Asthma and allergy: Declaring war on dust mites!

Did you know that dustmite allergy is one of the most common asthma triggers, and with a viral infection can greatly increase the risk of a hospital admission?

A recent study by Manchester University showed that the use of anti-dust mite bedding in mite sensitised asthmatic children can significantly reduce the risk of severe exacerbations resulting in emergency hospital attendance.1

This has been my experience since 2008 when my 5 year old son, Edward, was referred for an allergy blood test,  having had a chronic cough.  Edward had an allergy to dust mites of level 6, 3 to grass pollen, 2 to dog, 3 to cat.  His dust mite sensitivity is the highest possible.  Other possible allergic triggers for children are tree pollen (spring), mould, trees and feathers.

When I found out he was allergic to these allergens, obviously I wanted him to avoid them.  I bought anti-dust mite covers for all the beds as recommended by Allergy UK.  I also found out that high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters had 99.97% filtration.  I therefore updated the HEPA filter on my vacuum (with disposable bag) and started vacuuming at least once a week.  I kept Edward away from the dusty loft and the bunkbed, which seemed to aggravate his symptoms, got rid of all the cushions in the house and removed dust regularly (particularly in his bedroom) with a wet cloth.  His chronic cough quickly stopped though his rhinitis lingered.  One day I noticed he was rubbing his nose on the sofa near the curtains.  I vacuumed the curtains with the HEPA vacuum and the rhinitis improved.  Later I changed the sofa to a leather type one and things improved further.  Everything was fine except when we went away.  We would go to hotels, stay for a week and the cough would return.  He would end up having to take the steroid Prednisone.  Then I started taking my own vacuum cleaner and anti-dust mite bedding on holiday.  Things improved.

Aged 11 Edward went to secondary school.  Day 1 his cough returned with a force not seen since he was 5.  I took it up with the school. The headmaster immediately agreed to change the vacuum cleaner in his block and his cough stopped.  I wondered if the school had not known about the differences in types of vacuum cleaner and their potential benefits in fighting allergies.

Asthma is a public health issue – schools, hotels and other public places need to realise that asthma triggers are on their premises and need removal.  Mothers should ask their child’s school about the filtration levels of their vacuum cleaners.  They should have 99.97% filtration.  Every year Edward’s asthma improves as he grows bigger.  We have used Allergy UK guidance to avoid all his allergens.

Some research has been done on the effects of vacuum cleaners on asthma which were not conclusive. Looking more closely at these experiments – they were not set up in a workable manner.  Only by avoiding all allergens to which a child is allergic would their asthma and allergic rhinitis be minimised.  The main place for triggering dust mites is in bedding. Most children spend 8-12 hours there.  Any HEPA vacuuming therefore needs to also be accompanied by anti-dust mite bedding in a home setting.

Similarly there may be other allergic asthma triggers in or around your house – cats, dogs, moulds, trees close to the house.  These all need to be taken into account and avoided as much as possible.  Also, outdoor air pollution should be avoided as much as possible.  Allergy UK produces comprehensive leaflets on allergen avoidance, I recommend:

Since it is not possible to avoid all triggers all the time, a child with asthma also needs to take his or her recommended treatment, but the doses needed may be kept lower by using good avoidance measures. This is especially true for children with severe food allergy and asthma.

Airborne Allergy Action is a community interest company set up to raise awareness of the benefits of airborne allergen avoidance for asthma and other allergic illness.  We are on the Technical Advisory Panel for the Royal College of Paediatricians and Child Health Indoor Air Quality Review and are in discussion with the British Thoracic Society who are in the process of revising the British Asthma Guideline.   We are on Twitter @AirborneAllergy and will be setting up a website shortly.

1 Murray CS , Foden P, Sumner H, Shepley E, Custovic A, and Simpson A. Preventing severe asthma exacerbations in children: A randomised trial of mite impermeable bedcovers. The American Thoracic Society. 2017. Available at: