and whipped out a sweater I hadn't worn since last season. And within minutes, my eyes began to itch. So I rubbed them. A lot. Next, my throat began to feel scratchy and I started sneezing uncontrollably. At first, I blamed it on my bedroom. I had just changed the filters in the basement and the attic - having climbed through insulation and pipes like a commando on a mission to save his troops. After I pulled out what looked like at least six months of dust and debris, I thought I had found the culprit. But the sneezing and wheezing wouldn't stop.
So there I was in my kitchen with a welt over my eye and I suddenly had a thought. The sweater. The sweater! I hadn't worn the sweater in months and when I gave it a sniff, it smelled like something the cat had slept in. And judging from the cat hairs, I think he did.
As I raced around the house looking for a cold compress, I also received some disturbing news that was found earlier that day in our basement by our friendly Orkin representative who had been hired to keep the rodents away (you don't want to know about that one). Well, it turns out that Rosario found a dead mouse and an infestation of termites! And after he returned the following morning to figure out how we we were going to attack the problem, we found out the termites had taken up residence in my neighbor's tree stump and as the weather began to get chilly, they decided to pack their bags and move to my house. Lucky me.
And so, as I stared at myself in the hallway mirror with an eye that resembled the one Chris Elliott sported in "Something About Mary" while standing on a floor that could cave in at any moment as the termites threw a fiesta down below, I decided to ask my good friend and fellow Role Mommy Michelle Roberts - who is also the co-founder of Eco Health Designs and a mom of two, who shares the 411 on how to protect yourself and your family against harmful pests and allergens.
Incidentally, - the termite damage was minor so if you ever come over to visit, you won't fall through my living room floor.
And how am I doing since the sweater fiasco? Well, I cleaned out all the sweaters under my bed and am now sleeping with an ionizer/humidifier. My throat still itches but something tells me I'm allergic to my cat and not my split colonial.
Drain pan Install a drain pan under your hot water heater to capture water and prevent moisture problems.
Dehumidifier Place dehumidifiers in basements and other damp spaces to remove excess moisture.
Fix downspouts (includes downspout, elbow, flex-a-spout downspout extension). Repair downspouts to drain water away from the foundation and prevent moisture intrusion.
Water alarm Place a water alarm near the sump pump or hot water heater to notify you of flooding or water leaks.
Repair water damaged ceiling (4' x 8' patch and installation). A dry wall professional can replace/repair water damage to reduce mold growth and maintain structural soundness
Track off mats Place a mat on the inside and outside of every door that leads to the outside. Non-toxic cleaning supplies (includes a mop, two buckets, one for soapy water and one for fresh, and non-toxic cleaning products). Clean up dust to eliminate contaminants such as lead dust, allergens, and chemical residues. Pay particular attention to cleaning refrigerator drip pans and range hoods.
Install/replace exhaust fans (including installation). Install fans in bathrooms and over the range to reduce moisture and contaminants in bathrooms and kitchen. Make sure that these appliances are vented to the outside
Wire shelving Install wire shelves to prevent the collection of dust and avoid off gassing from particle board.
Radon test kit Test for radon in the lowest level of your home to prevent lung cancer from radon exposure. To learn more about radon and how to receive a discounted radon home test kit, contact your state radon office at www.epa.gov/radon or call 1-800-SOS-Radon.
Radon mitigation Hire a professional to install a radon mitigation system to prevent radon gas exposure.
Lead-based paint inspection / risk assessment Hire a professional to test your home for lead. Call 1-800-424-LEAD to find a professional in your area
Pest exclusion Keep pests out by filling cracks and crevices with copper mesh, expanding foam, cement, and caulk.
Avoid using pesticides, which can be harmful to your health. Integrated pest management (price of a visit by an IPM professional) IPM is a safer and usually less costly option for effective pest management. An IPM program employs common sense strategies to reduce sources of food, water and shelter for pests.
