Hay fever, allergies and indoor air quality
People may look forward to the nicer weather over spring and summer, but for hay fever sufferers the impact of the condition on their day-to-day lives can be unbearable – even if they try to stay inside. But why can some people still experience the symptoms of hay fever when they’re inside their homes, and what can be done about it?
What causes hay fever and why can it impact you inside your home?
Hay fever is an allergic reaction to pollen – a fine powder generated from grass, flowers, trees and weeds. One of the most common allergies in the UK, it affects around 13 million people, with symptoms including itchy or red eyes, runny nose, sneezing, coughing, headaches and feeling tired. People who also have asthma may experience more severe symptoms, such as wheezing or a shortness of breath.
Because the particles that cause hay fever come from plants, people with the condition may find it flares up more when they’re outdoors. However, they might experience some of the symptoms when inside. Pollen particles are tiny, so can travel into the home through open windows and doors, as well as other gaps. Although you could try keeping windows and doors closed, because homes aren’t completely airtight, the particles can still enter via gaps.
What’s more, once the pollen particles are in the home they can settle on surfaces and materials. It’s therefore important to regularly vacuum or mop floors, wipe down worktops and furniture, and wash items like bedding. However, if you’re drying sheets, towels and clothes, you might want to stay away from the outdoor washing line – as pollen can stick to materials.
Combating allergens in the home
Pollen is just one allergen that we need to be concerned about in the home. Dust mites, for example, can cause problems such as eczema and asthma. These tiny creatures are found in carpets, clothing, furnishings, and furniture. Other allergens can come from mould and pets.
As is the case when dealing with pollen, keeping surfaces and items in the home clean can help to reduce the level of allergens. In some cases, making sure the home is well ventilated by opening windows can help. Poor ventilation can lead to warm, damp environments, which can cause dust mites to thrive.
But if people are suffering from hay fever, opening windows to let the air in might not be the best option.
And there’s a bigger problem to consider than simply allergens in the home. External sources such as fumes from traffic or factories can infiltrate a property, impacting the quality of the air. And inside our homes, there are a number of activities and products that can add to this problem, including cooking, some soft furnishings and paints.
Building and retrofitting for optimum indoor air quality
While keeping homes clean and opening windows can help improve indoor air quality to an extent, these don’t address the initial challenge of how we can minimise pollutants and allergens in the home in the first place. This needs to be considered much earlier on in the construction of homes.
Mechanical ventilation and air purification can reduce the pollutants in the home and can be included in the design and construction of new builds, as well as, to a certain extent, retrofitted into older homes.
When it comes to new homes or renovating existing properties, thought needs to be given to the building materials used. Specifying and using innovative products that emit lower levels of CO2 and volatile organic compounds will help minimise the level of pollutants in the home.
We spend up to 90% of our time indoors and it’s worth noting that indoor air pollution can be up to 10 times worse than outdoor air pollution, as explained in this Ultimate Guide to Indoor Air Pollution. Whether we’re thinking about allergies, such as those caused by hay fever or dust mites, or other health and wellbeing problems such as autoimmune or cardiovascular diseases, it’s vital we look at ways to improve indoor air quality.
Find out more information about the importance of indoor air comfort.