What Are Allergies?
An allergy develops when the body’s immune system reacts to a substance (allergen), such as pollen, food, and dust mites. The immune system can see these as 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 siblings.
Allergies are very common. According to Allergy UK, one in four people in the UK suffers from an allergy at some point in their lives, with numbers increasing year on year.
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)
Are You Allergic to Your Own Home?
According to the NHS, it’s estimated that 10-20% of the population has an indoor allergy. Dust mites are the main cause for household allergies, while other allergens can be a result of mould, cleaning products, and pets.
If you’re allergic to your home, the symptoms that you will experience are similar to that of hay fever. The most common symptoms include:
- A runny nose
- Itchy rashes
Dust Mite Allergy
Dust mites are the main cause for household allergies and are found in areas of the home that are used frequently, such as bedrooms and kitchens. They survive well in warm, damp conditions. This makes 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
- 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 a reaction to quill mites in feathers, protein in pigeon droppings, or to Pigeon bloom, a waxy powder that coats the feathers of racing pigeons.
So-called ‘feather allergy’ is more often an allergic reaction to the dust mite allergen that is hidden in an unwashed pillow or duvet, no matter the filling.
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?
It is recommended that you use the below tips 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°C 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 the 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. In addition, an air purifier can be used to trap large airborne allergens such as pollen, house dust mite debris, and mould spores.
When Should I Visit My GP?
It’s recommended that you always consult your GP if you suspect you have an allergy. Depending on your symptoms, the condition of your skin, and any medication you are taking, you may be offered further tests to identify the allergen. Click here if you’re unsure whether you should seek medical attention.