NATURAL REMEDIES FOR ALLERGY SUFFERERS

187419911fall allergiesWhether you suffer from seasonal allergies or develop symptoms from exposure to dust or pet dander, finding relief can be a frustrating search. Moderate or severe allergies require the treatment of a qualified doctor, especially if over-the-counter products offer little results. If you have mild symptoms and prefer not to take medication for them, several natural remedies might be worth a try. Always consult with your physician before taking any natural remedy, especially if you have a chronic health condition, are pregnant or already take medication for other reasons.

I go with a common sense approach. Avoid the substance that triggers your symptoms whenever possible, even if it means staying indoors when climactic factors are at their worst. Get plenty of sleep, and don’t tax your immune system with smoking, a high consumption of alcohol, or by eating foods that cause even a mild stomach upset. Vitamin C supplements can also support a healthy immune system. This allows your body to use all of its natural resources fighting the adverse effects of allergies.

Some promising studies and clinical trials on the European herb butterbur (Petastites hybridus) are creating a stir in some circles of allergists and immunologists. Taken in tablets, it shows possibilities as an effective anti-histamine for controlling hay fever symptoms. Watch for more developing news on this substance as it is further researched.

Nettle, goldenseal, grape seed extract and quercetin are other natural remedies that can be effective, sometimes in combination with a saline solution. Consult a qualified naturopath for complete information and correct administration of any natural remedy.

Other practical steps I have listed below can be taken within your home environment to alleviate symptoms of allergies:

  • Wear a good dust mask while cleaning, and use damp dusting cloths to prevent particles from flying through the air and into your respiratory system.
  • Install blinds instead of curtains or drapes. Use washable throw rugs and tile, ceramic, wood or laminate flooring in place of wall-to-wall carpet. Wash bedding and rugs in hot water whenever possible to kill dust mites.
  • Keep pets out of bedrooms.
  • Keep windows closed during peak allergy hours and seasons. Use air conditioning if possible. If you must work outside, remove your shoes before coming into the house, and remove your clothing to the laundry room immediately.
  • One of the most effective methods of reducing allergy symptoms is investing in a central vacuum system. Unlike traditional vacuum systems, even those equipped with HEPA filters, a central vacuum hose suctions virtually all dust, allergens and particulate matter from your home, then transports it through a series of tubes between your walls to a sealed container away from your main living spaces, such as a basement, closet, garage or attic. A central vacuum system can be easily installed and retro-fitted to an existing home in as little as one day. It has the added advantage of being easy on the back. There is no lugging around of a vacuum cleaner, just a portable hose that connects to specially installed outlets throughout your home. Some models even allow for the hose to be stored in the wall, so all you do is pull it out, vacuum, and then let it retract back into the wall.

BEST WAY TO CLEAN STUBBORN PANS

preparing cookingAfter everyone has happily stuffed themselves on turkey with all trimmings, there is the dreaded cleanup. Make the process easier on yourself with these tips:

  1. Don’t scrub yourself silly. To remove stubborn crusts from roasting pans, wipe out as much of the residue with a paper towel first. Then fill the pan to a manageable level with soapy water, and place in a 300-degree oven for about 10 minutes. Remove pan carefully, allow it to cool, then scrape up loosened food with a rubber spatula. Dump out the pan and wash it with a sponge. You’ll get a squeaky clean pan without risking damage to the surface with harmful abrasives, and give yourself more time to nap on the couch.
  2. Don’t overlook disposables. With many communities now embracing recycling, aluminum pans are an easy choice for big dinners, especially if you’re traveling by car, and they don’t have to end up in landfills. Bonus for the family pet: You can let the pup lick the pan, then simply rinse and recycle. Make sure you choose a pan heavy enough for its contents, though, or you could end up with the biggest mess of all, and risk burning yourself if it collapses. Look for aluminum turkey roasters that include a sturdy wire support frame, and use a new roasting pan every year as a precaution against leaks. Nothing will dampen appetites more than the smell of charred drippings smoking on oven coils.

CREATIVE CENTERPIECES: USING WHAT YOU HAVE

Florist with tulipsMany people who enjoy entertaining avoid the question of a table centerpiece until the last minute—or often altogether. If you claim you aren’t creative enough to arrange your own table flowers, or loathe spending the money on a purchased centerpiece only to end up with a stiff, unimaginative triangle of blooms for your trouble, try these suggestions. I have found that many lovely centerpieces can be put together quickly and inexpensively using materials you already own.

