If you can’t stop sneezing or itching whenever you’re home, your plush, beautiful carpet may be giving you more than a dose of house pride.

Carpeting can make a room feel cozy. But it can also house allergens, which get kicked into the air whenever it’s walked on. This can happen in even in the cleanest house.

The microscopic irritants living in your carpet can come from inside and outside your home. Animal dander, mold, and dust may all be irritating culprits. Pollen and other pollutants can also come in on the bottoms of shoes and through open windows.

Carpet fiber, padding, and the glue required to hold them together can also cause allergic reactions in some people. If you can’t figure out why your eyes are itchy or your nose won’t stop running when you’re home, your carpet may be to blame.

The common allergens that exist in and around your home will inevitably find their way into your carpet. Just like everything else in our atmosphere, allergens in the air are subject to gravity’s pull. If you have carpet, this results in allergens getting trapped beneath your feet. These include:

If you’re allergic or sensitive to any of these substances, allergy-induced asthma, contact dermatitis, or allergic rhinitis can result. Symptoms you may experience include:

  • itchy, watery eyes
  • sneezing
  • itchy, running nose
  • scratchy, irritated throat
  • itchy, red skin
  • hives
  • coughing
  • wheezing
  • trouble breathing
  • shortness of breath
  • feeling of pressure in the chest

Even a carpet that is regularly vacuumed can harbor a large quantity of trapped allergens, in and around fibers. Not all carpets are created equal, however.

High-pile (or long-pile) carpeting, such as shag or frieze rugs, are composed of long, loose fibers. These provide allergens with places to stick, and mold with places to grow.

Low-pile (or short-pile) carpets have a tighter, shorter weave, so allergens have less room to hide. This does not, however, mean that low-pile carpets cannot provide a cozy home for dust, dirt, and pollen.

Allergy associations, such as the American Lung Association and the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America (AAFA), suggest avoiding all types of wall-to-wall carpeting in favor of washable throw rugs and hard flooring.

Hard floors, such as laminates, wood, or tiles, do not have nooks and crannies for allergens to become trapped in, so they can be washed away easily.

Despite this, if you have your heart set on carpeting, the AAFA suggests choosing short- over long-pile carpet.

The materials used to manufacture carpeting, as well as the VOCs (volatile organic compounds) they emit, can cause allergic reactions, such as contact dermatitis, in people who are sensitive to them. They may also adversely affect the respiratory tract or result in allergy-induced asthma symptoms.

Carpets are composed of two parts, the upper pile you see and a backing layer underneath. It’s possible to be allergic to substances in either part. The upper layer can be made of a variety of natural or synthetic fibers. These include:

  • wool
  • nylon
  • polyester
  • polypropylene
  • jute
  • sisal
  • seagrass
  • coconut

Carpet padding is made from bonded urethane foam, composed of recycled remnants from car parts, furniture, and mattresses. It may contain a wide variety of potential allergens, including formaldehyde and styrene.

In addition, carpets can be either low VOC or high VOC. VOCs evaporate into the air, dissipating over time. The higher the VOC load, the more toxins in the carpet. In addition to the actual materials used to make carpet, VOCs may cause allergic reactions in some people.

For example, 4-Phenylcyclohexene is a VOC found in latex emissions, and may be off-gassed by nylon carpeting.

If your carpet is making you sneeze or itch, there are a number of treatment options you can try. These include:

  • Hydrocortisone cream.Topical steroids can help reduce the symptoms of contact dermatitis, such as hives and itching.
  • Asthma treatments. If you have asthma, using a rescue inhaler may help to stop an asthma attack. Your doctor may also recommend using a preventive inhaler, oral anti-inflammatory medication, or a nebulizer.
  • Allergen immunotherapy. Allergy shots do not cure allergies, but they are designed to minimize your allergic reaction over time. If you have a dog, rabbit, or cat that you love, this may be a good treatment for you. Allergy shots are also effective against mold, feathers, pollen, and dust mites.

If you’re allergic to the materials your carpet is made of, removing it may be your best, most comfortable option. If you are allergic to the irritants hiding in your carpet, allergy-proofing your home may help. Things to try include:

  • Vacuum at least once a week, with a vacuum that has a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter. HEPA filters remove and trap allergens, so they don’t get recirculated back into the air. Make sure to get a vacuum that is HEPA-certified and not HEPA-like.
  • If you have a pet, make sure your vacuum is also designed to pick up pet hair.
  • Reduce the humidity in your home so dust mites and mold cannot proliferate.
  • Steam clean your carpets several times a year, preferably monthly. Make sure there is enough circulating air to let them dry completely.
  • Rather than carpeting, opt for throw rugs which can be washed in hot water.
  • Use the same deep-cleaning techniques for other soft fabrics in your home, including upholstery and drapery.
  • Keep windows closed during allergy season and on days when pollen levels are high.
  • Install an air-filtration system, which uses a HEPA filter.

Common allergens such as pollen and dust can get trapped in carpet, causing allergic reactions to occur. Carpets with long fibers, such as shag rugs, can harbor more irritants than low-pile carpets do. It’s also possible to be allergic to the materials used to construct carpeting.

If you have allergies or asthma, removing your carpet may be your best option. Talking with an allergist can also help.