NN. SCRUB SUIT
From mattress covers to "dustless" vacuums, products claim
to help in the home. Are they a relief or a ripoff?
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emove carpeting and
draperies. Give away
the family pet or, at the
very least, keep it out of
your bedroom. Wash your sheets
and blankets several times a
week and, while you're at it, vac-
uum your mattress.
That's the kind of advice al-
lergists often give their patients.
And these steps, daunting as they
are, do indeed minimize exposure
to allergy-producing substances.
There is also a whole industry
with products devoted to making
allergy sufferers more comfort-
able at home. The industry's four
main products are mattress cov-
ers, air filtration systems, "dust-
less" vacuum cleaners and
high-efficiency vacuum cleaner
bags. Smaller items, like "mag-
netic" dust rags, also are sold.
Do they work? In a word, "yes"
to mattress covers, doctors an-
swer. But the other products
get mixed reviews.
The American Acade-
my of Allergy and Im-
that nearly 12 million
from allergies. That
figm-e includes both
indoor and outdoor
thing except hay
Scheiken, an aller-
gist affiliated with
Hospital Center in
that some allergy
"Having allergies is
like having a bucket. The
more your bucket is filled,
the more likely it is to over-
flow. These products keep the
allergy bucket from overflowing,"
Dr. Scheiken explained.
The products Dr. Scheiken and
others refer to are specifically
geared toward lessening indoor
allergies, which are primarily
caused by dust mites and pet
Dust mites are microscopic spi-
der-like bugs that exist in mat-
tresses, pillows and upholstery.
Dander is tiny particles of skin
and hair from animals.
"Everything a sufferer can do
to remove the allergies is help-
ful," said Dr. George Blum, a
pediatrician and pediatric aller-
gist in Southfield.
The key is to eliminate any
reservoir for dust and pet hair,
such as fabrics, rugs and carpets
and decorative pillows, from your
environment, according to Dr. Ju-
dith Woodfolk, a research asso-
ciate at the Asthma and Allergic
Disease Control Center at the
University of Virginia, in Char-
But that, acknowledged Dr.
Woodfolk, whose research on the
effect of various vacuum cleaners
on cat allergen levels has been
published in medical journals, is
easier said than done.
"That's why there is a keen in-
terest in these products," she said.
"People want to feel better and
still have a degree of normalcy in
Covering mattresses and pil-
There are six companies that
produce allergy relief products
and most say covers are their top
The industry has grown steadi-
ly during the past five to 10 years.
John Fry, marketing manager for
National Allergy Supply Inc., a
6-year-old Georgia firm, esti-
mates that about 150,000 mat-
tress covers are sold annually in
the United States by all the firms.
The number is double for pillow
covers. Depending on fabric qual-
ity, mattress covers range from
$40 for a twin bed to $113 for a
The trend now is to improve
the products already on the mar-
This year, for example, Aller-
gy Control Products introduced
a new stretchable fabric for mat-
tress and pillow covers that is
'When people first hear
about mattress and pillow
covers, they think of stiff,
sweaty material," said
Annette Miller, presi-
dent of the 11-year-old
"But with this new
material, there's no
reason not to do it."
Supply's Mr. Fry
said its new fabric,
Satinsoft, a smooth
poly-knit, now ac-
counts for three-
quarters of this
covers, other products on
the market are greeted
with skepticism. Some doc-
tors say some products work;
other doctors dismiss them.
There is no clear consensus.
The difficulty is that no one
for sure. The products,
ILLUSTRATION BY ED WEXLER
said Hopkins' Dr. Wood, "come
from a huge industry that has
lows with permanent mite-proof grown without the support of re-
encasings is the most effective search."
way to reduce exposure, said Dr.
Mark Connelly, director of test-
Robert Wood, director of the pe- ing for home environment prod-
diatric allergy clinic at Johns ucts for the Consumers Union,
Hopkins Hospital and an assis- publisher of Consumer Reports,
tant professor of pediatrics at the agrees.
Hopkins medical school.
"This is an industry ripe with
You can't kill dust mites but all sorts of snake oil salesmen,"
you can limit contact via this Mr. Connelly said. He added that
physical barrier, said Dr. Wood, Consumer Reports does not plan
whose book, "Taming Asthma to examine the home allergy re-
and Allergy By Controlling the lief industry in any upcoming is-
Environment," is due out next sues.
Consumer Reports did test two