  • Keep it simple and striking, especially if you are pressed for time. Generously fill a large glass cylinder vase with one type of flower that suits the season and style of the occasion. Sunflowers, tulips, daisies and even cut branches are all good choices. If you’re on a budget, don’t be afraid to use the stuff growing freely in ditches and open fields, like Queen Anne’s Lace, wild daylilies, sweet peas or Black-eyed Susans. For an extra flair, add some small votive candles that pick up the color of the flowers, or stick with classic white.
  • An interesting mirror makes a stunning base for a centerpiece, with the reflection of flowers and candles giving you twice the effect, especially for evening gatherings. Scour discount stores, garage sales and flea markets for the mirrors—just make sure the size is appropriate for your table. Also, try using several small mirrors of varying sizes on a table, placing a different size or color candle on each.
  • One of the easiest and reliably attractive ways to dress your table: fill a beautiful glass bowl three-fourths full with water and float one or two spectacular flowers in it.
  • If you happen to have a handful of pretty bottles around the house—clear glass, old wine bottles, or cobalt blue are especially nice—place a single stem of bloom in each and weave them in a line down your table.
  • Fabric is an element that can be incorporated into centerpieces. Scarves, cloth napkins and bandannas can all be used to loosely wrap otherwise plain containers. Add flowers that match the mood and your table will be instantly accessorized.
  • Buy potted flowers from the grocery store and arrange them in a handsome bowl or basket. Arranging them snugly will allow you to tilt them at angles to create a rounded, natural shape overall.
  • If you have the time, you can make an arresting centerpiece by potting up some of what is in full bloom in your garden and displaying it in a gorgeous ceramic bowl or terra cotta pot. Try to do this a day in advance to give the plant time to acclimate to indoor surroundings. You can replant it later or use it as a container planting outside after your party.

Rule of thumb for table flowers: They should enhance the occasion, not distract from it. Centerpieces should be no taller than about 12 inches so as not to prevent seated guests from seeing each other over the top of the flowers. This rule can be bent somewhat if you have a very tall, elegant arrangement with a visual mass that rises above the heads of seated guests. Be careful not to get top heavy with it, though; you don’t want something so precarious it can crash into someone’s plate. Also, if you are serving buffet style, do not place lit candles where guests need to reach over them. Sleeves can easily catch on fire in such situations.

 

DEALING WITH ANIMAL DANDER

family with dog 500x300Dander is made up of the minute scales from fur, hair, feathers or skin of animals. Every animal’s dander is different, which is why some people can tolerate dogs but not cats and vice versa. Most people with allergic reactions to animal dander are responding to dog or cat dander, but dander from birds, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, horses and many other animals can also cause problems, depending on the individual’s sensitivity. Sneezing, itchy and/or watery eyes, sinus congestion and even difficulty breathing can be caused by dander allergy. Dander is sticky and can survive for months in an environment. It attaches itself to dust.

There is no such thing as a true hypoallergenic animal, but some breeds of dogs do seem to cause fewer allergic problems than others. People with dander allergies can safely keep pets without fur or feathers, such as turtles, snakes or fish. But if you have someone in the home with a dander allergy who simply cannot give up their beloved creature, there are strategies you can follow to keep symptoms at a minimum.

  • Keep animals out of the bedroom at all times, and create other pet-free zones in the home.
  • Change the filters in your furnace and air conditioning frequently.
  • Consider removing carpets and replacing them with tile, wood, or vinyl flooring. Wash throw rugs in hot water frequently.
  • Use blinds instead of drapes, especially in bedrooms.
  • Wash hands after handling animals, and never hold the animal close to the face.
  • Launder bedding in hot water to remove dander that may travel into the bedroom on clothes or shoes.
  • Use portable air purifiers in the home.
  • Feed pets high quality pet food and consider a coat supplement. Both efforts will reduce shedding and increased flaking of dander from the pet.
  • Vacuum frequently with a vacuum equipped with a HEPA filter. For best results, invest in a central vacuum system. Unlike traditional vacuum cleaners, which re-circulate some of the dander and irritants back into the home environment, a central vacuum system will remove virtually all contaminants through the hose and into behind-the-wall tubes which lead to a sealed container away from living space, such as the basement, garage, or even a closet. This unit can then be easily emptied by a non-allergic member of the household.

GROUT CLEANING

480742343 shower doorI find getting soiled grout to look good again is a chore that confounds many homeowners, especially if stains have been left untreated for a long time. But with the right product, grout can be cleaned well enough to sparkle like new.

Start with the mildest solution and then work your way up to stronger stuff if stains are stubborn. For example, some people swear by plain old vinegar or baking soda to clean grout. If using vinegar, dilute with an equal part of water. Baking soda can be mixed with a small amount of water to make a paste. Then spray or dab on a short length of grout and scrub with a stiff brush. Avoid metal brushes, as they can erode grout. An old toothbrush is generally not stiff enough. Use a small circular motion for best results. Rinse well with water and mop or sponge dry.

If after testing a small section, the grime remains, consider the following options, always remembering to use good ventilation and keep all cleaning products well labeled and out of the reach of children. Never mix cleaning products, as the combined chemicals can give off harmful gases.

