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Damp Homes Put Health at Risk

UK renters face health dangers due to mould exposure

National charity, Allergy UK is urging more people to take action against damp in their home to reduce their exposure to the dangers of mould.

With the highest levels of people suffering with allergies to mould at this time of year, the charity is issuing advice on its helpline to people complaining of wheezing, respiratory problems, worsening asthma, constant cold-like symptoms, itchy skin and puffy, itchy eyes.

Allergy UK is asking the public to Stamp Out Damp by tackling damp and to spot common mould allergy symptoms this Indoor Allergy Week (11th – 17th November 2013).

The charity is warning persistent symptoms shouldn’t be left untreated as they may be due to unidentified fungal problems. Microscopic mould spores can get into the airways and sinuses causing serious fungal infections, which are difficult to treat.

Those living in damp conditions such as in rented accommodation are more at-risk. Worryingly, in a recent YouGov survey with 4,000 private tenants by the charity Shelter, over a third (35%) of renting families have a problem with damp in their homes¹.

According to Shelter’s research nearly one in five renters (17%) surveyed were living with a leaky roof or windows¹, so it’s no surprise damp could be causing a serious widespread health risk to some the UK’s most vulnerable people including children, the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions such as asthma.

Allergy UK says the UK’s student population living in traditional older university digs could also be at a higher risk, causing a serious impact on their education.

Twenty two year old student, Kirsty Ashman knows all too well how asthma and eczema can be exacerbated by indoor allergens. Kirsty’s allergic reactions to mould and house dust mite affect her quality of life on a daily basis. With a shocking 15 hospital admissions in the last two years, her condition has even forced her to leave university due to the time taken off through illness.

Kirsty says: “I experience allergic symptoms most days, such as problems with my eyes and ears alongside my asthma symptoms. My severe allergic asthma means that my lungs only work 50 per cent as much as a healthy person so it’s like living with one lung. My health has suffered so much due to indoor allergens and there is very little information out there about avoiding them. Last autumn and winter I spent 60 per cent of the time in hospital because of my allergies.”

Allergy UK’s Director of Clinical Services, Maureen Jenkins says more people need to be aware of the link between damp in the home and allergies: “The impact of mould in the home is all too often underestimated. Mould can cause persistent allergic symptoms all year round but in the autumn we see more people suffering than at any other time of year.

“There are practical steps people can take to reduce mould spores in their home, and we urge those with a continual damp problem in their home to seek further help. For those suffering symptoms, it is important to visit your GP who can refer to an allergy specialist to gain an accurate diagnosis and see whether you are reacting to an indoor allergen.”

An indoor allergy is a reaction to mould spores, house dust mite excrement or pet dander and is more prevalent in the autumn and winter months. As well as causing standalone allergies, mould also provides additional food for house dust mites. The enzyme in the dust mite allergen damages airways and skin causing allergic symptoms.

Mould found on windows, floors and even in bedding can cause severe reactions for those with allergic conditions such as atopic eczema, rhinitis and asthma. Mould grows on damp window frames and tiles due to high humidity levels.

Other indoor sources are kitchens, bathrooms, piles of newspapers, damp soil in potted plants, and particularly fungi in damp walls, especially where there is no damp-course or there has been water exposure due to flooding.

Allergy UK is encouraging households to take action by issuing practical tips as well as launching online resources for those with severe mould infestations in their home.

Follow these practical tips to manage damp in the home:

• Moulds flourish in damp environments so prevent growth by keeping rooms well ventilated, with windows slightly open
• Thoroughly cleaning your kitchen, bathroom and utility room will help prevent mould growth
• Do not hang wet clothes inside or over radiators
• Clean mould from window frames and always remove condensation
• Keep houseplants to a minimum and change the topsoil regularly
• Do not use humidifiers
• It is essential to empty, clean and dry the water reservoir of dehumidifiers daily
• Enclosed allergy bedding covers to protect you from mould spores within the mattress, pillows and duvets
• Carpet harbours house dust mites and mould spores. Choose an Allergy UK approved flooring. If you need to keep your carpet, use a vacuum with HEPA filtration
• Using an air purifier in the bedroom can help to trap airborne allergens
• If you rent your home and feel that damp might be damaging you or your family’s health, you should first contact your landlord. If you have further problems you should contact your local council.

Further information and advice is available at: www.allergyuk.org

Allergy UK is the leading national medical charity providing advice, information and support to people with allergy and food intolerance. Allergy UK makes a difference through a dedicated helpline and network for sufferers.

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¹ Shelter (2013)

Press enquiries, case studies and further information:
Alison Parham (Senior Communications Officer), Allergy UK or Sophie Williams (PR Assistant), Allergy UK T: 01322 611 655, E: press@allergyuk.org

Notes to editors:

Allergy UK is the operational name of the British Allergy Foundation; the leading national medical charity providing advice, information and support to people with allergies and food intolerance. Allergy UK acts as the 'voice' of allergy sufferers, representing the views and needs of those affected by this multi organ disease. Allergy UK is a certified member of The Information Standard, which is an independent certification scheme for health and social care information supported by the Department of Health. For further information and to see a list of all certified members to the scheme, please visit: www.theinformationstandard.org

Allergy UK makes a difference by:
• Promoting wellbeing for people with allergy and food intolerance by providing information and support through our dedicated helpline
• Empowering people with allergy and food intolerance to manage their symptoms
• Enabling people with allergy and food intolerance to receive appropriate diagnosis and treatment through education of healthcare professionals and the provision of dedicated services
• Educating corporate bodies in the need for products suitable for allergy and food intolerance sufferers
• Conducting ongoing medical and social research into the causes and impact of allergy and food intolerance, and producing reports enabling us to lobby for better allergy services for sufferers.