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Indoor air pollution

Allergies in your home

Sometimes you can develop allergies to things in your home. This happens when your body’s immune system becomes confused, mistaking something encountered every day as a harmful risk like an infection. When this happens, the trigger is called an allergen.

Your immune system mistakenly targets the allergen, giving you an allergic reaction. This involves producing a lot of antibodies to fight off what it sees as a risk.

The next time you come into contact with the allergen, your body remembers, and produces yet more antibodies. This makes your immune system release chemicals that trigger an allergic reaction.

What are the symptoms of allergies?

If you’re allergic to things in your home, you’re likely to get a runny or blocked nose, itchy, red or watering eyes, wheezing, a cough or breathlessness. Other symptoms could include itchy skin or rashes. If you have asthma, your symptoms are likely to get worse.

Allergies to house dust mites, pets and mould spores are common in people with asthma and may impact their breathing.

If you think you have an allergy, tell your GP. They will be able to advise you if you need treatment or they may refer you to a specialist allergy clinic to be tested. 

Remember, if you live with asthma or another lung condition and you think you’re allergic to something in your home, stick to your asthma or COPD plan, if you have one. Take your medication as prescribed, including your preventer inhaler.

How do dust mites affect air quality?

Everyone has dust mites in their home. They are microscopic insects that live off human skin and form part of the dust in our homes. They thrive in humid and damp places, and are found particularly in bedding, soft furnishings and carpets.

The mites’ droppings become fine particles in the air and quickly settle into pillows, mattresses, duvets, carpets and upholstery. 

It doesn’t matter how clean and tidy you are, unfortunately – it’s impossible to completely get rid of them.

What can I do if I have a house dust mite allergy and asthma?

If you have asthma and are affected by dust mites, the best way to minimise its impact on your asthma is to regularly take your preventer medications and follow your asthma management plan.

Patients with asthma can find that avoiding certain environmental triggers helps to manage their symptoms. But scientific evidence about the effectiveness of these interventions is limited. Health care professionals generally do not recommend methods that are supposed to reduce house dust mite levels in the home, such as using mattress covers, vacuum cleaning, ventilation, freezing, washing, air filtration or air ionisers.       

Pets and allergies

What is a pet allergy?

A pet allergy is when a person has a reaction to a pet’s skin cells, saliva or urine. Sometimes people are allergic to dander - the dead flakes of skin that a pet sheds.

Dander is very small and can stay in the air for a long time. It collects on upholstered furniture and sticks to your clothes. Research has found it takes several months for cat allergens to disappear from a home after a cat has left.

Any animal with fur can be a source, including pets sometimes called hypoallergenic or low allergy. It’s most common to develop an allergy to cats, dogs and rodents such as mice, rats and ferrets.

Birds can also trigger allergic reactions and asthma symptoms because of their feathers. A powder called feather dander is released when birds clean their feathers, play or wash.

If you’re breathing in dust caused by birds, you can have an allergic reaction called leads to inflammation of your lung’s air sacs. The inflammation can develop into a longer-lasting condition that permanently scars your lungs.

If you spend a lot of time around birds in your working or home life and have symptoms continuously, ask your health care professional for advice.

What can I do about my pet allergies?

It will be a difficult decision, but if you think you have an allergy to your pet, you may need to consider rehoming the animal if you can’t cope with your reaction. Before you decide, get an allergy test to make sure that you’re reacting to your pet and not something else, such as smoke or pollen.

There is limited scientific evidence showing whether these interventions work in reducing the effects of pet allergies. But, if you do have a pet allergy, you might consider some of the following:

  • not letting it into your bedroom or other rooms where you spend most of your time
  • cleaning your home regularly
  • washing your pet regularly
  • if your pet lives in a cage, asking someone else to clean it
  • removing carpets and replace them with smooth floors, such as wood, laminate, bamboo or lino
  • keeping the rooms where you spend most of your time well-aired, such as by opening windows
  • try using air filters and a high efficiency vacuum cleaner, although there is currently limited evidence on how helpful this actually is. High-efficiency particulate vacuum cleaners may reduce the amount of dander stirred up by your cleaning
  • high-efficiency air purifiers, known as HEPA filter devices, may also reduce airborne pet allergens. But the evidence for reductions in asthma symptoms is less clear

Next: What can I do to improve air quality in my home? > 

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Download our indoor air pollution information (266KB, PDF)

Last medically reviewed: September 2018. Due for review: September 2021

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.