Tips for Those of Us Living with Asthma and Allergies

Helpful tips for those of us living with asthma and allergies

We spend a lot of time in and around our homes, so it is important to consider how your indoor environment could be affecting the health of you and your family.

Allergies, breathing difficulties and asthma are becoming more and more common in our society.  New Zealand has a high prevalence of asthma, with one in seven children (13%) aged 2-14 years and one in eight adults (12 percent) reporting taking current asthma medication.

One in three New Zealanders will suffer from an allergy at some time in their lives.  An allergy occurs when a person’s immune system overreacts to substances in the environment.  

 

Common allergens include:

  • House dust mites
  • Grasses
  • Pollen
  • Pets
  • Foods
  • Some medications
  • Insect stings
  • Latex
  • Moulds.

Common irritants that can also cause undesirable reactions are:

  • Chemical household cleaners
  • Fragrance
  • Fabric drying sheets
  • Clothes (rough fabrics such as wool for example)
  • Heat 
  • Face and body creams (check the label for common irritants such as ascorbic acid, paraben preservatives, alpha hydroxy acids such as glycolic acid, malic acid and lactic acid)
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Wood-burner smoke
  • Plants (eg. poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac are 3 of the most common to cause allergic contact dermatitis)
  • Food (peanut, shellfish, wheat, spices)
  • Nickel (found in costume jewelry, watchbands, zips and other everyday items)
  • Chemical sunscreens (Here’s what we recommend! NZ made EK Bio-Gro Sunscreen)

If someone in your household is suffering from allergies, asthma or poor health in general, there are inexpensive things you can do right now to improve their health and general comfort within the home.

Firstly, start by working out what asthma and allergy triggers affect your family.

Pollens, pets, dust mites or mould?  Or is it something else like chemicals or temperature changes?

Once you know the important triggers, you can focus your efforts on the right areas and simple changes might help your whole family breathe a little easier.

Below is a list of actions you can take regularly within your home to improve the air quality and reduce triggers immediately.

 

Here’s what you can do room by room:

Bedroom

Unfortunately dust mites love the comfort of your bed as much as you do.

But a weekly hot wash will kill any mites in your bed linen and the same goes for any cushions and soft toys too - if you can’t wash the items, try popping them in the freezer overnight.

Mattress, pillows and quilts can be a little more challenging to wash, so instead, look for washable mite-proof covers or products with antimicrobial properties.

Dust Mites thrive in humid conditions, as does mould.  So it may be necessary for you to think about the air flow and how it could be improved in your bedroom.  Things to try could be an air conditioner, dehumidifier, air purifier or just simply opening a window.

Remove any mould with naturally fermented white vinegar and make sure any leaks or rising damp is treated promptly.

If your pet causes any asthma or allergies to members of your family, the pet really needs to be kept out of the bedroom of that person.


Wardrobes

The main challenge of any wardrobe in our homes is humidity - and house dust mites and mould just love a humid environment. These also happen to be two of the most common allergy and asthma triggers.

So how do you know if humidity is a problem?

  • Musty smell
  • Mould on clothes or shoes

And what can you do to solve this problem?

  • Increase airflow 
  • Leave cupboard doors open
  • Open a window
  • Use a dehumidifier regularly

How do you get rid of dust mites and humidity?

  • If you can, put the clothes through a hot wash because the mites won’t survive that.
  • Mould on clothes can be a little more tricky and you’ll need to follow washing instructions.
  • Mould on the wardrobe itself can be removed by cleaning with naturally fermented white vinegar.

Bathroom

All bathrooms are prone to dampness and mould.  But you can try to prevent mould with a few simple measures:

  • Ventilation - open a window and also use an extractor fan
  • Make sure you fix any leaks and clear any blocked ventilation

Certain varieties of indoor plants can be wonderful air purifiers, however all plants can also promote mould growth in damp areas, so you’ll need to be extra vigilant here.

When mould does appear, remove it naturally with fermented white vinegar.  A handy shower mould hack is to spray your shower down with white vinegar after each use.  This also helps to prevent calcium build up on your shower walls, glass and tapware.

Make sure shower curtains are not left bunched up and damp - try to position them in a sense where they can dry out between uses.  Wash regularly and soak in oxygen bleach to remove any mould that does occur.  After soaking, add ½ cup of white vinegar to your fabric softener dispenser when you put it through the wash in your machine.


Kitchen

A clean hygienic kitchen is important for good health, but there is no extra benefit in over sanitizing every surface.  In fact, strong chemicals can cause irritation of sensitive eyes and noses. 

Look for products without harsh chemicals and no fragrances.  Soap based cleaners have been proven to be the most effective and cleaning your surfaces and washing away any harmful bacteria, without harmful chemicals and the residues they leave behind, or creating bacterial resistance.

Be on the lookout for mould in your kitchen too.  Ensure you have good airflow in pantries and other dark or musty spots.

Good ventilation will help everyone breathe easier, so use an extractor fan and open a window if you can.

And of course, take extra precautions in all areas of the kitchen if food allergies are involved.


Dusting

Furniture, curtains and floors can harbour all sorts of allergy triggers, including dust mites, mould and pet dander.  It is important to:

  • Look for items that are easy to clean or have antimicrobial properties.  Vacuum often and ideally use a HEPA filter vacuum to prevent particles being released back into the air.
  • Give your cushions, curtains and couches a good going over too.
  • A damp electrostatic or steam mop is a good choice for hard floors.
  • Take special care with heaters - unflued gas heaters are dangerous abnd should be replaced.
  • Be aware that wood smell can be an asthma trigger for some people.
  • Scented candles, oil burners and air fresheners can also cause irritation and headaches in sensitive people.
  • Cigarette smoke is a major asthma trigger and can be responsible for causing asthma in children in the first place.  Protect your family’s lungs by making sure your home is smoke-free.

Laundry 

There are three main issues to consider in your laundry:

  • Firstly, some cleaning products pose problems for people with asthma and allergy.  So finding a chemical and fragrance free product suitable to sensitive skin and allergy sufferers is important.
  • Secondly, consider your family’s allergy triggers when you are doing the laundry. 

    For dust mites and pet allergens, a regular hot wash in water warmer than 55 degrees should do the trick.

    For pollen, temperature is less critical, but try and avoid hanging the washing out to dry on high pollen days during pollen season.
  • Finally, mould will thrive in the warm, humid conditions that are found in many laundries.  Try and improve the ventilation - use an extractor fan and/or open a window, especially if your dryer doesn’t vent to the outside.

It is also a good idea to leave the washing machine door open after you finish the washing to prevent mould from growing on the seals.


We hope that you find this article helpful and we'd love to hear your tips on how to make living with an allergy or asthma more comfortable within your home.  Let us know in the comments below!





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