Carpet Allergies: What’s The Deal?

12 Jun Carpet Allergies: What’s The Deal?

Allergies and Carpets: Rethinking Carpets

It has been a whirlwind time for Lauren and Michael after purchasing their new home. Lauren smiles as she looks around at her friends who are gathered to celebrate their big move. Yes, there is a lot of work to be done on the house, but they have finally made the big move!

Soon she notices a couple of her friends begin to sniffle and to have slightly red eyes. Yes, Michael feels some irritation as well as he is constantly clearing his throat from post nasal drip. These are the ones who always seem to suffer and bemoan that “something” is causing their susceptibilities. While Lauren does not experience anything, she looks around thinking that there may be minor dust problems, but it cannot be the floor because it is hardwood. There is no carpeting on the main level. She cannot understand why her husband experiences sneezing fits sometimes since they moved in.

Allergies have been a well-discussed topic, yet the general population typically does not fully understand the associated underlying matters.

Allergy 101

The reality is that people can develop both food and environmental hypersensitivities at anytime in their lives. Studies do suggest that heredity plays a significant role. In fact, having two parents who are allergy prone increases their offspring’s susceptibility by over 60%. (Medical Definition of Allergy). These parents supply “immune response genes” (B-cells) that are characterized by lymphocytes that cannot distinguish harmless proteins from real threats such as a virus or cells that have a tumorous onset, for example. Furthermore, the immune system goes into overdrive to deal with these “threats.” Allergies are a protein-based condition, and some common allergens include ragweed, pollen, pet dander, dust and various foods.

It is the process that brings about the severity of how aggressive the immune system handles these threats that determines whether the person has a rash, runny nose or anaphylactic shock.

Let’s Briefly Break This Down . . .

The immune system is very complex (and amazing), and the following description is an oversimplification for illustrative purposes.

The immune system includes white blood cells (lymphocytes) of B-cells and T-cells. These cells go throughout the entire body. When a threat (an allergen, in this case) is encountered, the B-cell generates antibodies. It then retreats to a node to convert to a plasma cell and produces antibodies specifically designed to fight that threat. These antibodies are called immunoglobulins (Igs). The IgE is an antibody specifically associated with an allergic response. These are produced in mass amounts because the B-cell is genetically misdirected (note earlier comment about the heredity factor).

The antibodies attach to mast cells that contain histamines, along with the allergen cells. This causes the release of histamines that creates allergy symptoms. Histamine enlarges the blood vessels, drops blood pressure and the immediate surrounding tissues are flooded with cellular fluid. This explains any possible swelling and symptoms that include itchiness, hives, rashes or nausea, for example. Furthermore, the immune system remembers the signature allergen and is ready to wage war when there is a future encounter.

There are some allergies that occur where histamines flood the whole body. They can be brought on by either food or environmental allergens. The blood vessels enlarge and a severe drop in blood pressure occurs. This drop is significant enough to affect oxygen levels in the body. This can cause permanent harm to organs such as the brain. Again, cellular fluid reigns upon tissue, particularly in the throat that can constrict air passages causing anaphylactic shock. The antidote to this is epinephrine that acts as a temporary defense, and carrying an EpiPen is highly advised.

Unfortunately, deaths occur yearly due to anaphylactic shock. However, most allergic responses fall within the occasional annoyance to the constant state of feeling unwell. It is at this point that people reach out for answers.

Allergy Tests

Skin Tests: The Scratch Test involves placing a moderated amount of a probable allergen to the arm or back. The skin is then scratched with a needle. If swelling and irritation appear, then it indicates the presence of IgE antibodies. The Intradermal test is another test where a small amount of possible allergen is injected under the most outer layer of skin to see if there is an IgE-related response.

Blood Test: Typically run an IgE blood test where the blood sample is exposed to a potential allergen. The IgE antibody response is then measured. Both skin and blood tests are necessary tools to use together to provide better medical information than just one test alone. This information is to complement a patient’s medical history.

Hair Test: There are companies that test hair for latent allergies, considered non-IgE allergies. These allergies are regarded as T-cell associated, and the allergic response occurs outside of the window of two hours of exposure to an allergen. These tests include testing for food intolerance. These should never be confused with companies that claim to do a DNA test on a submitted hair sample to determine health issues. These are not legitimate.

Home Allergy Test: There are various home tests ranging from those that detect food intolerance to raised levels of IgE, and whatever else in between. Typically, the customer is to provide samples of droplets of blood and mail the samples to a lab. Some tests require the individual to eat potential problematic foods first and then provide a blood sample. Later a report is sent to the consumer identifying offending allergens.

Some medical professionals question the validity of the at-home test citing that the results should be professionally interpreted. Some tests can provide either false positives or false negatives. There are certain foods that can be consumed on a rotational basis, regular basis or should be avoided altogether. Some parents testing their children may impose unnecessarily restrictive diets based on misinterpretation of results. This can lead to undernourishment. It is better to work with a medical professional and allergist to work through these complex issues.

So, what does all this have to do with allergies as it pertains to home flooring?

Meanwhile . . . Back at Lauren’s and Michael’s Home: Carpet and Allergies

Looking at possible home environmental allergens and irritants, flooring has been a topic of debate. Do you rid your home of all carpeting? Are hardwood or other surfactant floors best? Are some carpets truly hypoallergenic and what does that mean?

There was a movement toward hardwood and other floor finishes to enjoy flooring of simple beauty and ease of maintenance. If hardwood did not address hypersensitivity problems, another type of flooring could solve the problem. Has the removal of carpet provided allergy relief?

Not so, according to studies conducted in Germany and Sweden. In fact, these reports suggest that the use of carpets are more allergy friendly than non-carpeted floors. In the early 1970’s the Swedish government banned the use of carpet in public areas such as commercial and government buildings, and floors were covered in hard surfaces. Homes also reflected this as well. This was done because it was believed that carpets were harbingers of dust, molds, dead skin, dander and other allergens that exasperated asthma. During this time of removal, there was a noticeable increase in reports of allergies. A subsequent government follow-up study was conducted that confirmed these growing numbers. The ban on carpeting in public places was later lifted.

A study managed by the German Allergy and Asthma Society in 2005 found that a smooth floor allows dust, pet dander, mold and other allergens greater mobility affecting air quality for allergy sufferers. Rooms that had wall-to-wall carpet showed barely any dust agitating in the air. (Canadian Carpet Institute, Carpets and Health). The allergens are trapped in the carpet which is a good thing. It was noticed that those who had allergies to dust mites benefited the most.

Maybe there was a good reason why Michael and Lauren’s friends were showing signs of allergy irritation.

Carpet for Allergies

Because different people react to different things including different types of flooring, there is no such thing as non allergenic carpets. This means carpet that is universally guaranteed to not create any type of reaction for anyone. However, do look for hypoallergenic carpet such as nylon that is the shortest and tightest pile. They do not encourage mold or mildew growth and are a great carpet for allergy sufferers. Likewise, choose carpet padding that has moisture resistant materials and the adhesives used are low volatile organic compounds. These factors contribute to making this type of carpet as one of the best carpet for allergy sufferers.

Another reason newer nylon carpet is more attractive to buy is that they are environmentally friendly. These carpets can be recycled and some carpets also contain materials made from plastic bottles. This demonstrates how bacterial resistant these carpets really are, underscoring that nylon is the best carpet for allergies and related issues.

Carpet Allergy Treatment

Regular weekly vacuuming with a machine that has a HEPA filter and carpet cleaning every six months is recommended. When carpet cleaning for allergies, steam cleaning and dry cleaning are both effective methods. Ensure that carpets are thoroughly dry to avoid mold issues once cleaned.

An allergen carpet cleaner is an anti-allergen solution or powder meant to destroy dust mites, pollens, mold and mildew and pet dander on contact. These can contain tannic acid or benzyl benzoate or different agents as oxidizing compounds that can be used on various colored fabrics. Newer cleaning solutions tend to be environmentally safe and pet safe, and should be used often depending on traffic areas in the home,alleviating any carpet allergy symptoms.

If you have a house full of children and pets, consider vacuuming two to three times per week. Having people take off their shoes before they enter the home may be a good idea, but indoor/outdoor pets bring in all sorts of dirt, dust, pollen, among many other potential irritants. Allergens are also transported via clothing and hair. Ensure spills on floors and carpets are cleaned up thoroughly as well. Employing these measures contribute to an anti allergy carpet.

Yes, there are other types of flooring such as bamboo or cork that are regarded as hypoallergenic. The key issue is that ridding your home of carpet does not appear to rid allergy sufferers of their ailments. If carpet acts as a trap for potential allergens and a smooth surface floor tends to stir up dust, then carpet in the home or in some rooms may be the solution.

Living with allergies should be taken into consideration in one’s home. There are flooring solutions and home improvement materials that make that much easier today. The movement toward going green and utilizing safer products that emit little or no chemical gases are more readily available today, and the costs are becoming more affordable. It is these types of health issues and overall demand to question what materials we have in our homes and how safe are these things for our families that is increasing this demand.