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Allergies - Allergy in the home

NHS Choices Feature

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An important way of controlling your allergy is to reduce the indoor allergens that trigger your symptoms. You can do this by cleaning thoroughly and often.

If you have an allergy, take as much care in reducing the number of allergens in your home as you do in avoiding allergens outside, say experts.

Dr Rob Hicks, a GP, says that allergens inside a home can trigger  eczema, asthma and hay fever, along with general allergy symptoms of coughing, sneezing, itchy skin, watery eyes and runny nose.

"If you have an allergy, avoid triggers, use your allergy treatments as advised and reduce the allergens in your home," he says. "Reducing the allergens in your home will help keep your allergy under control."

The impact of indoor allergy

According to research conducted by Allergy UK, common allergens such as house dust mites, pets and, to a lesser extent, pollen, are found in most homes in the UK. They have more of an impact on the lives of allergy sufferers than previously realised.

A study found that 41% of allergy sufferers avoid visiting a relative or friend's house because they're scared that being in their home may trigger allergic symptoms.

Cat and dog allergy

Children with allergies miss out on visits to friends, sleepovers and parties.

Commenting on the impact of allergens on her 14-year-old son's life, Sarah Chapman said: "I have four children who would all love to have a dog. Unfortunately, due to my son's allergy to dogs, it's just not possible. I had to limit his visits to my mum's house (she used to own two dogs) just to keep his allergic reactions under control."

Indoor allergy hotspots

The most common indoor allergens in UK homes are:

  • house dust mites
  • pet allergens, from the hairs of cats and dogs
  • moulds

Some pollen can get in from outside during the summer and may cause a problem for anyone with hay fever.

House dust mite allergen is most associated with bedrooms, but it can settle on surfaces and spread around the house.

Allergens from outside (such as pollen particles and pet hair) can infiltrate the home through the air and through open doors and windows. But they also make their way inside by sticking to clothes, skin and hair. Once inside the home, they circulate in the air and settle on soft furnishings and hard surfaces.

Reducing indoor allergens

So, how can you reduce the allergens in your home? Dr Hicks recommends thorough and frequent cleaning, especially of the areas of the house you spend the most time in. He has these tips:

To reduce house dust mites:

  • Damp dust the hard surfaces in your home. Don't forget places that gather dust and tend to get neglected, such as the top of picture frames, the backs of sinks, and so on.
  • Vacuum carpets and hard floors daily if possible, and soft furnishings twice a week. Don't forget to vacuum under your bed (where the house dust mite allergen gathers).
  • Use a barrier mattress cover on beds. They're also available for pillows and duvets.
  • Vacuum your mattress and pillows and wash bedding and duvets above 55°C (or put bedding, duvets and soft toys into a plastic bag and put them in the freezer for 24 hours).

To reduce pet allergens:

  • Don't allow pets in bedrooms, and keep them out of the living room if possible.
  • Wash your pets once or twice a week.

Read more about pet hygiene.

To reduce indoor pollen:

  • Keep pollen out of your home by keeping windows closed. Be aware that you can bring pollen in from outside if it sticks to your hair and clothes.
  • Change your clothes the moment you get in, put them in a plastic bag until you can put them in the washing machine, have a shower and wash your hair.
  • Wipe down pets when they come in the house after playing outside.

For more detailed practical advice on how to reduce the allergens in your home and garden, visit Allergy UK's online Allergy House.

Read more about indoor allergy.

Medical Review: January 12, 2012

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