With today marking the start of Allergy Awareness Week it’s a good time to assess your own allergy problems. This global event is all about educating and raising awareness, but it’s also about helping people to help themselves.
There’s a lot we don’t know about the causes of allergies, but we do know that many of them are related to the environment around us. And as we spend more than half our lives at home, this particular environment is crucial.
The average home is packed with potential allergens — and most of them can never be completely eradicated. But if we understand them, and where they come from, we can do our best to minimise them.
With this in mind, we’ve put together a list of ways in which your own home could be making your allergies and related health conditions worse. Once you understand them, you’re better equipped to deal with them.
1. Hidden allergens in carpet
Take a look at your carpet right now? While it might look immaculate, you can’t really tell what lurks deep within the pile. Even if you vacuum it once a day, your vacuum is probably harbouring a massive amount of pollen, dirt and dust — all of which can exacerbate allergies and respiratory conditions. And if you live in a humid environment, there’s also a chance your carpet is home to hidden mould.
If you must have carpet, vacuum it regularly with a HEPA-standard vacuum cleaner. Bagless vacuums with cyclonic technology are usually best equipped to deal with allergens. And don’t rely on the basic cleaner. Use the full range of tools and accessories to access awkward areas.
2. Household cleaning agents in the air
If you use commercial cleaning agents regularly, there’s a very good chance that you’re breathing in chemicals every day. In particular, be wary of fragranced agents, which can exacerbate skin allergies and breathing problems. Wherever possible, use natural cleaning agents such as vinegar, lemon and baking soda.
3. Swept floors
It’s always a good idea to remove dirt and dust from hard flooring regularly. But in some cases, you could be making things worse for yourself. A broom or brush does collect debris, but it also sends dust and pollen flying into the air. Other potential allergens such as pet dander and dust mites could also end up in the air you breathe. If you or someone in your home has a serious allergy, vacuum instead of sweeping.
4. Inappropriate use of your washing machine
Our clothing attracts a huge amount of pollen from outside. And, of course, we bring this into our homes. While there isn’t too much you can do about this, you can mitigate the effects by changing your clothes every time you come home. But when it comes to mites — and their droppings/carcasses — your washing machine is your first line of defence.
According to a recent study, bedsheets washed at 140F killed 100 percent of the mites living on them. When the sheets were washed at 104F, less than seven percent of the critters were killed. If you can, washing bedding and clothing at the highest possible temperature.
5. House plants
House plants may look fantastic in your home, but they could be making you ill. A recent study revealed that three-quarters of hayfever sufferers were allergic to house plants. The biggest offenders are ivy, palm, orchids, ferns, ficus and yucca. If you have a pollen allergy, don’t bring these plants into your home. Stick to the artificial variety. Just make sure you vacuum them regularly, as they can harbour a lot of dust.
6. Humidifiers aren’t always an allergy sufferer’s friend
For the right person, a humidifier can provide relief from certain allergies and breathing difficulties. But depending on the local climate and the exact nature of your problem, a humidifier could exacerbate your symptoms.
Higher humidity levels make mould accumulations more likely. And mould spores can trigger a wide range of allergic reactions and breathing problems. Dust mites also flourish in warm, humid conditions, so it’s important to control the temperature in your home if you’re adding moisture to the air.
7. Your wine rack
If you like the odd glass of red wine at home, you need to know that your love of the grape could exacerbate some of your allergy symptoms. There are several substances in red wine that can trigger reactions, including yeast, bacteria and sulphites. The skin of red grapes also contains high levels of the known allergen LTP — responsible for a wide range of cold-like symptoms. And if all that’s not worrying enough, alcohol increases the flow of blood in and around the nose. This can make any wine-related symptoms you suffer even worse.
8. Your shoe rack
A shoe rack is a great way to minimise clutter at your front door — but it could be doing more harm than good. We track a lot of pollen into our homes via the shoes we wear. And storing them neatly on a rack won’t solve the issue. Take shoes off BEFORE you enter your home. Wrap them in a plastic bag, and store them in an airtight container.
9. Your tumble dryer
Wherever possible, air dry clothes and bedding. But do so inside. Tumble dryers release a lot of moisture into the air. This increases the chance of mould accumulations and provides perfect breeding conditions for dust mites. Even if you can cut your use of this household appliance by a third, you can make a big difference to the humidity levels (and therefore allergen levels) in your home.
When pollen is at its highest, don’t hang your washing outside. Pollen will stick to it, and you’ll end up bringing this serious allergen into your home. If you have no option, hang your clothes and bedding outside early in the morning. Pollen levels are usually at their highest between late lunchtime and early evening.
10. A dirty fridge
While cleaning the inside of your fridge is essential, don’t forget to clean the coils and tray at the back, too. The latest refrigerators contain an electric coil, designed to melt frost every few hours. The resultant water drips into a pan, and is evaporated with the help of warm air — blown onto the tray at regular intervals.
Problems arise, however, when the pan isn’t kept clean. If dust is allowed to collect, the warm air being emitted will simply blow the dust into the air. Pay close attention to the coils as well. They attract dust readily, which can be thrown into the air with even the slightest of movement. For the best results, vacuum the coil and tray in your refrigerator using the long crevice tool that came with your vacuum cleaner.
11. Undetected leaks
Keeping your home’s plumbing in a good state of repair at all times is essential. Even the smallest of leaks can lead to mould growth. And if this continues, the resultant airborne spores could exacerbate allergies and respiratory problems significantly.
The main problem people face, however, relates to the hidden nature of many leaks. This is why it’s always a good idea to get your plumbing inspected regularly. Preventative maintenance is also important. And check your water pressure regularly. Low pressure might be a sign of a leak somewhere.
Mark Allergy Awareness Week this year by auditing your home for allergens. A few changes here and there could make all the difference to your health — and the health of the people you love the most.