Expert / 8 May, 2019 / Dr Tom York

How To Protect Your Family From Allergens Indoors & Outdoors

The topic of air quality is one which is gaining more and more prominence; from the recent climate change protests to the new ultra-low emission zone introduced to tax highly polluting vehicles, it’s pertinent that Allergy UK are focused on air quality.

The latest figures from the WHO (world health organisation) tell us that 91% of the world’s population live in places exceeding air quality guidelines. In the UK, it is thought that 9,000 deaths per year can be attributed to poor air quality, the majority of these relate to respiratory conditions such as asthma, COPD and chest infections.

Problems can arise from ambient air pollution from vehicles, farming and industrial processes but also from within the home from dust, animal hair and mould. Studies suggest that the levels of many pollutants can be higher inside the home. As we spend on average about 90% of our lives indoors, it’s important that we take action to minimise the negative effects that this could have.

The most common ways in which air pollutants can cause problems for you and your family is by exacerbating asthma and causing allergic rhinitis (hay fever). Around 1 in 11 children suffer from asthma and around 4 in 10 suffer from allergic rhinitis. The figures are only slightly lower for adults so it’s highly likely that someone in your family is susceptible to the ill effects of poor air quality.

There are various things you can do to improve the air quality both in your home and also in the wider world:

How To Improve Outdoor Air Quality

  • Vehicles are a major source of pollutants so minimising the number of car journeys you take is a great way to improve air quality. Walking or cycling when possible or consider public transport for longer distances. Consider using an electric or hybrid car to reduce fossil fuel consumption.
  • Buy organic and local. Organic food is produced without polluting chemical fertilisers and locally produced food requires less fossil fuel consumption to transport it from source to market.
  • Recycle, reduce and repair. The manufacture of plastic produces harmful by-products that pollute the air, not to mention the environmental effects of landfill and plastics in the oceans. Be mindful of purchasing products which are recyclable and use recyclable packaging and consider buying second-hand products whenever possible.
  • Reduce your home’s energy expenditure with adequate insulation, low energy light bulbs and an energy efficient boiler. Teach your children about conserving water and power so they remember to turn off lights and taps when they don’t need to be on.
  • Plant a tree. As well as reducing carbon dioxide, trees also help clear pollutants from the atmosphere, especially small particulate matter which can be especially harmful to the respiratory system.

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How To Improve Indoor Air Quality

For people who suffer from asthma or allergic rhinitis, dust, mould and pets in the home can be major sources of the allergens which worsen their condition.  If you or your family suffer from these conditions, consider the following steps to reduce your symptoms.

  • Dust mite faeces are a major source cause of irritation to the respiratory systems of those effected. The main focus should be in the bedroom as this is where the highest proportion of time is spent. Avoid extra cushions on the beds and excessive soft toys in your child’s room. Wash anything made of fabric on a regular basis, consider wooden flooring instead of carpet, blinds instead of curtains and even think about buying hypo-allergenic bedding. Another useful tip is if you have a particularly susceptible child; don’t allow them to sleep on a bottom bunk as dust from the mattress above is likely to provoke their symptoms.
  • Pets can provoke allergic symptoms from their dander (skin particles), proteins in their saliva, urine or allergens attached to their hair such as pollen. Avoid letting pets into the bedroom or onto furniture and regularly wash their bedding.
  • Moulds can be another source of allergy. Regularly clean the refrigerator, damp proof window frame seals and make sure the bathroom extractor fan is clean and working properly. Moulds also breed in the soil of house plants so consider species which can grow in pebbles. Moulds also enjoy the heat so consider turning down the central heating a few degrees.
  • HEPA air purifiers and HEPA filter vacuum cleaners can be a great investment to remove allergens and pollutants from the home.

The symptoms of asthma and allergic rhinitis are often very annoying but at worst can be life threatening.

For asthma, it’s important for you to be on the correct treatment regime so ensure you have an annual asthma review with a GP or nurse. Make sure you always have a Ventolin to hand and don’t delay in seeking urgent medical assistance if the symptoms are getting out of control.

Allergic rhinitis can often be managed with simple antihistamines and nasal sprays but if these methods don’t help, there’s usually a treatment which will, available through a GP or allergy specialist.

GPDQ can provide a quick and convenient way to see a fully qualified GP who can assist with any medical problems you or your family may be having.

By Dr Tom York, NHS-registered and private GP for GPDQ, the UK’s first doctor-on-demand app


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