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Spring Showers Bring Horrible Allergies

Spring has sprung. It happens the same way every year: I see a lone robin on an early-morning walk with my dog, I spy tiny green buds on the barren trees, and I come down with a month-long cold.

Except it's not really a cold in the full-blown achey-head-stuffy-nose-hacking-cough kind of way. It's seasonal allergies; I just seem to forget that I experience them now. You see, I grew up in Wisconsin, the land of six-month winter weather. Pollen, spores, and the rest of their sneeze-inducing bretheren just don't have the same staying power in that frigid northern climate. I didn't even realize I HAD allergies until I moved south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Which is why I'm looking at this blog entry through itchy eyes with a Kleenex next to my keyboard. But whether you're new to the allergy game like me, or you've been wheezing come springtime your entire life, there are some ways to make this season more tolerable. Here are some tips to make your home a cozy, allergen-free haven.

1. Change your air filter. True story: A friend of mine called an HVAC repairman when her air conditioner didn't seem to be working in her new condo. Turns out, no one had ever preached to her the importance of changing the air filter; it hadn't been changed since she moved in months prior. These inexpensive little wonders can improve the air quality in your home dramatically. For extra oomph, you can even get versions that are made to reduce airborne allergens, like 3M's Filtrete Micro Allergen Extra Reduction Filter, which lasts three months and costs about $10 at home-improvement and hardware stores.

A word about remembering to change your filter: When we replaced our HVAC system in our house last year, we got a fancy new thermostat that allows you to set reminders for when to change your filter. But we never actually use that feature. If you have trouble remembering when to replace your air filter like I do, try setting up a monthly reminder through an email program or even on your cell phone. Or just jot it down on your calendar every month. That'll work, too.

2. Reduce upholstered surfaces and fabric. The general rule is that wood and other hard surfaces don't trap as many allergens as fabric does. Ergo, wood flooring is preferable for allergy sufferers over carpet. If you have carpeting, be sure to vacuum at least weekly with a model that features a HEPA filter. This Kenmore vacuum ranked high in testing done by a leading consumer magazine. Also try wood blinds instead of elaborate, fabric-heavy window treatments and keep throw pillows and blankets to a minimum. And, good news for log home lovers: Go ahead and splurge on that rustic leather sofa, it's much better than upholstery for those who suffer from allergies.

3. Keep it clean. I hate to clean. A lot. But for allergy suffers, a weekly routine goes a long way toward clearing your home of all of the dander, spores, and pollen that you've tracked in during the week. Damp-mop wood floors; vacuum carpets; and use a damp cloth on all furniture, doorways, stair rails, and window frames. Also, throw your sheets and blankets in the washer and dryer once a week, too.

4. Exhaust yourself. In bathrooms and in your kitchen, install exhaust fans that vent to the outdoors. The next step is to actually USE those systems when you're showering and cooking, respectively. Using fans will reduce the air's moisture, which in turn lowers a home's humidity level. Humid, warm climates are breeding areas for mold.

Not sure if your home is humid? If you have bathroom mold problems or condensation on your windows, chances are you've got too much moisture. If you want to know for sure, you can buy a hygrometer to measure the moisture levels in your home that's pretty inexpensive. If you find that your home's relative humidity level is above 30 to 50 percent, then invest in a dehumidifier.

Good luck. And if all else fails, I'll see you in the fall!

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