Combat allergies and asthma in the home

A-A-CHOO: Your home is the first place you should look when it comes to the cause of allergy issues.
A-A-CHOO: Your home is the first place you should look when it comes to the cause of allergy issues.

One in three New Zealanders has an allergy, and symptoms can affect sufferers' everyday life says Allergy New Zealand.

"Allergy symptoms force people to take time off school and work," chief executive Mark Dixon says.

"It is estimated that the direct and indirect costs are in the millions of dollars annually."

MOULD AND MILDEW: It doesn't look nice, but what it's doing to allergy sufferers is even worse.
MOULD AND MILDEW: It doesn't look nice, but what it's doing to allergy sufferers is even worse.

With the environment directly affecting the severity of reactions, the condition of a house often has a major impact on people's allergies and their level of suffering.

Dixon says living in a dry, warm home is imperative.

"The key to reducing allergy symptoms is to keep dust mites and pollens in check by using a ventilation system to filter out nasties," he says.

"It is also important to combine this with insulation and heating to help dry out the house and reduce mould and condensation."

The main source of allergens in New Zealand are those that are airborne, like house dust mites, which affect people all year round, and pollen, especially during spring.

While the change of seasons and factors such as pollen exacerbate allergy symptoms and suffering, the state of New Zealand homes is also a fundamental contributor to allergies.

"Many people sniff all through winter mistakenly thinking they are getting colds when it's actually dust mite allergy, which can affect individuals right throughout the year," Dixon says.

Dusty, damp and mouldy houses are breeding dust mites and triggering chronic symptoms in allergy sufferers, according to the State of the Home Survey conducted by research company Buzz Channel for HRV. It shows that more than half of New Zealanders experience nasal, throat, skin or eye irritation that can be attributed to the levels of mould, condensation and dust mites in the home.

The survey found that households with no allergy sufferers had less mould in their homes and were warmer, drier and condensation-free. People with no allergy symptoms took significantly less time off work than those with symptoms.

In light of Asthma Awareness Week, which started yesterday, the survey highlights the strong link between the poor state of many New Zealand homes and asthma.

Almost half of New Zealand households have an asthma or allergy sufferer, with about 80 per cent also having hay fever.

The Asthma Foundation says mould in a home almost doubles your chance of developing asthma.

Statistics supplied by the organisation show one in four children and one in six adults suffers from asthma, with the economic cost to the country estimated to be $800 million a year.

Respondents to the survey backed these statistics with comments that highlighted the impact a substandard home can have on an occupant's health.

"I had never ever suffered from asthma before we moved into the home we have now," one respondent said.

"We rent this home and it should be fit for rental, but it's not," another said. "The mould is coming through. [It's] terrible and not worth the rent or us being continuously sick."

Allergy New Zealand's allergy season awareness campaign started last month and runs until the end of the year, with a focus on hay fever, eczema and holidaying with allergies.

Other key survey findings in relation to health, allergy and asthma included:
❏ More than half say they suffer in some way because of the state of their home, including increased stress levels, health problems and taking high numbers of sick days.
❏ One in five Kiwis has moved out of a house because it was cold, damp or mouldy.
❏ Almost 60 per cent of renters say they moved out of a house because it was unhealthy.
❏ The number of sick days households take greatly affects business productivity, with more than half of households who rent or own their home (with a mortgage) taking five or more sick days a year.
❏ Twenty-seven per cent had curtains, carpets, clothes and other property damaged by mould, dampness and condensation.
* Buzz Channel surveyed 505 people aged between 24 and 75. The margin of error on this sample is +/- 4.3 per cent at the 95 per cent confidence level.