How to Detect an Allergen and Remove It From Your Home

An allergen is a substance that causes an allergic reaction. Some examples of common allergens are dust mites, cat dander, and pollen. Sometimes people can have severe allergic reactions to these substances that can lead to breathing problems (including serious asthma exacerbations) and even death. More often, they cause bothersome symptoms such as runny nose, congestion, and watery eyes.

Woman sneezing from flowers in her home.
Peter Dazeley / Getty Images

Detecting The Allergen That's Making You Sick

There are two ways to detect an allergen that is making you sick: through skin-prick testing, considered by many experts and allergists to be the gold standard, and through immunoglobulin E (IgE) blood testing.

Skin-prick testing involves placing a series of drops of allergen extracts such as pollen, dander, and molds while simultaneously pricking those spots with a needle. Then, you'll wait 15 minutes to see if a reaction develops in comparison to a positive control (histamine) and a negative control (saline).

Specific IgE testing, (also called ImmunoCAP), can help your healthcare provider diagnose the allergens that are causing your symptoms. IgE is an immunoglobulin, a protein that acts as part of our immune system, detecting foreign substances such as bacteria ​and allergens. IgE tends to overreact in response to an allergen; this results in a detectable sensitization that can manifest as an allergy.

"Eighty percent of asthma and allergy care is given by primary care physicians and pediatricians. These doctors are overwhelmed by clinical guidelines," according to Dr. Robert Reinhardt, MD, associate professor at Michigan State University and senior director of medical and regulatory affairs and quality management at Phadia, U.S., Inc.,

Dr, Reinhardt says both of these types of tests are underused by physicians who are more likely to simply prescribe medications to treat allergy symptoms.

Asthma guidelines alone are over 400 pages. Education around guidelines is often provided to doctors by pharmaceutical companies so they become well versed in administering medications but not in other aspects of the guidelines," Dr. Reinhardt says. If you suspect you have allergies or asthma, you should consider being treated by an allergist or pulmonologist as the two disorders can be closely related, known as the asthma and allergy connection.

Don't be afraid to ask your doctor about these specific blood tests and if they could help with your treatment plan. Dr. Reinhardt recommends that patients become familiar with their lab results. "Patients should know their IgE levels the same way that diabetics know their blood sugar or some people know their cholesterol," he says. Once you've discovered what you are allergic to, you can start to eliminate it.

Removing the Allergen From Your Environment

Your healthcare provider should be able to assist you with methods for eliminating or reducing the amount of exposure to the allergen that triggers your symptoms. There are many options. You can also buy several types of commercially available products to test your home for common allergens and molds. However, these tests are very controversial because they are expensive and don't end up providing enough specific treatable information.

Keep the Bedroom an Allergy Safe Zone

According to Dr. Reinhardt, the most important place to get rid of allergens is in the bedroom. Most people spend six to 12 hours in the bedroom sleeping, so it is important to make this a "safe zone." But removing allergens is sometimes easier said than done.

Let's say you have a pet dander allergy. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, this might mean that you just need to keep your pet out of the bedroom, and you may need to regularly deep-clean the room thoroughly to get rid of residual pet dander, including all of your bedding. Vacuuming regularly, steam cleaning and dry cleaning may be necessary.

If these measures fail and you're really suffering, it may be necessary to find a new home. Let your healthcare provider be your guide.

Removing other allergens may be easier (at least emotionally, anyway): dust mites, for example, can be controlled by diligent cleaning, again, especially in the bedroom. This includes curtains, blinds, and washing all bedding in hot water frequently, followed by a hot dryer cycle.. Some sources recommend encasing your bedding in a plastic or rubber wrapping. It is also important to dehumidify your home, since dust mites thrive in humid environments.

Mold can be difficult to remove. Mold grows in moist areas, it may have grown in an area where you have had water damage from plumbing problems or flooding. Sometimes it grows because the air is so humid; again a dehumidifier may be helpful. The first step in removing mold is to make sure that everything is dried out.

For mold growth larger than 10 square feet, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says homeowners should follow the guidelines for removing mold in their article on mold remediation in schools and commercial buildings.

A Word From Verywell

We have covered only some of the more common allergy/asthma triggers. Once you find out what your trigger is, you will need to talk with your healthcare provider and research ways to decrease exposure to the trigger and thereby improve your health.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Siles RI, Hsieh FH. Allergy blood testing: A practical guide for clinicians. Cleve Clin J Med. 2011;78(9):585-92. doi:10.3949/ccjm.78a.11023

  2. American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. Pet allergy.

  3. American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. Dust allergy.

  4. Environmental Protection Agency. Mold cleanup in your home.

Additional Reading
  • Reinhardt R.

By Kristin Hayes, RN
Kristin Hayes, RN, is a registered nurse specializing in ear, nose, and throat disorders for both adults and children.