Allergies – you are what you breathe

As it’s Allergy Awareness Week we take a look at outdoor and indoor air pollution.

Outdoor and indoor air pollution

Do you know people with allergies? Is the number growing? You are not alone if the answer is ‘yes’.

A staggering 44% of British adults now suffer from at least one allergy and the number of sufferers is on the rise, growing by around 2 million between 2008 and 2009 alone. Almost half (48%) of sufferers have more than one allergy (Mintel, 2010).

Life in the West appears to be changing our bacteria and susceptibility to allergy. Genes play a role but the fact that we will have been carrying similar DNA for thousands of years without being so allergic suggests environment is a key factor.

Prof Graham Rook, an immunologist at University College London’s Centre for Clinical Microbiology, explains that the “crucial thing is contact with green space and the natural environment, and avoidance of antibiotics.

Outdoor or inside air pollution – which is worst?

Levels of urbanisation are one of the strongest predictors for the prevalence of allergy in a population, both historically and in the future. But wherever we live, we are all exposed to some forms of outdoor and indoor air pollution. UK children have the highest reported symptoms of asthma, allergic rhinitis and eczema rates in the world with factors such as poor ventilation, mould and house dust mite triggering and exacerbating a number of allergic conditions. Because we spend so much time inside (up to 90%), keeping the indoor air quality as clean as possible in our homes, cars and workplaces is critical for good health.

Indoor air pollution affects allergies

Our indoor environments are often poorly ventilated causing humidity to rise and creating ideal conditions for mould and house dust mites to thrive in our soft furnishings and bedding. Pets living in the home can mean we can suffer from added allergens too. Tobacco still poses the biggest indoor threat, but wood-burning stoves, cleaning products and air fresheners all contribute.

Cleaning products can increase indoor air pollution

Household cleaners are a common cause of indoor air pollution. Harsh chemicals that give off fumes can irritate your nose, mouth and lungs, as well as your skin.

“The lemon-and-pine scents that we use to make our homes smell fresh can react chemically to generate air pollutants, and ozone-based air fresheners can also cause indoor air pollution.” RCPH (2016)

“Those with sensitive lungs and upper airways, like people with asthma and chronic sinusitis, may notice their symptoms getting worse,” says Dr. Khatri, pulmonologist (2015).

The fumes can cause inflammation that can make it more difficult for people with chronic lung conditions to heal from infections. It can also worsen inflammation due to other triggers, such as allergies.

Dr. Khatri recommends using natural cleaning products to minimise risks.

“A minimum of 9,000 deaths every year are attributed to indoor air pollution in the UK and indoor air levels of many pollutants may be 2-10 times higher than outdoor levels” Allergy U.K. (2018).

Today, hay fever has reached epidemic proportions and afflicts more than a fifth of the British population, even in towns where you might imagine grass pollen is less of a problem.

air pollution outside

Air pollution from traffic is a huge factor in the upsurge of hay fever. Exhaust fumes help weaken pollen grains, making them split open more easily and spew out the allergic substances that trigger the condition. Polluting gases, such as ozone and nitrogen dioxide, also make hay fever sufferers more sensitive to pollen allergens.

Outdoor air pollution is contributing to about 40,000 early deaths a year in the UK, say The Royal Colleges of Physicians and of Paediatrics and Child Health and they believe diesel emissions have been poorly controlled (RCPCH, 2016).

So what can we do inside?

Here are some great tips to boost the indoor air quality of your home:

  • Avoid smoking indoors
  • Make sure your gas stove is well-ventilated
  • Minimise clutter
  • Remove carpeting if possible and replace with hard flooring
  • Use a dehumidifier and/or air conditioner to reduce moisture
  • Always use natural and organic cleaning products (take a look at our Organic Laundry & Household Shop)
  • Remove shoes at the door
  • Minimise air freshener use
  • Test your home for radon
  • Use carbon monoxide detectors
  • Fix water leaks
  • Dust surfaces and vacuum frequently using a cleaner with a HEPA filter
  • Wash bedding weekly in hot water (over 60 degrees)
  • Make sure fans are functioning in your bathrooms and kitchen or open windows to remove condensation
  • Keep a lid on scented candles

And what can we do outside?

Greenscents products are certified by Allergy UK and their focus for Allergy Awareness Week 2019 is on outside pollution. So follow them on social media and read their tips for exercising outside