Your home and your lungs

Allergies in your home

Sometimes people develop allergies to things in their home. This happens when your body’s immune system becomes confused, mistaking something everyday for 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 the 'infection'.

What’s more, is that 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 your allergic reaction.

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 and wheezing. If you have asthma, your symptoms are likely to get worse. 

Allergies to house dust mites and pets are common.

Remember that 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.

Dust mites

Everyone has dust mites in their home. They are microscopic insects that live off human skin scales 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 about my allergies?

There’s no firm evidence that the tips below work for allergies, but they will help to reduce the number of mites in your home, which could help with symptoms.

  • Change your mattresses and bedding regularly
  • Wash your bedding and duvets above 60°C, or put bedding, duvets and soft toys into a plastic bag and put into a freezer for 24 hours
  • Vacuum your mattress and pillows
  • Use a barrier cover on your mattresses, duvets and pillows
  • Clean carpets and hard floors with a high filtration vacuum cleaner daily if you can
  • Vacuum soft furnishings twice a week, and don’t forget to vacuum under your bed, where dust mites gather
  • Use a damp cloth to dust hard surfaces in your home, and remember to include places that gather dust and tend to get neglected, such as the top of picture rails
  • Air your home well
  • Choose smooth floors, such as wood, laminate, bamboo or lino, instead of carpets

Pets and allergies

People with pet allergies have a reaction to the proteins found in their pet’s skin cells, saliva or urine.  Some allergies are to ‘dander’ - the dead flakes of skin that a pet sheds.

Man with a cat

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, but 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 extrinsic allergic alveolitis that 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 do spend a lot of time around birds in your working or home life and have symptoms continuously, then ask your health care professional for advice.

What can I do about my pet allergies?

It might be a difficult decision, but if you think you have an allergy to your pet, you may need to consider rehoming if your reactions are bad enough.

If you have a pet allergy, but live with a pet, we suggest you:

  • Don’t let it into your bedroom or other rooms where you spend most of your time
  • Clean your home regularly
  • Wash your pet regularly
  • If your pet lives in a cage, ask someone else to clean it
  • Remove carpets and replace them with smooth floors, such as wood, laminate, bamboo or lino
  • Keep the rooms where you spend most of your time well-aired, such as by opening windows
  • Try using air filters and an efficient vacuum cleaner. High-efficiency particulate vacuum bags 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
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Last medically reviewed: September 2015. Due for review: September 2018

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.