An allergy is an excessive response by the immune system to something in the environment, known as an allergen. Allergies are relatively common and both genes and environmental factors may play a role in their development. Many of the most common allergens may be found in our home environment, including dust and dust mites, pet dander and mould.
Dust mites are microscopic insect‐like creatures found in most areas inhabited by people. The most common type of dust mite found in Australian homes prefers coastal rather than inland areas. The highest concentrations of dust mites in a home are usually found in mattresses, pillows, linen, carpets and curtains. Dust mites may trigger an allergic reaction in sensitive individuals.
Allergic reactions are dose related, therefore the less dust mites in your home environment, the less you are likely to experience an allergic reaction. While it is impossible to eliminate all dust mites in your home, there are several ways to minimise their numbers. These include covering mattresses and pillows with mite resistant covers, washing linen weekly in water hotter than 55°C, reducing humidity and removing rugs and carpets where practical.
Weekly vacuuming, including mattresses and upholstery will also help to keep dust mite numbers down. It is important to note that vacuuming disturbs allergenic mite material, which may remain in the air for approximately 20 minutes. If you are allergic to dust mites, consider getting someone else to do the vacuuming or wear a mask.
Contrary to popular belief, pet hair itself is not an allergen, but it may collect dander. Pet dander (shed skin cells) is a common allergen found in the home, especially among people with other allergies.
Between 15 and 30 percent of people with allergies will have an allergic response to dogs and/ or cats. People with pet allergies have sensitive immune systems that react to harmless proteins found in dander, pet saliva or urine.
The best remedy for a pet allergy is to avoid exposure to the animal in question as much as possible. You can minimise allergic reactions by bathing your pet frequently and cleaning its kennel, bedding or litter box on a regular basis.
Ask a family member or friend without allergies to do this for you, if possible. Remove carpets and replace them with wooden, tile or linoleum flooring and consider getting rid of curtains, horizontal blinds and upholstered furniture.
If your pet is not able to live comfortably outside, consider establishing certain rooms in the house, such as your bedroom, as pet free zones. Lastly, you might find using high efficiency particulate air filters helpful in reducing airborne pet allergens.
Mould is a type of fungi which grows in damp and poorly ventilated areas. Moulds are common both indoors and outside and are usually black, green or white in colour. They reproduce by making spores, which become airborne and commonly settle indoors where they may begin to grow and spread if conditions are ideal.
Mould outdoors or in damp buildings may trigger an allergic reaction in sensitive people, including nasal congestion, sneezing, wheezing and coughing.
It is not possible to eliminate all mould in the home, but there are steps you can take to minimise your exposure to it. Sleep with your windows closed to keep outdoor mould out. This is particularly important at night, when it is cooler and there is more moisture in the air. Avoid going outside at times when mould counts are likely to be high, such as immediately after a rainstorm, or in foggy, damp weather. Also wear a dust mask when performing outdoor tasks such as raking leaves, mowing the lawn and working with compost.
If you can see or smell mould in your home, remove it as soon as possible and try to determine the source of the moisture causing it. Kitchens, bathroom and laundries are particularly susceptible to mould due to condensation and inadequate ventilation. One of the easiest ways to discourage mould growth is to increase airflow through the area by opening a door or window.