If you are one of the millions of people who suffer from hay fever, then you will know first-hand how normal life can be completely disrupted when pollen counts are high. While there is no known cure for these allergies, improving air quality in your home may help your symptoms.
What is allergy season?
According to the World Allergy Organization, between 10% and 30% of the world’s population suffer from pollen allergy, or to give it the medical terminology, seasonal allergic rhinitis.
Without getting too in-depth into understanding how allergic reactions occur, simply put it is when the body’s immune system overreacts to a harmless substance, which is known as an allergen. The reaction causes the production of antibodies which release chemicals in the body. These cause the symptoms associated with allergies, most often affecting the nose, throat, sinuses, lungs and skin. The severity of the reaction varies between individuals, for some it may only be a mild annoyance, while for others it can be debilitating and, in some cases, potentially life threatening.
Grass and tree pollens are the most common allergens and are what we are usually referring to when talking about seasonal allergies. Pollen is a mass of microspores transported between plants through the air, in water or on insects or animals as part of the pollination process of plant reproduction. Its’ peak being the spring and summer, which is what is generally thought of as ‘allergy season’. The height of pollen season is from April to August but climate change has resulted in allergy season becoming more prolonged.
When it comes to air quality it is not just the spring and summer that you need to consider if you are prone to allergies. Another very common allergen is dust, or rather the dust mites that are commonly found living in house dust. These microscopic creatures feed off shed skin cells and the allergy symptoms are very similar to those for hay fever.
Some other common airborne allergens that cause varying symptoms in susceptible people, include moulds and fungi as well as pollutants from exhaust fumes, household cleaning products and even from substances in building materials and furniture.
What are common allergy symptoms?
Allergy symptoms can range from mild irritation and a slightly itchy nose to constant sneezing, a runny nose and itchy red eyes, that can leave you feeling worn out and exhausted. Allergens including pollen, dust, mould and air pollution, are also responsible for about 80% of asthma cases.
If you or anyone you know suffers from allergies, you will already understand how much they can affect your quality of life. Not only is there the physical effect on your body, there are also psychological issues. Ongoing allergy symptoms can make you miserable, causing you to be irritable and, perhaps, frustrated. You may also find you have less energy, especially if your allergies are disrupting your sleep, which also influences how you feel and function during the day. On top of this, some allergy medications may relieve your symptoms, but they can cause drowsiness and reduce your ability to concentrate. Allergies can have a significant effect on both children and adults, affecting children’s ability to learn and adult levels of productivity.
What can you do to help reduce allergy symptoms?
In the first instance, if you are suffering from allergy symptoms you should see a doctor for a diagnosis and to discuss treatment. However, there are things you can do in your home that can alleviate symptoms and greatly help with improving air quality.
Change your bedding
For anyone who has a dust mite allergy it is recommended to use hypoallergenic pillows and mattress covers which act as a physical barrier to dust mites. In order for these to be most effective, it is also important to wash all bedding weekly, at temperatures of at least 60°C, to kill any dust mites and remove other allergens, such as pollen. Other soft furnishings such as curtains, cushions and throws can also harbour dust and allergens, so these should also be regularly washed.
Our skin regenerates approximately every four weeks. These skin cells, along with dirt, fabric fibres, pet hair, pollen, smoke and various other particles settle on surfaces around our home in what we commonly call dust. Within this dust, mould, bacteria and dust mites can thrive. Therefore, regular dusting is required to keep them at bay. The best method for dusting is to use a damp cloth so that the dust doesn’t just become airborne and then resettle after you finish the hard work.
Carpets are, unfortunately, renowned for holding dust and particles so for the same reason as dusting, vacuuming needs to be done regularly to keep the dust away as much as possible. It is important to use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter which traps allergens, preventing them from being recirculated back into the air. If anyone in your household has a severe allergy it may be worth considering replacing carpets with hard wood or tiled floors, which are easier for keeping dust under control.
Drying laundry inside
Perhaps not something we would immediately think of, but when pollen counts are high it is best to avoid drying washing outside where pollen can settle on your clean clothes and be brought right back into your home.
How can air quality be improved to relieve allergy symptoms?
Although pollen and many other airborne allergens may originate outside, they can easily find their way into our houses. Outside the air is regularly circulated, but that is not the case inside, and as 90% of our time is spent indoors, we need to consider how to improve the air quality of our home environment to help alleviate allergy symptoms.
This could be simply ensuring there is adequate ventilation by opening windows for fresh air to come in. However, while this may keep air moving, if the air coming in is still bringing pollen and pollutants, then it won’t be improving the situation.
The best method for improving air quality at home is to use an air purifier. Air purifiers consist of a series of filters which capture particles of varying sizes, including a HEPA filter which ensures even the tiniest particles of pollen, fine dust and mould spores remain contained. The air purifier then recirculates the air, releasing clean, fresh, pure air back into your room.
In this video we explain further about the importance of indoor air quality for you and your family, and how it can be improved.
Humidity can also be an issue when it comes to allergies. If humidity is high, it can increase the risk of mould and mildew, plus dust mites thrive at higher humidity levels. However, if humidity is too low it can exacerbate your symptoms as the dryness can irritate the already inflamed nasal tissues. An air purifier with a humidifier could be the answer to this, keeping the air at optimal humidity to relieve symptoms but preventing additional allergens affecting the quality of the air.
If an air purifier sounds like a good solution for improving the air quality in your home read air purifiers de-mystified to find out more about what air purifiers do and to help you decide which one is right for you.