How do I know if I have an allergy?
If you are allergic to mould, dust mites, or animals, you might notice symptoms such as:
- a runny nose
- a blocked nose
- shortness of breath.
The only way to confirm if you have an allergy is to ask your GP to refer you for a skin prick or blood test. Find out more about allergy tests.
Take your medicines as prescribed
If you have a lung condition like asthma or COPD, allergies can make your symptoms worse. You should take all your medicines as prescribed, as well as trying to manage your allergies.
Damp and mould
Mould is a type of fungus that grows in damp places. If you’ve got mould at home, you’ll notice fuzzy black, white, or green patches on the walls, ceilings, or tiles.
Mould is more common in homes which need window frames fixed or leaks repaired. You might notice damp and mould in bathrooms or kitchens because of condensation from showering and cooking.
If your home’s damp, you might have an irritated nose and throat, or feel short of breath. If you have a lung condition, your symptoms may get worse, or if you have asthma, mould could cause an asthma attack. It’s common to have an allergy to mould. Dust mites can also be a problem in homes that are damp and warm.
One fungus often found indoors is called aspergillus. It grows on dust and powdery food items like flour. It can cause a wide range of conditions, from mild irritation of your airways to more serious infections if you have a lung condition.
If you have bad damp, mould, or fungi, get professional help to deal with it – especially if you think it might trigger your breathing problems. If you are renting, Shelter and Citizens Advice have help on dealing with damp and mould in a rented home.
If you have mould at home, you need to:
- Deal with the damp - find out what’s causing the damp, such as leaks, or condensation from cooking, showering or drying clothes indoors.
- Deal with the mould - don’t try and get rid of mould by yourself if it triggers your symptoms - ask a friend to help. Always get mould removed by a specialist if it covers more than a square metre, or if it’s caused by problems with the building itself, or sewage.
- Report leaks or mould if you’re renting. Shelter have information about talking to your landlord. You may also be able to get a housing assessment from your local council's environmental health department.
Everyone has dust mites in their home. They are tiny insects that you can’t see, and they live off human skin and form part of the dust in our homes. They thrive in damp places, and are found in bedding, soft furnishings, and carpets.
An allergy to dust mites is very common and normally affects people with asthma or allergic rhinitis. It’s impossible to get rid of all dust mites, but there are things you can do to keep your house as clean as possible to remove some of them.
If you have been confirmed to have a dust mite allergy, it may help you to:
- use anti-allergy pillows, duvets, and mattress covers
- wash all bedding at least once a week at 60 degrees or above to kill dust mites
- wash all soft toys at least once a week at 60 degrees or above to kill dust mites
- avoid second-hand mattresses
- choose wood or laminate flooring instead of carpet, if possible
- fit blinds that can be easily wiped down instead of curtains.
“Talk to your GP or asthma nurse about any nose symptoms you’re getting too, like sneezing, or a blocked or runny nose. They may suggest you take a steroid nasal spray, or an antihistamine,” suggests Dr Andy Whittamore, Asthma and Lung UK’s in-house GP.
Any animal with fur can cause pet allergies. It’s most common to develop an allergy to cats, dogs and other furry animals such as rabbits, hamsters, mice, and gerbils.
A pet allergy is when a person has a reaction to a pet’s skin cells, saliva or pee. Sometimes people are allergic to dander - the dead flakes of skin that pets shed.
Dander is very small and can stay in the air for a long time. It collects on fabric 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.
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 develop an immune response called hypersensitivity pneumonitis. This causes inflammation of the lung tissue.
If you or your child have a pet allergy that has shown up in a skin prick or blood test, you may want to:
- limit where your pet can go in the house, or not allow it in the home
- wash your pet and any surfaces they touch regularly
- try a high-efficiency air filter (HEPA). Air filters won’t remove all allergens though
- take allergy medicine, like antihistamine tablets or nasal sprays
- consider replacing carpets with wood flooring or vinyl – if you rent, ask your landlord if they will change the flooring.
If your reactions are too difficult to manage, you may need to think about rehoming your pet. This might be a difficult decision, but it could be the safest choice for your health.
Cockroaches are not common in the UK, but they can live in some warm, damp environments.
You may find cockroaches in areas like sinks, drains and cookers. Cockroaches can cause allergic reactions. If you have asthma, you may find your symptoms get worse.
If you rent, tell your landlord if you think you have cockroaches; pest control should remove them as soon as possible. Do not use pesticides, as they may cause a reaction because of the level of VOCs in them.