Many of the allergens that cause an allergic reaction can be found in our own homes (and even our place of work). House dust mites, for example, are tiny creatures, just a quarter of a millimetre long. House dust mite allergy is very common and associated with asthma, eczema and perennial allergic rhinitis. Mites are found in carpets, soft furnishing and clothing but a significant amount of exposure to house dust mite allergens happens in bed. You can take measures to avoid house dust mite, which will help, but will not entirely remove dust mite allergens.
House dust mite allergy is very common and is associated with asthma, eczema and perennial allergic rhinitis. A significant amount of exposure to house dust mite allergen happens in the bed, so taking precautions in the bedroom by using allergy-proof covers on bedding, washing it regularly can sometimes help. Most efforts at controlling dust mites should be aimed at areas of the home where you spend most of your time and where dust mite load is greatest, i.e. bedrooms and living areas.
Mould is another culprit. It is the spores from the mould that can trigger allergic symptoms such as runny/itchy nose, itchy eyes, eczema and, most importantly, asthma. There are ways to avoid moulds – ventilation is key to help stop moulds flourishing in a damp environment. Mould spores are prolific everywhere. They include the black mould that forms on window frames and others that are found on decaying food; also mushrooms and fungi that grow wild. Exposure to mould is widespread, so it is difficult to determine how much mould an individual is exposed to in everyday life.
Like dust allergens, mould allergies are perennial and allergic people exhibit symptoms throughout the year, although levels rise in the autumn, during wet, mild weather and harvesting.
Our domestic pets can also cause problems. Contact with our pets can lead to exposure to animal allergens and in the UK, pets are the second most important cause of allergy in the home and it’s not only cats and dogs. There can also be allergic reactions to other animals such as rabbits, hamsters and other furry domestic pets.
Pet allergy is caused by the protein in a pet’s saliva, urine or dander (shed skin particles). Cats and dogs produce multiple proteins with the potential to cause a pet allergy. It is commonly thought that the hair causes symptoms, however it is the pet’s dander that is mainly responsible. This is spread when pets shed their hair or feathers or groom themselves. Cat allergen is found on the skin and fur and is due to their sebaceous and salivary glands: when a cat licks itself the allergen is transferred onto the hair. Dog allergen is found mainly in the hair, dander and saliva. The main source of allergen for rodents, such as mice, is in their urine.
For more information, symptoms and tips to avoid allergens in the home please see our information factsheet.
Good indoor air quality is crucial for human health and particularly important for vulnerable groups i.e. babies, children, the elderly, as well as people living with respiratory and allergic diseases.
A minimum of 9,000 deaths every year are attributed to indoor air pollution in the UK and indoor air levels of many pollutants may be 2-10 times higher than outdoor levels. This is shocking and we are encouraging everyone to use Clean Air Day as an opportunity to learn more about indoor air quality and why clean air matters. We need to act now to protect future generations by working together to find solutions to improve the quality of the air we breathe in our own homes.
Social behaviour has changed and today people spend on average 90% of their time indoors. Our indoor environments are often poorly ventilated causing humidity to rise and creating ideal conditions for mould and house dust mites to thrive in our soft furnishings and bedding. We are a nation of pet lovers, with our pets often living indoors which can also add to allergens in the indoor environment. – Amena Warner, Head of Clinical Services.