Allergy sufferers know that when pollen counts increase, it’s time to head indoors. Some people find that just retreating to their homes isn’t enough to keep pollen at bay. The problem is, leaving doors and windows open to enjoy the spring breeze can still allow tiny pollen particles in through ordinary household screens.
Don’t go closing the shutters and turning up the air conditioning just yet. While pollen can get through ordinary window screens, there are plenty of steps homeowners can take to protect allergy sufferers from seasonal discomfort. Many people even find that they can eliminate their reliance on allergy medications by taking a few simple steps to improve indoor air quality.
What Are Pollen Allergies?
Before moving on to effective solutions, let’s start at the beginning to get some context. Successfully combating pollen allergies requires a basic understanding of what causes them.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, pollen is one of the leading triggers of seasonal allergies. Also known as hay fever or seasonal allergic rhinitis, allergic reactions to pollen are triggered by exposure to the tiny, dry grains of pollen that grasses, trees, and weeds use to facilitate plant propagation.
Most allergy sufferers know that ragweed is the main culprit. However, other plants such as lamb’s quarter, sagebrush, tumbleweed, and even some species of trees also produce pollen. Some people are allergic to only one type of pollen, while others experience symptoms in response to multiple types. These symptoms often include:
- Itchy throat
- Watery eyes
- Runny nose
- Nasal congestion
People with pollen allergies don’t need to come into contact with the plants, themselves, to experience allergic reactions. The pollen also travels through the air and is carried by the wind. Some days are worse than others. On days when the conditions are ideal for plant pollination, it’s common to read updates about high pollen counts. Those are the days when most allergy sufferers choose to stay indoors.
The Truth Behind Pollen Counts
Anyone who suffers from seasonal allergic rhinitis should pay attention to pollen counts. However, they should also know that pollen counts don’t tell the entire story. Pollen counts only describe the overall amount of these particles in the air.
Since some people are allergic only to certain species’ pollen, the overall air saturation may not accurately reflect the risk of exposure. Those with severe allergies often undergo testing to determine what types of pollen they should avoid.
Why Traditional Window Screens Don’t Protect Against Pollen
Pollen particles are tiny. They are just 10 to 100 microns in size, with some as small as just one micron. For reference, a strand of human hair can be up to 120 microns thick. Needless to say, that’s significantly smaller than the holes in any normal window screen.
Traditional window screens aren’t designed to ensure adequate indoor air quality. They’re intended to keep out insects, not pollen, dust, and other allergens. As a result, the standard size for the holes in window screens is a little over one millimeter.
Unfortunately, just locking up the windows, closing the doors, and running the air conditioner constantly isn’t a great solution. For one thing, it wreaks havoc on homeowners’ monthly energy bills. For another, it doesn’t go far enough to prevent pollen infiltration.
How to Create and Maintain a Pollen-Free Home
While there’s little to be done about reducing pollen counts outdoors, allergy sufferers deserve to have a safe, pollen-free home to retreat to when their symptoms begin to flare up. Since pollen is airborne and can also be carried in on residents’ clothes, shoes, and even in their hair, it may take a little work to prevent it from getting into the home. Here are a few steps homeowners can take to improve their indoor air quality:
1. Install More Effective Screens
Typical household window and door screens do little to prevent pollen from getting in. The mesh on these screens may be small enough to stop flying insects, but pollen particles are much smaller than even the tiniest bugs.
The good news is, homeowners can now purchase NanoScreen window shields from BMT AllergyGuard capable of filtering out particles as small as 250 nanometers. Window shields will allow fresh air in but keep pollen, dust, and even most viruses, from entering the home. They help to improve overall indoor air quality in addition to providing respite for those with pollen allergies.
2. Upgrade Central Air Filters
All central air systems feature disposable filters, but some are more effective than others at capturing pollen and other small airborne particles. Switching out basic disposable filters for models that can more effectively capture indoor pollutants can take pollen that finds its way into the home out of circulation.
3. Purchase a HEPA Air Purifier
HEPA air purifiers are better than even the most effective filters at capturing pollen in indoor environments. They can remove up to 99.9% of pollen particles from the air that passes through them and can be set to purify the air up to ten times per hour.
Air purifiers are more expensive than disposable filters. For that reason, most allergy sufferers purchase one or two and keep them in the rooms where they’re most likely to spend large amounts of time indoors, such as bedrooms, living rooms, or offices.
4. Change Clothes Upon Returning Home
Not all the pollen found in modern homes makes its way in through the windows or doors. Some of it gets tracked in on the feet of residents, guests, and household pets. Encourage everyone to remove their shoes upon entering the home. Most allergy sufferers who want to avoid unnecessary flare-ups also change their clothes after spending time outside, especially if the pollen counts have been high.
5. Wash Hands Frequently and Bathe Daily
Anyone who suffers from seasonal allergies should pay special attention to hand washing. It doesn’t just reduce the transmission of viruses and bacteria. It can also cut down on how much pollen winds up in the home.
Most experts also recommend bathing and shampooing every night before bed, even if it means taking two showers per day. Nightly bathing removes pollen from people’s hair and skin, helping to ensure that it doesn’t wash off on the bedding where it can trigger allergic reactions.