When Heather Gass started working from home last March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she noticed something was different: She was struggling with allergy symptoms much more than usual.
Gass, 35, says that her allergies to dust, pet hair and wood smoke can prompt asthma attacks, even though she takes over-the-counter medications for her allergies, along with a medication and rescue inhaler for her asthma. “I feel an asthma attack coming on when my chest gets tight and I feel short of breath. I usually don’t wheeze,” she says. Gass says her attacks are typically “mild and infrequent”—but suddenly, that changed.
Gass and her family had moved into a new home in the summer of 2019, and she says that her symptoms were “well controlled” at the time, thanks in part to the home’s easy-to-clean hardwood floors. But, once the temperatures dropped in the winter of 2020 and Gass began working from home, her allergies took a turn for the worse. “I began needing to use my rescue inhaler during the day when usually my attacks tend to occur at night,” she says.
After a little detective work, Gass discovered the reason for her health issues: wood smoke from her neighbors’ homes had started to seep into her place. Gass says it was “frustrating” given that she couldn’t control wood smoke coming from neighboring houses. “It was one more thing to add stress to our household during an already stressful time with the pandemic,” she says.
Gass is hardly the only person dealing with allergies after staying home more during the pandemic.
Allergist Dr. Tania Elliott tells Yahoo Life that there are plenty of things that can cause an allergy attack that aren’t even on people’s radars. “A number of allergens can hide indoors, making you sneeze, cough and feel miserable,” she says. Here are the biggest ones to be aware of.
1. Avoid scented candles
“Ever see the black line soot around a candle? That’s the same stuff that burns off, goes into the air and can trigger allergy symptoms,” Elliott says. Incense and aerosol sprays can cause issues as well, she adds. If you love scented home products, Elliott recommends putting a few drops of an essential oil into a pot of hot water. Her advice: Reach for eucalyptus and ginger, which can help calm allergy symptoms.
2. Wear a mask while spring cleaning
Pulling boxes out of storage or deep cleaning under your bed can cause dust particles to be kicked into the air, triggering allergy symptoms. That’s why Elliott suggests wearing a mask when you clean. She admits that it can seem “annoying,” but swears it can help keep allergy symptoms at bay.
3. Change the filters in your air conditioner
“Small particles like pollen mold spores and dust mites can get trapped by air conditioning filters and then released into the air when everything is turned on,” Elliott says. The solution: Change your air filters at least every three months. If your allergies are severe, Elliott says changing the filter every month can help.
4. Wash your pets regularly
While pet allergies are common, Elliott says that most people don’t realize their allergens can actually remain suspended in the air—even when your pet is out of the room. That’s why she recommends washing your pet once a week, keeping them out of your bedroom and using an air filter that’s the right size for your room.
5. Take special care with your bed
Weird but true: Making your bed can actually lock in dust mites that love to live in pillows, mattresses and box springs. While Elliott doesn’t recommend leaving your bed unmade (sorry), she suggests using dust mite-proof covers over those areas of your bedroom.
6. Watch out for cinnamon
The spice seems innocent enough, but it can trigger allergic reactions in some people. Elliott recommends being wary of even cinnamon-scented products, like candles or essential oils, if you’re sensitive to the spice.
As for Gass, she says that she and her husband ended up adding additional insulation to reduce the wood smoke that was coming inside their home and are currently looking for a home air purification system. She’s also using indoor allergen-reducing tips from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, like reducing the amount of upholstered furniture in their home and vacuuming every few days.
“I’m feeling better, and optimistic that these changes will help me manage these triggers that I will continue to deal with for as long as I am home all the time,” she says.