Allergy awareness week - creating an allergen-free haven
You might know the symptoms of allergies and their triggers, but can you help people to avoid them? 'Stay away from triggers' seems like good advice until you realise that they are everywhere.
So how best can you help people to manage them? Supply products to treat the symptoms? Sure. However, despite the vast array of anti-allergy products at our disposal, prevention is always a better strategy. This is because the cause of the reaction is an allergen (e.g. pollen, dust mite particles) coming into contact with the person, creating an immune response. If we can limit this contact, we lessen the burden of allergies to the person.
As healthcare professionals, we couldn't be in a better position to alert people to the causes of their problems and advise on how to manage them. For example, weight loss in cardiovascular disease or smoking cessation in lung disease. Allergen avoidance in allergies is no different! This Allergy Awareness Week we're going to focus on how we can provide advice to people on optimising their home environment in a bid to gain control over their symptoms. Some basic advice on the main allergens includes:
- Reduce the numbers of carpets, rugs, cushions and curtains etc. in the home
- Keep humidity below 50% (dust mites love humid environments!)
- Use hypoallergenic bedding
- Clean often and use a damp cloth (wearing a filter mask while doing so may help)
- Wash bedding frequently (above 60° if possible) and replace pillows regularly
- Use a dehumidifier if necessary (also helps with mould and mildew)
- Change clothes once home and shake-out or wash (and dry indoors)
- Wash hair at night to rinse out pollen
- Keep windows and doors closed in morning and evening, when pollen is highest
- Don't keep plants that may trigger allergies
- Brush and wash pets regularly
- Limit time indoors (encourage pet-free zones)
- Wash hands and clothes after contact
- Adopt a hypoallergenic cat or dog!
Why is this important?
Nearly 1 in 2 people suffer with an allergy of some sort, meaning your actions have the potential to impact many.
Who needs this advice?
You can identify people that would benefit from this advice by their presenting symptoms—sneezing; runny or blocked nose; itchy, watery, red eyes; red or itchy skin; scratchy roof of mouth or throat; tiredness and headache—or by the products they come in to buy/collect: antihistamines, steroid nasal sprays, anti-itch cream, eye drops, painkillers and decongestants.
What can you do?
Aside from identifying appropriate people and providing advice, you could display some of the Allergy UK factsheets in the pharmacy or make them available for patients to take home. You can also signpost people to Allergy UK directly as it’s a public-friendly website.
When should I consider giving this advice?
Although pollen is mainly seasonal and dust mites prefer warm weather, allergies are not confined to spring/summer as many believe. Hence, this advice is relevant all year-round as allergies do not discriminate against time of year!
Jeananne Mulligan is currently a pre-registration pharmacist trainee, completing an integrated training placement with Buttercups Training and Evans Pharmacy in Nottingham. She graduated from University of Manchester and plans to return to her homeland - Ireland - after qualifying, where she will join the family business.