Tips to help protect your family from allergies
New Zealand has some of the highest allergy rates in the world, in fact, according to Allergy New Zealand, at least one in ten babies born in New Zealand will develop an allergy, but it didn’t used to be that way, so what’s changed?
For one thing, we’re using more chemicals in our homes.
According to Dr. Vincent Crump, Allergy Specialist at Auckland Allergy Clinic, ‘A lot of people will develop a reaction and get labelled as having eczema, when in fact they are probably reacting to a chemical they are applying to their skin.’
If this sounds a little overwhelming, don’t worry, there are lots of things you can do to protect your family from some of the everyday things in our homes that could contribute to allergies.
Read labels and say no to skin-irritating chemicals
- Sodium Laureth Sulphate (SLES) These chemicals are added to products to make them bubble and foam. Yet SLES is an industry benchmark for skin irritancy, and has been used in clinical studies to induce contact dermatitis. Despite this, its used in products that contact your skin including laundry and dish detergents, shampoo, hand and body washes, and baby products. SLES is often promoted as a more gentle alternative to SLS but due to the synthesis process it goes through, SLES has been found to be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a suspected carcinogen.
- Cocoamidopropyl Betaine (CAPB) is used in dish liquids, hand and body washes and baby products like bubble bath. It’s cheap and effective but contains the impurities amidoamine and dimethylaminopropylamine, which can cause skin sensitisation.Voted Allergen of the Year 2004 by the American Contact Dermatitis Society.
- Optical Brighteners are added to laundry detergents to make fabrics and other substrates appear visually whiter and hence “cleaner” but the health issues associated with optical brighteners are allergic reactions and skin irritation.
Avoid synthetic fragrances and strong smelling products
There are a few ways that chemicals get inside our bodies. As well as the chemicals we eat and drink that have been added to our food in the form of pesticides, preservatives, colours or flavour enhancers or the chemicals we put on our skin in our soaps, shampoos and cleaning products that give us longer lasting foam or the illusion of whiter and brighter sheets, we also breathe them in.
Fragrances, (even plant-based essential oils), can trigger an allergic reaction in sensitive people.
According to Dr. Crump, ‘Fragrances rank number 3 in terms of the chemicals that people are allergic to when we do patch testing. Fragrance is found in almost every skin care product unless it specifically says fragrance free, you also get fragrance in your laundry powders, moisturisers, soaps and shampoos’.
- Use products with natural plant-based fragrances or if you’re particularly sensitive, you might be better off using fragrance free products.
- Avoid scented candles, artificial air fresheners or products with strong smelling fragrances. These products contain multiple chemicals, which can include dangerous solvents.
- Avoid air fresheners. These disperse a mix of chemicals which may include synthetic fragrances and phthalates to mask unpleasant odours in your home. It’s better to open a window.
- Put off cleaning with strong smelling chemicals - especially oven cleaner and bleach, until your child is away or asleep in another room. Children breathe more per kg of bodyweight than do adults which makes them even more vulnerable to any harmful effects of chemical fumes. If your child is in the room with you, have an open window to let plenty of fresh air circulate.
- Use indoor houseplants to help filter the air. Peace Lilies and Maidenhair Ferns are among those listed by NASA as good choices.
Dust mites are tiny microscopic organisms that live on mattresses, bedding, upholstered furniture, carpets and curtains and while they are a common allergen there are some things you can do to help minimise their effect.
- Always use a damp mop or cleaning rag to remove dust. Never use a dry cloth as this tends to stir up mite allergens.
- Non-washable bedding can be frozen overnight to kill dust mites.
- Use a vacuum cleaner with either a double-layered microfilter bag or a HEPA filter to trap allergens.
Get rid of mould
Moulds can cause allergic reactions, asthma, nose bleeds and a range of other symptoms.
- Avoid drying your clothes on an inside line as they release moisture into your home.
- Condensation on windows or walls, stuffy air and mould and mildew are tell-tale signs that you need better ventilation.
The ecostore Chemical Ingredients Index is a great tool for identifying ingredients and finding out whether they are safe or not.
Do you have other tips for managing allergies? We’d love to hear about them.
For baby advice and to shop for ecostore baby products, visit our Mother and Baby site, a world of good for you and your baby.