It has been estimated that nearly half of the carpet in this country has never been professionally cleaned. For most of us, professionally cleaning our carpet is something we do as a last resort -- when there's a tough spot we can't remove, or if we're moving. But the best way to maintain a clean carpet is to prevent problems before they occur.

Allergy season is quickly becoming a nuisance we could do without. But for some of us, allergy symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, and itchy, watery eyes never seems to cease. There's a reason for this -- allergy season never really ends.

There are two allergy "seasons" -- indoor and outdoor. The indoor allergy season occurs all-year-round and is caused by
pollen, indoor pets such as cats and dogs, house dust mites, and even cockroaches. The outdoor allergy season generally occurs in the spring and summer when plants and grasses release pollen.

Allergy symptoms are the result of your immune system producing antibodies to fight infections. Those antibodies stimulate cells in your nose, lungs, throat and eyes to release histamine, which in turn causes allergy symptoms such as a runny nose and in some cases, asthma attacks.

According to the American Lung Association, there are
50 million Americans who suffer from asthma and allergies, which is about one in every five Americans. And if you have asthma it's likely you also have allergies. Allergies are also the sixth leading cause of chronic disease in the United States and asthma is the leading cause of chronic illness in teens and children. In 1995, 5.5 million children were diagnosed with asthma and the number of deaths related to asthma in children has nearly tripled in the last 15 years.

According to a 1999 article by the President's Task Force on Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks to Children's, "Asthma and the Environment: A Strategy to Protect Children," the most common environmental triggers that cause allergies and asthma in children are animal dander, mold, cockroaches and house dust mites, and they can affect adults, too. And,
house dust mites are "one of the most powerful biological allergens," says the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Mites are microscopic arachnids related to ticks and spiders, live in house dust, and
feed off the scales shed from human skin. All homes have dust mites, but the amount of moisture in a home determines the number of dust mites present -- the more moisture in a home, the more dust mites present.

One of the best ways to keep dust mites to a minimum is to keep your home clean. Experts suggest washing all bedding and furry toys in hot water (at least 130 F) weekly and vacuuming the carpets with a High Efficiency filter (HEPA filter). While vacuuming keeps your dust mite problems in control, it does not kill them -- only professionally cleaning your carpet removes dust mites from carpets.

If your home is carpeted and properly maintained, you're in luck. Research indicates that carpets in indoor environments act as a collector for biological allergens, like dust mites, and keeps them out of your breathing zone. When carpets are not professionally cleaned on a regular basis these particles can become airborne. The EPA even recommends having your carpets professionally cleaned a minimum of once every six months.

Extraction cleaning (the process in which a water and detergent solution is injected into the carpet and immediately vacuumed up) is efficient at removing surface allergen - up to 80%. A study undertaken by the North West Lung Centre, Wythenshawe Hospital, Manchester (GB) concluded that steam cleaning not only reduced the pool of allergens but also reduced the population of mites.

By professionally cleaning your carpets, you are preventing the airborne allergens from entering your breathing zone thus minimizing the risk of asthma attacks and allergy reactions.