Now that spring is upon us, allergies are beginning to flare up: sneezing, congestion, runny nose … just a few of the symptoms nearly 1 in 5 Americans will suffer from. This number is even higher in the Northeast due to the more drastic weather changes from season to season compared to the rest of the country. Allergies can be managed or reduced by utilizing proper prevention and treatment; medications like Claritin, Zyrtec, Benadryl, Allegra, etc. offer relief, but there are no definitive cures for allergies.
Outdoor allergies are the most common: trees, grass, pollen and mold spores are some of the leading contributors. According to the Mayo Clinic, some of the best ways to minimize allergies are to stay inside on dry or windy days, avoid lawn mowing or gardening chores, keep doors and windows closed, and avoid outdoor activity when pollen counts are high. While this is certainly an inconvenience, for many, these are necessary steps to stay healthy.
Reducing allergens in your home
In an attempt to escape these allergens, many people do in fact try to stay indoors during their worst seasonal allergies, however, the home itself can be a breeding ground for further allergens. The first step that all allergy sufferers should take is also the easiest and most cost-effective … use high-efficiency particulate air filters (HEPA filters) in your air handler. These filters can be installed directly into your existing air handler and will effectively trap up to 95% of the physical pathogens and allergens being pulled from outside through the air handler. But what about the air exchanges when you open a door or window?
Many have tried to make their homes more energy efficient and cleaner by adding extra insulation, spray foaming any areas where hot/cold air is escaping, etc. A byproduct of these actions is a reduced ability for fresh air to make it inside the home. This can put you at higher risk for sensitivity to pet dander, dust mites, and mold spores already inside your home and potentially even lead to sick building syndrome. Many Americans turn to small air filters, designed to trap up to 95% of the physical pathogens and allergens that pass through the system. But how do I know all the air actually made it to the filter?
Filters can only do so much …
An average HEPA filter system will cost roughly $200-$300 for a unit “designed to treat” a bedroom or an office. The vast majority of these systems, however, are not capable of cycling through the air in a room anywhere near fast enough to effectively treat the air. Further, even the air that does make it to the machine and pass through the filter will only be treated for particulate or physical matter. There are far more pathogens and allergens that are too small to be trapped in the filters and will thus pass right through the machine unaffected. Ironically, these microscopic pathogens are often the ones that affect us the most.
Let’s imagine that these filters really do what the manufacturer’s claim: an average 3 bedroom home would need 5+ systems to effectively treat bedrooms and a few common spaces, at a cost of over $1000 – if you’re buying the cheap stuff (some more sophisticated filter systems, especially those with true HEPA filtration, cost up to $1,000 for a single bedroom unit). Do your homework before you purchase products that may not be performing as promised – next week, we will offer an in-depth analysis on the leading products for allergy sufferers focusing on the differences between filters, ionizers, ozone generators, and hydroxyl generators.