As the UK’s estimated 21 million asthma and allergy sufferers* brace themselves for the onslaught of the hayfever season, The Sleep Council offers some timely tips on beating the ‘miseries of May.’

Traditionally the middle of the month is when the pollen count rises and that, on top of the dreaded house dust mite (favourite location: your bed), is at the root of most asthma and hayfever suffering. Symptoms can include sneezing, watery eyes, a runny or itchy nose and also itchy skin.

Given the average person sheds a pound of skin (454 grams) a year – much of it into our beds – and that the average adult loses around half a pint (285 ml) of moisture while sleeping each night, it’s easy to understand why the bed is a favourite haunt of the dust mite. All that moisture, warmth and food make mattresses, especially old ones, a great breeding ground.

So, May be time for a new mattress?

According to The Sleep Council, while allergy covers can help, they are next to worthless on an old mattress or pillows already infested with house dust mites.  “If you have a problem with an old mattress, don’t cover it up, chuck it out,” says spokeswoman Lisa Artis.

It’s especially important to think about changing your old bed or mattress if it is seven years old or more. The Sleep Council says even a mattress that looks OK may no longer be offering the levels of comfort or support that it should. And that regular mattress replacement is vital to reduce the prevalence of the house dust mites linked with many allergic health problems.

For mattresses that are still reasonably new and performing well, airing the bed each morning and regularly cleaning mattresses, pillows and blankets will help to eliminate the conditions under which house dust mites thrive.

It is also vitally important to ensure the bedroom is well ventilated: in an age of central heating and double glazing, they rarely are, but a good cool breeze through the room at night will help combat the problem as well as aid more restful sleep.

For those worried that open windows will allow in airborne pollen, it’s worth bearing in mind that the allergy created by the house dust mite is far worse than any allergy created by pollen.  Asthma kills people, hayfever doesn’t, so ventilation is very, very important.

Other advice to those preparing for the pollen season includes:

  • Keep temperatures down and flowers OUT of bedrooms (they increase humidity levels).
  • Leave bedclothes turned back during the day (this reduces humidity levels in the bed, inhibiting mite survival).
  • Avoid drying clothes on radiators in the bedroom (again this stops humidity levels becoming too high).
  • Give your mattress a good spring clean: take it outside for a good airing and then replace it upside-down and opposite-ways-round to its previous positioning.  Clean the base with a soft brush to remove fluff and dust – if you have to use a vacuum cleaner do so very carefully and with the window wide open.
  • While the bed is moved out from any walls, vacuum thoroughly under and around the bed – it can yield huge amounts of dust and fluff.
  • Wash bedclothes and pillows regularly at a high temperature (this kills mites and removes mite faeces; all pillows should be washable these days).
  • If hot washing is not possible, 24 hours in the freezer will kill any mites in a pillow prior to cold washing.
  • If someone has a very severe reaction to pollen they should consider a mechanical ventilator – fans which bring in fresh air through pollen filters.  They are not prohibitively expensive and can make a huge difference to sufferers.
  • Choose wood or hard vinyl floor coverings.
  • Fit roller blinds that can be easily wiped clean.
  • Clean cushions, soft toys, curtains and upholstered furniture regularly. • Use a vacuum cleaner fitted with a HEPA filter.
  • Wipe surfaces with a damp, clean cloth, as dry dusting can spread the allergens further.
  • Use bedding that protects against dust mites.

And finally, if in doubt about whether or not it’s time to invest in a new bed, if you answer ‘Yes’ to three of the questions below, you’re not getting the best possible night’s sleep. Five or more ‘Yes’ answers and it’s time to buy a new bed!

  • Is the mattress seven years old or more?
  • Would it be embarrassing if neighbours saw it without its covers?
  • Does it make suspicious noises in the night?
  • Did you have your best recent night’s sleep in a bed other than yours?
  • Are you waking up more frequently unrefreshed and aching?
  • Do you and your partner roll towards each unintentionally in the middle of the night?
  • Do you have enough space to sleep comfortably?
  • Is it sagging?
  • Does it feel lumpy in the night?

*An estimated 21 million adults in the UK suffer from at least one allergy (Mintel, 2010)

Other facts and figures from Allergy UK:

  • An estimated 10 million adults suffer from more than one allergy (Mintel, 2010).
  • By 2015 50% Europeans will suffer from an allergy (EFA, 2011).
  • The prevalence of diagnosed allergic rhinitis and eczema in children have both trebled over the last three decades (Gupta, 2007).
  • There are around 30 allergy specialists in the UK, that’s one for every 700,000 sufferers.
  • 20% of the population is affected by allergic rhinitis (Allergy The Unmet Need, 2003).
  • The number of sufferers from rhinitis has tripled in the last 20 years (Allergy The Unmet Need, 2003).
  • Asthma, Rhinitis and Eczema have trebled in the last 20 years (Allergy The Unmet Need, 2003).

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