The House of Lords, through its science and technology committee, has highlighted the growing problem caused by allergies in the UK. Perhaps the most dramatic finding is that “the number of people suffering allergic reactions has trebled in the last 20 years with a third of the population estimated to suffer at some point in their lives.” This growth in the number of allergy sufferers isn’t unique to the UK but the report warns that the UK is lagging behind most of its peer countries when it comes to advice and treatment of allergies.
The report also dispels one misconception. Mention the curse of allergies and many (non-sufferers) view it as fairly trivial. They may think that the extent of the symptoms are the occasional sneeze and/or a minor skin rash. However, it’s been revealed that, in England alone, over 6,000 people are admitted to hospital every year with allergy-related difficulties and a quarter of these people have anaphylaxis which is a “severe and potentially life-threatening reaction involving breathing difficulties.”
It’s obvious that there is much work to be done, amongst medical circles, to improve the advice and care that is given to allergy sufferers and their families. However, often the key to maintaining good health lies with the individuals themselves and the measures that they put in place at home to minimise their susceptibility to allergies. With this in mind, then, let’s look at some of the practical steps that you can take to protect yourself (or a loved one) from the ravages of common allergies.
Some of the most common things that can cause allergic reactions include dust, pollen, animal fur, cosmetics, and food. Sometimes it may be one specific thing that a person is allergic to, such as a nut allergy, which makes it fairly easy to guard against. You would just endeavour to ensure that you either have no nut-based foodstuffs in the home or that they are clearly marked and/or kept out of reach. Typically, though, people who suffer from allergies may be susceptible to a range of allergens. For example, someone with eczema may find that their condition can be triggered by dust, pollen, animal fur and possibly also sensitivity to soaps and cosmetics.
When attempting to allergy-proof your home, therefore, it will be important to understand what the triggers are of the person’s condition and then base your prevention measures around those things. Bearing that in mind, here are some generic tips that should help to minimise the distress caused by allergies.
1. Minimise the amount of dust:
Homes that have wood floors, rather than carpets, are often held up as being ideal for people with allergies as they collect less dust. In particular, it’s a good idea to avoid having carpets in bathrooms as they will also be susceptible to mould. Additionally, or if that’s not possible, regular dusting and hovering can help to minimise the impact. This will also remove any cat or dog fur that your pets may have moulted.
2. Minimise contact with pets:
Leading on from the first point, if you or a family member is allergic to animal fur, then you may need to consider not having pets. I realise that this is a very difficult choice as pets bring so much pleasure into many of our lives. A compromise might be to, at the very least, try to discourage kids from cuddling pets up to their face and ban pets from the bedroom. Your cat may treat you to a pained glare at being banned from its favourite bed but it’s for the best!
3. Avoid excessive heat and humidity:
My local dermatology hospital department has a poster on its wall listing ten ways that people can lessen the likelihood of skin flare-ups. Near the top of the list was advice to keep the home cool. Heat can be a significant factor in causing and prolonging allergic skin reactions, so turning the thermostat down may help. (Note: Hot baths or showers also exacerbate some allergy-related skin conditions.)
The medicinenet.com website also contains this advice, stating that an ideal temperature is between 68 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit. It also recommends maintaining “a low humidity (between 40 and 50%)” and making certain that “there is good ventilation”.
With regards to ventilation, as well as opening the windows, there are other ways in which you can improve the air quality in your home. For example, HEPA filters can be purchased which filter harmful substances (such as pollen and mould spores) from the air. Dehumidifiers can also be employed. Lowering the humidity in your home will make it more difficult for house mites to survive and thrive.
4. Stock up on sensitive skin friendly products:
The soap and shampoo that you use, or the detergents that you wash your clothes with all these things can, for some people, trigger an allergic reaction. The answer may be to switch to products that proclaim to be less harsh on our skin.
You can also buy hypoallergenic synthetic bedding to replace feather bedding. We tend to spend up to a third of our day in the bedroom, so making sure that the bedroom is as allergy-proofed as possible will be a big step in the right direction. You can also get dust covers to place over bedding to further prevent the build up of dust mites.
5. Maintain a fully stocked medicine kit:
There are usually ointments, pills and potions that can be used to help treat an allergic reaction. For eczema sufferers, for example, steroid creams can be effective to treating outbreaks and moisturising creams (such as Diprobase) can be employed as well. For asthma sufferers, it’s important to have inhalers available to lessen an attack, and there will be a range of other remedies for other allergies.
So, having covered off those five top preventative tips, you should be in a better position to minimise allergic reactions in your home. If you find that symptoms are persisting, then contact your doctor and seek further advice. One of the main challenges facing people who are suffering from allergies is that it’s often not immediately clear what is causing the medical condition. Blood tests and patch testing may be required to isolate the exact allergens before you can effectively put in place your preventative measures.
Suggested supporting images:
Graph showing increased instances of allergies
Cartoon of someone sneezing or scratching
Cartoon house image combined with red cross medicine symbol
Cartoon image of a dust mite being vacuumed to death