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Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth - It May Be Harboring Allergens

A young couple asked me to investigate their home because their three year-old son was experiencing asthma symptoms. The parents had been careful to avoid placing rugs and fleecy dolls in the child's room; there was only a crib with a plastic-encased mattress and a new futon that had been purchased just prior to the boy's birth. The mother nursed her infant on the futon and the child played on it. I took a dust sample from the futon and looked at the dust with a microscope; the sample was full of dust mites and mold, both serious asthma triggers. How did these allergens arise in the two year-old mattress? Because the conditions in the child's room were not conducive to such biological growth, I believe that a contaminated futon mattress must have been illegally sold as new.


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In another home with an asthmatic young girl, I found nothing in the bedroom but a crib and a chair for nursing. The child was allergic to cats and mold. Again, using a microscope, I found large numbers of cat dander particles and mold spores in the dust from the chair. Every time the mother sat on the chair, clouds of allergens surrounded the pair. The chair was an antique and it had been a gift from the girl's granny in whose moldy basement cats had frolicked for years.


Another family with an asthmatic young son had taken several measures to reduce allergens in the boy's bedroom. Unfortunately, they did not realize that the feather pillow and quilt on their son's bed were sources of allergenic bioaerosol particulates that included respirable yeast and feather fibers. Another child experienced asthma symptoms for years despite his family's valiant cleaning because the giant panda bear on his bed had always been as cuddly for dust mites as for the boy.

If your family has a history of allergy or asthma problems, it's important to control your building materials, but also remember to minimize the presence of fleecy second-hand or antique furniture and rugs. Be sure to buy new furnishings from reliable sources that have tight controls on their manufacturing materials, and avoid second-hand feather-stuffed items on couches or beds! Place quilts, pillows and children's dolls in the dryer once a week for a hot tumble. And do look a gift-horse in the mouth; if the "gift" looks or smells moldy or promotes sneezing or other symptoms - send it on to other pastures.


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Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth - It May Be Harboring Allergens:  Created on August 16th, 2009.  Last Modified on August 16th, 2009


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About Jeffrey C. May

Jeffrey C. May is a building consultant, Certified Indoor Air Quality Professional (CIAQP), and author of My House is Killing Me! The Home Guide for Families with Allergies and Asthma(2001) and My Office is Killing Me! The Sick Building Survival Guide (2006), as well as co-author of The Mold Survival Guide: For Your Home and for Your Health (2004), and Healthy Home Tips: A Workbook for Detecting, Diagnosing, and Eliminating Pesky Pests, Stinky Stenches, Musty Mold, and Other Aggravating Home Problems (2008), all published by Johns Hopkins University Press. A former educator and organic chemist (M.A. Harvard University), Jeff is principal scientist of May Indoor Air Investigations LLC in Cambridge, Massachusetts.



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