While allergies and asthma can’t be cured, their symptoms cancertainly be treated in the form of anti-inflammatories and anti-histamines. Similarly, while the triggers for your child’s red, itchy and watery eyes, sneezing, runny nose, congestion and/or persistent cough can’t be eradicated entirely, there are steps that you can take to ease his discomfort in your home, where many allergens thrive. In other words, it’s vital that you know what’s setting your child’s allergies off so that you can do something about it. Is it the cat? Is it time to move out of your damp house? Could there be a cockroach infestation in your house? Is your house riddled with house dustmites? These are just a few of the common triggers that could be making your child miserable. And here’s what you can do about them.
House dust mites
House dust mites are microscopic organisms that live in the dust in your house and symptoms of a dust mite allergy are similar to those of a pollen allergy, but often occur year-round rather than just seasonally.
“The house dust mite is the number one trigger for the respiratory tract in South Africa,” says Cape-Town based paediatrician Dr Paul Sinclair, who has a special interest in allergies.
This is because house dust mites thrive in warm, humid, coastal climates – which why there is such a big problem with them in Cape Town and Durban. “If you go inland, you will still find house dust mites, but they’re not present year round like they are in Cape Town,” he says.
Dr Sinclair adds that if your child is allergic to house dust mites, he will react to them just from lying in his bed, and you need to do everything you can to ease his discomfort.
“House dust mites hate temperature changes, so if you put your mattresses and pillows out in the sun or your child’s teddy bears in a black bag in the freezer once a week, you will kill them. “Even so, you’re never going to eliminate them entirely from your home. You can diminish your child’s exposure to them, but you can’t eradicate the problem entirely,” he says. Don’t forget to mop and vacuum your home regularly, put dust mite covers over all of your mattresses, buy hypoallergenic pillows and get a house dust mite spray.
Cat and dog dander are also a massive problem when it comes to your child’s allergies. And even if you stick to short-haired dogs, or shave your cat, if your child is allergic to pets, your pet’s dander (his dead skin that has been shed) will act as a trigger for those allergies.
What people don’t realise, explains Dr Sinclair, is that the allergy trigger actually comes from proteins secreted by oil glands in the animal’s skin, as well as the proteins present in an animal’s saliva– both of which can cause an allergic reaction. Also, he maintains that if your child is exposed to a dog early on in life, he’s less likely to be allergic to it later on in life. However, if he’s exposed to a cat, he’s more likely to become allergic to cats later on in life.
“If your child is allergic to cats, then it’s best not to have one in the house. Even if you had one in the house, it’s going to take you about five years to get your house completely cat dander free,” he points out. If you can’t find a new home for your pet, at least keep it out of your child’s bedroom and off upholstered furniture. Wash your pets weekly too.
As if you needed another reason not to like cockroaches, it turns out that cockroach droppings are yet another trigger for your little one’s allergies. “We are seeing more and more children becoming allergic to cockroaches in South Africa. It is, in fact, the faeces of the cockroach (and similarly, the faeces of a house dust mite) that is the allergic trigger,” says Dr Sinclair. “If you suspect that you might have a cockroach infestation then it’s imperative that you fumigate regularly.”
Remember, also, to keep your rubbish in closed containers and take it out regularly if you want to avoid cockroaches in your house.
Damp and mould
Moulds are parasitic microscopic fungi with spores that oat in the air like pollen. Moulds can be a common trigger for allergies and are an issue, again, in coastal climates such as Cape Town. If there’s mould in your home, your child’s symptoms will persist year-round. “Mould in Cape Town is certainly a problem. And when people start to build and knock down walls, the mould spores become an issue. “If you have a damp house, you can try and fix it by looking for areas of water damage or leaks, but the reality is if you live in a damp area – for example, Newlands in Cape Town – you’re going to have a tough time,” Says Dr Sinclair. At best, you need to try and keep your home well-ventilated and reduce indoor humidity. Do not leave fruit and bread lying around since these become rapidly contaminated. Rubbish bins should be emptied and cleaned regularly. Also, check your tiles, plumbing fixtures, shower curtains, and bathroom for mould and wipe down with Jik or Milton should you see it begin to emerge.
What about carpets?
Carpet pile and fibres trap dust and germs, effectively eliminating them from circulating in the air, for easy removal by daily vacuuming.
“You need to make sure that if you do have carpets, you have a high quality vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter (5ugm). You don’t want to suck everything up and then throw it out of the other end of the vacuum cleaner,” says Cape Town-based paediatrician Dr Paul Sinclair, who has a special interest in allergies, “as that could bring on an asthma attack.”
He goes on to explain that some carpets – such as the new fibre carpets that are on the market –are definitely better than others. Also, ones that offer anti-bacterial protection and the natural antiseptic properties of silver are definitely the way to go if your child suffers from allergies. For example, silver’s broad-spectrum disinfectant properties kill bacteria on the spot, leaving your floors super hygienic and clean. The highly active protective shield of silver ions naturally fights against dust mites, bacteria and unpleasant odours to combat allergies and respiratory problems.