  • Everyday household cleaners like Mr. Clean, Lysol or Spic ‘n’ Span can work well on grout, using the above technique.
  • Powdered oxygen bleach is nontoxic, doesn’t give off harmful fumes, and is safe on colored fabrics and grout alike. Stain molecules are literally broken into pieces by the oxygen ions, which makes them easy to rinse away. Mix oxygen bleach with water as directed and apply to dry grout so it soaks in deeply. Let sit for at 15-30 minutes, then scrub with a stiff brush, applying more solution to each section as you scrub. Wipe clean with fresh water. To keep grout looking good after the initial deep cleaning, use oxygen bleach in the cleaning water each time you wipe or mop the tile, and let sit for 30 minutes without rinsing. Then rinse with fresh water.
  • Hydrogen peroxide sprayed, mopped or sponged on grout can be an effective stain remover. For stubborn stains make a paste of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda and rub with a sponge or brush. Wear gloves and avoid getting on clothes.
  • A solution of half bleach and half water can be sprayed on shower grout at night after everyone is in bed and all items have been removed from the shower. Rinse off in the morning. Again, use adequate ventilation when applying bleach, and never mix bleach with other cleaners.
  • Some homeowners get great results on grout by using scrubbers that are powered by rechargeable batteries and come with different attachments. Available for around $30 retail, they can be a small but worthwhile investment.
  • Steam cleaners can also be effective on grout.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A HOUSE CLEANING SERVICE

111779891If you’re seeking relief from the constant cycle of housekeeping chores, there are many options to choose from in housecleaning services. Here are some considerations to help you make a good choice for your personal needs:

How often? If you can’t afford weekly cleaning service, other options are usually available. You can get bi-weekly service, monthly cleaning, or even one-time assistance for a special occasion. If the latter is the case, don’t wait till the last minute to arrange for it. Cleaners have set schedules and they will need to work you in around their regular customers.

Do they provide their own cleaning supplies? If so, that will affect the price. If you have particular products you prefer, ask if you can supply them, and how it will affect the fee structure.

Are they bonded or insured? Residential cleaning services with offices and overhead cost more, but their employees are usually bonded and insured. On the other hand, if an independent cleaning person is referred to you from a friend or professional you trust, that might be satisfactory, and their rates will probably be more reasonable. At any rate, always ask for more than one reference, and follow up on them.

What services will be rendered for the fee? There is a difference between a maid service and a housecleaning service. A maid will often do light housework, including changing sheets and making beds, tidy up and do some laundry. Most cleaning services will not do laundry, make beds, or do windows. Some will take out the garbage and load the dishwasher—ask. The standard housecleaning package includes cleaning and sanitizing kitchen and bathrooms, vacuuming, and thorough dusting. For an extra fee, the package can accommodate laundry, polishing woodwork, cleaning light fixtures, windows and/or floor waxing.

How does payment work? Typically, prices are based on square footage of your home. Ask people around your community about going rates. Arrange payment systems up front. Will you pay each visit? Monthly? What form of payment is accepted?

Last, consider a house cleaning gift certificate for new parents or someone undergoing extensive treatment for an illness. It is a thoughtful gesture that will be greatly appreciated.

RAGWEED ALLERGY PREVENTION

Beautiful yellow goldenrod flowers blooming

It’s a shame that a plant as pretty as ragweed causes so much misery. But come midsummer, with its proliferation in the Midwest and Eastern states, along with each plant’s ability to produce up to a billion grains of windborne pollen, ragweed is a scourge to thousands of allergy sufferers.

Though the plant itself is not harmful, the oversensitive immune systems of the allergy-prone convince the body to treat it like an invader, causing the runny nose, puffy eyes, itchy ears and general respiratory discomfort that are the hallmark symptoms of pollen allergy. Asthma sufferers may also find that ragweed season triggers or intensifies asthma symptoms.

(A side note: While similar in appearance, ragweed is often confused with goldenrod, a valuable native plant also used increasingly in garden design. Goldenrod generally does not cause allergic reactions. Research photos of both plants so you can tell the difference).

While there is no cure for ragweed allergy, several strategies I have found can help sufferers breathe easier when the plant reaches its peak season. While you should consult your doctor with serious allergy concerns, these common sense tips will augment any medications or treatments offered by your medical practitioner.

Keep tabs on pollen counts in newspapers, or on the web. The American Academy of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology on the Internet publishes pollen counts by region. Avoid the outdoors when pollen counts are high. If possible, stay in an air conditioned environment equipped with a HEPA filter, especially when you sleep. At the very least, keep windows closed during peak pollen hours.

Predawn hours are peak time for ragweed pollen in rural areas, but depending on weather, urban areas will peak between 10 am and 3 pm. Damp, rainy and cool temperatures below 50 degrees F will slow pollen release.

I have everyone remove their shoes when they enter my home. A great deal of pollen and irritants are tracked in the house on footwear.
Pollen is carried on clothing, too. Remove clothing to a laundry area when you undress, and wash promptly.

You can leave ragweed-dense areas and go to other parts of the country during midsummer for relief, but don’t feel you have to move away from where you live. Research has shown that people with pollen-related allergies often will develop allergies to different plants in different locales.

A worthwhile investment for comfort, health and cleaner living is a central vacuum system. Traditional vacuum cleaners, even if they are equipped with HEPA filters, can suck up and then re-circulate dirt and fine pollutants back into your indoor air. A central vacuum system, by contrast, collects and contains even the tiniest particles of dust and pollen, virtually all of them, then transports it through the hose and interconnected plastic tubing behind your walls to a sealed container. When the container is filled, it can be emptied and the contents disposed of. Many allergy sufferers maintain that their central vacuum systems are the most important allergy-fighting tool at their disposal.