Trash can with sealable cover Sealable trash cans prevent rodent and pest infestation.
Nightlight Install nightlights in dark hallways and bathroom to help prevent falls.
Non-skid pads for carpet runner Install non-skid pads under carpets to help prevent slips, trips, and falls.
Smoke detector To prevent fire-related deaths, place a smoke detector on each level of the home, including the basement.
CO alarm To prevent carbon monoxide poisonings, place an alarm on each floor. Place them outside sleeping areas and within 5 feet of sources of combustion (e.g. furnace, hot water heater, stove).
Bath mat Place a bath mat in each bathtub to prevent slips and falls.
Help Yourself to a Healthy Home
Asthma and Allergies
Healthy Housekeeping Clean your home often. Since cleaning puts dust into the air, have someone without asthma or allergies do it. Wear a dust mask if you can't find somebody else to clean. You can buy one at a drug store.
Keep clutter down. Clutter collects dust and makes it harder to keep a clean home. Store your belongings in plastic or cardboard boxes instead of keeping them in piles or stacks. You can move the boxes to make cleaning easier.
When possible, don't have carpeting or rugs. Hard floors (vinyl, wood, or tile) are much easier to keep dust-free. If you do have rugs or carpet, vacuum often. You may be able to borrow or buy a vacuum with a special HEPA (High Efficiency Particle Air) filter to get rid of dust. Call your local or state health department for more information.
Keep Down Dust Mites Use zippered plastic mattress and pillow covers beneath sheets and pillowcases. You can buy them at your local department store or through the mail. If the mattress cover is uncomfortable, put a mattress pad over it.
Wash bedding, including blankets, pillow covers, and mattress pads in hot water every week. Temperatures above 130º kill dust mites.
Control Other Pests Roaches and rodents can trigger asthma and allergies. They need food, water, warmth, and shelter to survive.You can control roaches, mice, and other pests by making these things hard to get. Here are some tips to keep pests away:
• Store food in tightly sealed containers.
• Clean up crumbs and spills right away.
• Empty your garbage often.
• Wash your dirty dishes right after eating.
• Don't leave out pet food or water overnight.
• Fix plumbing leaks and drips.
• Seal cracks where roaches and other bugs hide or get into your home.
Pets Furry pets like dogs, cats, and gerbils can cause asthma and allergy attacks because of their saliva and skin flakes. If you do have pets, make sure to keep them out of sleeping areas and off fabric-covered furniture.
Check Your Appliances Make sure your gas appliances, fireplace, furnace, or wood-burning stove have yearly checkups to keep down soot (and protect your from the dangers of carbon monoxide). Check the filter on your furnace or air conditioner a couple times each year. Change when needed. Think about buying filters that cost a little more than the most economical ones. They will clean the air in your home better. They trap more dust so you will need to change them more often. You can buy air filters at a hardware store. Check labels and packaging to find out about these products. If you rent, talk to your landlord about these steps.
Smoking Cigarette, cigar, or pipe smoke causes health problems, especially for people with asthma. It is best to quit smoking (contact the American Lung Association at 1-800-LUNG -USA for help). Otherwise, smoke outside and away from children. Don't light up in your car, because smoke will linger there and affect children.
Mold When people breathe in mold, it can cause allergies and asthma to act up. Mold needs water to grow. Keep your home dry to control mold. That will also help with roaches and dust mites.
Air cleaners may help in the bedrooms of allergy and asthma patients. Good air cleaners (with HEPA filters) cost about $100 or so. DO NOT use an air cleaner that makes ozone because ozone can cause health problems.
Your local county Extension Office--look in your telephone book.
Your local or state health department--look in your telephone book.
*The information within this factsheet is reproduced from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) pamphlet "Help Yourself to a Healthy Home," originally produced by the University of Wisconsin with grant assistance from HU and the Cooperative State Research Education and Extension Service, U. S. Department of Agriculture.