In modern life, most people spend up to 90% of their time indoors, where air pollutants may be up to ten times higher than outside, posing a real risk to our health. In the UK, it is estimated that at least 9,000 deaths are caused by indoor air pollution.
Poor indoor air quality is particularly dangerous for vulnerable groups such as babies and children, the elderly, and people living with respiratory and allergic disease. Inadequate ventilation and high humidity increase the risk of indoor airborne allergens (including house dust mite, mould allergens and animal dander) which can cause allergyrelated problems including asthma.
AIR QUALITY AND ALLERGIC DISEASE
House dust mite, pet dander and mould spores are common indoor allergens, and whilst these pose minimal risk to most people, they can cause severe allergic symptoms in people with allergies to these triggers. Indoor allergy symptoms are often confused with a cold or flu and may not be properly treated. Indoor allergens can trigger an allergic condition known as perennial allergic rhinitis, which causes year-round symptoms similar to hay fever (although these symptoms can often worsen in the winter months). Allergens can trigger asthma exacerbations, known as allergic asthma in up to 90% of children and 60% of adults with asthma. Many people are unaware of the link between asthma and allergy, which can lead to delays in management and treatment of the condition. There are two validated and recommended tests for allergic asthma – a blood test or skin prick test. If you suspect that you or your child has allergic asthma, speak to a healthcare professional.
Mould produces spores, which are microscopic particles that cause allergic reactions in those
with mould allergy (particularly when airborne) when they make contact with the skin or are inhaled. Mould spores flourish in damp environments in the home such as the kitchen, bathroom and utility room where steam and humidity levels are high. Top tips to reduce mould allergen
- Open windows and close kitchen and bathroom doors when cooking, showering and bathing to allow good ventilation and prevent steam entering other rooms
- Use a ducted extractor fan when cooking
- Dry clothing outdoors or in a tumble dryer which is vented outdoors or a condensertype, not indoors or over radiators
- Take care around windows – clean visible mould from window frames and wipe dry any condensation to prevent mould building up. Where possible, leave windows or trickle vents open
- Wipe dry the rubber seal around the washing machine drum as well as the detergent drawer and door, and always leave the door ajar to dry after use
- Cover the soil in houseplant pots with pea shingle to prevent mould building up on the surface
A pet allergy is caused by the protein in a pet’s saliva, urine or dander (shed skin particles).
When a pet licks itself, the allergen is transferred to its hair. Pet hair itself can also act as a carrier of other airborne allergens: pollen, house dust mite and mould, which can cause allergic symptoms in individuals with hay fever, asthma and eczema.
Top tips to reduce pet allergen
- Keep pets out of bedrooms and do not allow them to sit or sleep on soft furnishings,
such as sofas and beds
- Damp dust regularly to remove pet dander (and other allergens) from surfaces – avoid using a feather duster as this can ‘flick’ allergens into the air, which will remain airborne for several hours
- Use a vacuum cleaner with efficient pick up and filtration (Allergy UK has a list of endorsed products on its website)
- Where possible, use hard flooring rather than carpets, and wash flooring and skirting boards with hot soapy water or a steam cleaner
- Regularly wash soft furnishings on a hot wash cycle (bed linen, pet beds, curtains, cushions and soft toys)
Allergy UK is a leading voice in increasing awareness of poor indoor air quality and its effects on health and allergic conditions. The charity works with other stakeholders to influence change in regulations for improving air quality in both indoor and outdoor environments.