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Home remedies can help itchy eyes and runny noses

NEW YORK -- Lydia Scheimer's upstate home has taken on a more sanitized feel since her son, Chris, suffered a severe asthma attack there a few years ago.

Now, mattresses and pillows are encased in plastic, their wool couch has given way to a leather one and even the family cat has been sent packing.They're all steps in the family's war against the microscopic dust mites and other home allergens that she says sent her son gasping for air.

"For us, we went 100 percent," she said from her Hawthorne, N.Y., home. "A little bit is not enough."

More of America's 35 million allergy sufferers are realizing that their itchy eyes, sneezing and other symptoms are caused not only by seasonal grass, pollens and ragweed but by dust-borne allergens around the house.

As they do, marketers are ready with catalogs full of devices said to control dust and moisture -- from humidifiers, to nose masks, to air purifying systems to be worn around the neck.

Many products target the dust allergies caused by dust mites, which thrive in all but the driest of climates and are ubiquitous in the carpets, bedding and furniture upholstery.

Though industry data among the privately-held manufacturers is scant, business appears to be booming. At an April allergist's conference in Orlando, Fla., an exhibition hall featured nearly as many allergy-product companies as major pharmaceutical manufacturers.

Some touted expensive, high-tech air cleaners, powerful and costly machines said to suck up the smallest of contaminants -- even teddy bears that can shake their dust mites in the wash.

"Our growth has been astronomical," said Ken Krugman, president of Allergy Asthma Technology, a privately-held firm based in Morton Grove, Ill., outside Chicago.

But allergists say not all such products may work and caution the best steps to reduce allergen exposure usually cost the least amount of money.

Allergists recommend mattress, box spring and pillow covers because they trap dust mites where they breed. They say certain types of vacuums, particularly steam cleaners, can also be useful because they can suck the mites from carpets and trap them in filter bags. They advise patients to get rid of carpeting, especially in the bedrooms.

Some experts say air cleaners are of little use because mites are too heavy to float in the air for long. But the filters work to reduce pet dander, they say.

Encasing pillow, mattress and box spring can cost about $150. Air filters and special vacuum cleaners can cost $500 or more.