Controlling Allergies on a Budget
April 2011 Wellness Column
In today's economy – where every dollar counts – budgeting can be about as painful as a root canal. So, when it comes to something like allergy control, you may feel you don't have anything left over to spend. Still, there's no need to suffer in silence. A few simple steps can make a big difference, while costing very little.
To start, think about the things you can do that are free – or practically free. For example, clear out items that might be collecting dust mites. Think extra pillows, throw rugs, or stuffed animals. Are hypoallergenic pillows and comforters or allergen-proof covers (starting around $65) too costly for you? Then keep bed linens and other items around that can be washed in hot water. And, rent a steam cleaner for about $25 a day to steamroll those nasty little allergens lurking in carpets.1
Speaking of cleaning, dust and pollen masks and nonlatex gloves are very low-cost ways to whip through the housework (or gardening) without exposing yourself to extra allergens. Microfiber hypoallergenic cloths are specially designed to attract dust and allow you to clean without the use of chemicals. They generally cost around $1 to $2 a piece. Use a diluted bleach solution to wipe down surfaces in bathrooms and other places. And, even if you don't have a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) vacuum cleaner, don't forget to change your vacuum bag at least once a month.2 A washable rubber mat at the front door will cut back on what gets tracked in.
If you can spring for a portable air cleaner, make sure you find one that doesn't produce ozone. This can make allergies worse. A good place to research these products is at the website of the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) [www.cadr.org/].3 Here, you can find information about all kinds air filtering technologies, from HEPA to ionization.
Short of buying an air cleaner, though, it might help to buy a pleated paper furnace filter with a MERV rating of 7 to 13. These capture many of the allergens HEPA filters do and cost around $10. Electrostatic filters do a similar job and cost around $15.1
Humidity is also an important factor when trying to control allergies. You want it low enough to control dust mites, but not so low it irritates your nasal passages. A $15 hygrometer can help you see if you're in a safer range – between 30 and 50 percent humidity. Then you can use a humidifier or dehumidifier to achieve the right level. To help keep those nasal passages clear, consider using a bulb syringe or neti pot ($15), filled with lukewarm saline.1
Remember: Many of these products are available in our store. And, of course, don't forget about over-the-counter (OTC) allergy medications, such as pills, eyedrops, and nasal sprays. Check with me about any prescription medications that may now be available as cheaper OCT medications. For example, a wide range of Allegra products, the best-selling antihistamine, is now available over the counter.4
And one final note: If you or your child needs allergy shots, you may be heartened to learn this: A 10-year study showed that allergy shots reduce overall health care costs in children by one-third and prescription costs by 16 percent.5 A pretty sound investment.
1. WebMD: "Nasal Allergy Relief: Products That Work." http://www.webmd.com/allergies/slideshow-nasal-allergy-relief-products
2. CADR: "Tips to Keep Your Home Healthy." http://cadr.org/consumer-tips.htm
3. CADR: "About Air Cleaners." http://cadr.org/consumer-aircleaners.htm
4. Medscape. "Allergy Pill Allegra to Be Sold Over the Counter." http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/736466
5. Medical News Today. "Allergy Vaccinations Reduce Children's Health Care Costs By One-Third." http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/175610.php