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Reducing allergens in the home fact sheet

Reducing allergens in the home

For children who are susceptible to allergies, the home is often full of triggers. Reducing allergens in the home is an important step towards improving the every-day comfort of your child.

Allergy triggers

Dust

All houses contain dust. If your child has a dust allergy, normal cleaning is often not enough. You can take steps to minimise the problem, most importantly keeping the house as clean as possible.

Dust in the home is made from broken-down plant and animal materials (often found in the stuffing of upholstered furniture, carpets, mattresses and pillows) such as cotton, wool, jute, feathers and animal hair. It can also contain shed human skin cells, animal dander (skin cells), saliva and moulds.

Cockroaches

Certain proteins that are carried by cockroaches can sometimes be a trigger for a child with allergies. To keep your home free from cockroaches, the best approach is to have a professional exterminator visit your home once a year.

Dust mites

House dust mites are microscopic insects in the same family as spiders. They eat particles of skin and thrive in carpets, bedding, clothing and upholstered furniture. They are generally harmless, but some children can be allergic to them and their droppings.

Cleaning tips

If you can’t follow all of these suggestions, concentrate on your child’s bedroom. Paying special attention to the bedroom can significantly reduce allergic symptoms. The process of cleaning can often stir up dust. Clean the house when your child is not there, if you can.

Clean weekly using damp dusting cloths and mops. If you have carpet, get a vacuum with a high-energy particle air filter to avoid stirring up dust.

Irritants

An allergy can be aggravated by irritants such as tobacco smoke, perfumes, cosmetics, aerosols, paints, pesticides cooking odours, wood work dusts and more. Try to keep your home free of these irritants.

Bedrooms

  • All bedding (sheets, comforters, blankets and pillows) should be made with synthetic materials and washed weekly in hot water (temperatures above 55oC).
  • The mattress should be encased in a dust mite protector. These covers are available in pharmacies and some furniture shops. Buy one that encloses the mattress completely and zips up. The zipper closure can be taped over. Dust mite covers are also available for pillows, box springs and duvets. Dust mite covers are expensive, but they are a very effective way of reducing dust mite exposure.
  • Keep stuffed toys out of the bedroom. All stuffed toys should be washed in hot water. An alternative (but less effective) cleaning method is to place them inside a plastic and put them in the freezer overnight. This should be done weekly.
  • Other toys or books should be stored in plastic boxes in a cupboard or behind glass.
  • If you have pets, they must never go into your child’s bedroom.

Humidity/air-conditioning

  • Keeping the humidity inside the home at less than 50 per cent can reduce the growth of dust mite and moulds –central air-conditioning is the most effective way of achieving this. Window air-conditioning units may be effective, but the filters must be cleaned regularly.
  • Avoid ceiling fans as they stir up dust.

Flooring

  • If possible, remove all carpets and replace with hardwood, lino, vinyl or ceramic-tiled floors. Use rugs that can be washed weekly. If you choose carpet, select a low-pile option and steam-clean regularly.
  • If you have pets, keep floors clean, minimise upholstered furniture and include wall washing in your weekly cleaning. You may want to consider removing carpets.

Furniture

  • Avoid upholstered furniture. Instead opt for wood, leather or vinyl-covered furniture.
  • Open shelves as can collect dust. Place books, tapes and knickknacks in closed cupboards, drawers or behind glass. Large plastic boxes are ideal and are inexpensive.
  • Avoid dried flowers, straw baskets and wall hangings. Have washable curtains instead of blinds or heavy drapes.

Animals

  • No animals are good for an allergic child and over time they are likely to become more sensitive to them. It is often the dander (skin cells) and saliva from the animal that causes problems, rather than the hair as is commonly thought. There is no such thing as a cat or dog breed that will not cause allergies, although some breeds can be less problematic than others.
  • If you have an allergic child, do not get a furry pet or bird.
  • An important rule if you have a child with allergies is to never allow pets in the bedrooms.
  • Wash pets weekly. Do not have any litter trays in the house.
  • Animal allergens can persist for more than a year after the animal has been removed.

Moulds

  • Moulds and mildew can grow on anything if there is sufficient moisture. They produce spores that can trigger allergies. Ensure your home has good ventilation and an intact damp course.
  • Clean out the drip tray of the fridge regularly and throw out any old food.
  • Keep closets aired and ventilated. Vent air from the laundry drier to the outside.
  • Treat any mould in bathrooms with a bleach solution.
  • Do not have plants inside the house.
  • Avoid compost heaps and collections of leaves or rotting wood.

Contact us

If it’s not an emergency but you have any concerns, contact 13 Health (13 43 2584). Qualified staff will give you advice on who to talk to and how quickly you should do it. You can phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

In an emergency, always contact 000 for immediate assistance.

Resource No: FS280. Developed by the Immunology and Allergy Department, Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital. Updated: January 2018. All information contained in this sheet has been supplied by qualified professionals as a guideline for care only. Seek medical advice, as appropriate, for concerns regarding your child’s health.

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