Our nation is becoming more and more sensitive to our immediate environment. It is estimated 40% of all Britons are affected by allergies with 25% estimated to suffer from an allergy at some time in their lives. This figure increases by 5% every year according to leading medical charity Allergy UK, with young children accounting for half this increase.
The reason for this increase is widely debated and researched. Conclusions so far point to a multitude of factors contribute towards children today being more susceptible to develop allergies. Most arguments point towards two general trends: a shortage of appropriate ‘training opportunities’ for the maturing immune system coupled with an increased exposure to high concentrations of allergens.
It is argued that our obsession with cleanliness, smaller families, the trend against breast feeding and the increase in the number of vaccinations combine to deprive a maturing immune system of many of the challenges it needs to develop. This shortage of training opportunities makes the young immune system vulnerable to allergens. Genetic predisposition, a family history of allergy, also increases the likelihood of children developing allergies. In addition, it is widely established that early exposure to high concentrations of allergens will lead to a greater chance of a child developing allergies.
Seeking medical advice from a GP or health professional is necessary to tackle severe problems or concerns. A GP can advice on suitable courses of action to help develop a child’s immune system, test for allergies, and advice on how to prevent overexposure to allergens.
Apart from medical advice, there are quick fixes anyone can implement to improve their home environment. Do not smoke indoors. Clean the air of external allergens such as pollen, smoke and pollution. This is easily done with an air purifier or a dehumidifier fitted with speciality air filters. Dust mites, or rather dust mite droppings are the most prevalent indoor allergen, and a common cause of allergy among both adults and children. To prevent high concentrations of these, frequent vacuuming (incl. mattresses) and washing of bedding and pillows (60oC) will remove some, while lowering humidity levels indoors with the help of a dehumidifier will stop the mites from reproducing.
Simple measures like these will greatly enhance your indoor environment. Coupled with medical advice, it will reduce the chances of your child developing allergies, or alleviate any symptoms you and your family might suffer.
In regards to lowering concentrations of allergens in the home, some simple measures can be put in place:
Clean the air of external allergens. Air purifiers, air-conditioning units or dehumidifiers fitted with air filters can remove pollen, smoke and other pollutants from the air.
Remove the occurrence of dust mite droppings – the most common indoor allergen – through washing pillows, duvets and rugs in 60 degrees every two weeks, and vacuum mattresses and carpets frequently.
Prevent dust mite reproduction by using a dehumidifier to lower the humidity in your home. Dust mites are generally unable to reproduce when relative humidity levels are below 70%.
Providing challenges for a young immune system to help it develop is a medical issue and should be raised with a GP or other health professional. It is worth discussing the following issues more in depth if you believe your child is at risk of developing allergies:
Set the right scene for your children. Experts agree we should not be scared of a little dirt. This does not mean live in filth and ignore cleanliness, but do not be obsessive about getting rid of every piece of dirt or crumb – in small doses, they help build up your child’s immune system.
Avoid anything more than minimal exposure to common allergens – smoke, pollen, dust mites, mould and common allergenic foods (nuts, citrus, lactose etc.) during a child’s first year.
Breast feed if possible. Apart from the nutritional and emotional benefits, breast milk contains your bacteria and is a good way of teaching your child’s defences to deal with foreign microbes.