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Are you allergic to your house?

Tags: allergy , asthma , dust

Are you allergic to your houseKeeping your home clean may seem like a tiresome and never-ending task. But for some health conditions, as GP Dr Martin Bell explains, it’s essential because dust can trigger, irritate or exacerbate symptoms.

Dust is created from airborne particles and builds up at an alarmingly quick rate. For many people, the battle to keep their home clean and tidy is not simply for aesthetic reasons.

A house may look better when it’s clean but it can also help people feel better too, by improving breathing and relieving congestion and other symptoms.

House dust mites are known to cause allergic reactions. These tiny creatures are present in all homes but are most commonly found in bedrooms, where they thrive in warm conditions and live off dead skin cells that are shed from humans and pets. They make their homes in mattresses, couches and other frequently used furniture or carpeting – and, according to Allergy UK, the average double bed contains around two million house dust mites.
 
Reactions are caused by their droppings, which are very tiny but can easily become airborne and spread around the home. 

Health conditions affected by dust

The presence of dust in a home can play a role in the symptoms of various common health conditions, causing breathing difficulties, wheezing, runny noses and even skin irritation.
 
If you’re one of the 5.4 million people affected by asthma in the UK, dust and house dust mite allergy can often trigger symptoms. “This is particularly common following the disturbance of dust during spring cleaning efforts,” says Dr Bell.
The respiratory condition chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is affected by many factors, such as weather conditions and respiratory infections. But the airways may be irritated by dust, dirt or cleaning fluid fumes, which can also exacerbate symptoms.
 
Another common condition is rhinitis (or runny nose), which is aggravated by pollen during the hay fever season. “Dust in the air is next in line, either irritating the nasal lining or as part of an allergy to dust mites,” says Dr Bell. Dust and general dirt in the home may make it worse too.

In addition to nasal effects, contact with dust or dirt can cause skin irritation too, especially for the millions of people affected by the skin condition eczema. 

Dust-busting strategies

Thankfully, you can take a number of practical steps to reduce the risk of developing allergies in your home and to lessen the effects that dusty conditions can have on existing health conditions.

If you’re keen to win the battle against dust and help your health, here are some practical dust-busting strategies:

  • Wipe down all surfaces with a damp cloth each week.
  • Vacuum your house regularly. Consider investing in a vacuum cleaner that contains a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter, as this is able to pick up even the smallest of allergens.
  • Clean and vacuum soft furnishings and upholstery.
  • Turn down your heating and leave a window ajar when you’re asleep. House dust mites thrive in warm conditions (25C and over), so reducing the temperature and having good air circulation could deter them. Consider replacing carpets with wooden or hard floors, which are easier to keep dust free.
  • For allergy-prone children, wash soft toys regularly. Put soft toys in a bag in the freezer for 12 hours to kill dust mites. 

Can a home ever be too clean?

In the case of the skin condition eczema, some people find their symptoms worsen when they come into contact with cleaning agents during the process of cleaning their home. So as well as keeping the level of dust to a minimum, it’s also important to be careful with the choice and use of cleaning products.

Useful tips for skin-friendly cleaning include:

  • Choosing allergy-friendly products that are not too harsh on the skin.
  • Wearing gloves to avoid contact with cleaning products.

In addition, says Dr Bell, there’s a theory that the rise in the number of people who are suffering from allergies could be due to the increasingly clean and sterile world in which we now live.

“Our immune system is primed to fight off foreign infections and other invaders onto or into our body,” he explains; “the theory is that if it is underused it becomes ‘bored’ and looks for things to react to.”

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