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This information was reviewed and approved by Carah Santos, MD (12/5/2022).

Spring cleaning may make you feel good about your home, but if you're one of 50 million people in the United States with allergies, spring cleaning may make you feel worse.

Dust and other irritants stirred up by vacuums can make you feel the effects of spring cleaning in your eyes and nose.

One way to limit exposure to airborne allergens and irritants is the use of a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter attached to the vacuum cleaner. These filters can be effective for people who have problems with airborne allergens and irritants such as animal danderpollen and dust.

HEPA filters are also available in room air cleaning devices. People who use HEPA air filters say they feel better and have reduced symptoms. Studies show some reduction in the amount of cat and dog allergens with the use of HEPA filters. To date, though, the majority of clinical studies do not prove conclusively that HEPA air filters result in a reduction of medication use.

Types of HEPA Filters

Freestanding filter units trap airborne allergens, such as pollen and animal dander, and don't release them back into the air. HEPA filters attached to vacuum cleaners reduce dust by trapping small particles, composed largely of dust mites, and don't re-release "dirty" air. Regular vacuums redistribute into the air the same dust, dirt and allergens that are sucked out of carpet and furniture.

Many people with allergies have a freestanding HEPA filter in the bedroom, a HEPA filter attached to a vacuum cleaner, or both. Filters need to be changed regularly in freestanding units and vacuums. Vacuums equipped with HEPA filters require enough power to draw up all dirt and allergens, and need to be airtight to ensure that the smallest particles don't escape.

No Substitute for Medical Treatment

Neither a freestanding HEPA filter nor a HEPA filter attached to a vacuum cleaner is a substitute for standard medical treatment. For pet allergies, the best defense is to reduce exposure to pets — keep the dog or cat out of the bedroom or living room. For non-airborne allergens, such as dust mites, follow standard precautionary measures, which include encasing pillows and mattresses and washing bedding in hot water (at least 130° F) weekly.

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