What are allergies and how can they be treated?

What are allergies and how can they be treated?

An allergy develops when the body’s immune system reacts to a substance (allergen), such as pollen, food and dust mites as though it is a threat, like an infection. In order to fight off the allergen, your body produces antibodies, in a reaction called the “immune response”.

The body “remembers” the previous exposure of the allergen, and produces more of the antibodies every time your body comes into contact with it. This causes the release of chemicals in the body that lead to an allergic reaction.

Although many individuals outgrow allergies over time, allergies can also develop at any age, including during adulthood.

While environment plays a role in allergy development, there is a greater risk of developing allergic conditions if a person has a family history of allergy, especially in parents or siblings1.

Common allergies

Allergies are very common. According to Allergy UK, one in four people in the UK suffer from an allergy at some point in their lives , with numbers increasing year on year. The NHS also estimate that 10-20% of the population has indoor allergy.

Some of the most common allergens include:

  • grass and tree pollen (hay fever)
  • dust mites
  • animal dander (tiny flakes of skin or hair)
  • food allergy (particularly fruits, shellfish and nuts)

Dust mite allergy

Dust mites are found in all areas of the home, but particularly in areas of the home that are used frequently such as bedrooms and kitchens. They survive well in warm damp conditions, making pillows and bedding the ideal environment, as they can feed on the skin cells we shed, obtain warmth from our bodies and collect water from our sweat. Find out more about what dust mites look like and where they can be found here.

Dust mites are not known to transmit any human diseases but they can cause skin reactions. Dust mites do not bite, but the faeces and secretions they leave behind can cause a number of allergic reactions including:

  • eczema and skin rashes
  • asthma
  • sneezing and runny nose
  • itchy, red or watery eyes

Bed bug allergy

Bed bug bites can often be mistaken for allergic rashes, due to them appearing as itchy bumps on the skin. Typically, the reaction is an irritant effect to the insect bite and not an allergy.

If you suspect there are bed bugs in your home, visit our sleep clinic to find out more information about what they are and how you can eliminate them.

Do I have a feather allergy?

You shouldn’t automatically assume that you have an allergy to feathers, as feather allergy is actually very rare. This allergy has been identified only as reaction to quill mites in live feather, protein in pigeon droppings, or to Pigeon bloom, a waxy powder that coats the feathers of racing pigeons. Find out how to choose the perfect pillow here.

So-called ‘feather allergy’ is more often than not, an allergic reaction to the dust mite allergen that is hidden in an unwashed pillow or duvet, no matter the filling. Find out how to choose the perfect pillow here.

Is your snoring caused by an allergy?

If you feel as though breathing through your nose isn’t smooth or that your nasal passages are being obstructed, then your snoring may be caused by an allergy.

The most common allergy to cause this behaviour is dust. Dust gathers in our homes as a result of flaking skin, which in turn encourages dust mites (see above).

If you are allergic to dust mites, breathing through your nose may become difficult, which may result in snoring. To find out more about whether your snoring is caused by an allergy read here.

How can I ease my allergies?

The below tips can help to manage your symptoms and reduce the number of allergens in your home.

  • Use allergen-proof barrier covers on mattresses, duvets and pillows
  • Dust regularly. Always use a damp duster, followed by a dry cloth, otherwise you’ll just be moving the dust around
  • Wash bedding at 60 degrees to help eliminate dust mites. Allergens produced by dust mites will dissolve in water, but the mites will survive if washed in lower temperatures
  • Vacuum all carpet and surfaces of upholstered furniture at least twice a week
  • Replace your mattress every 8-10 years
  • Replace pillows every year
  • Use a high-temperature steam cleaner to remove dust mites from carpets
  • All washable stuffed toys should be washed at the same temperature as your bedding. However, if this is not possible, place the toy in a plastic bag in the freezer for 12 hours and continue washing at recommended temperature
  • Use extractor fans in bathrooms and kitchens to reduce humidity and increase ventilation
  • To ensure indoor humidity stays between 30-50% use a dehumidifier.

Anti-allergy bedding

The best way to combat indoor allergens is to make your bedroom inhospitable to them. You can do this by purchasing anti-allergy products, such as, bedding, encasements and even a mattress. Find our range of anti-allergy bedding here.

When should I visit my GP?

You should always consult your GP if you suspect you have an allergy. Your GP may offer further tests to identify your allergy depending on your symptoms, the condition of your skin and any medication you are taking.

For more information and advice about allergies and other sleep issues,visit the SlumberSlumber sleep clinic.

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