For many of us with eczema or other skin conditions, allergies go hand in hand with our condition and often exacerbate it, meaning that even the place we call home can be a minefield of irritants that can trigger flare-ups, rashes and itchy skin!
So how can you change your environment if you have eczema or allergies?
Some of the most common allergens in the home are house dust mites, mould and cleaning materials that contain chemical irritants. We'll look at each in turn and suggest ways in which you can minimise their effects.
House dust mites
House dust mites live on dust and the dead skin cells we shed continually. They love carpets, bedding and soft furnishings (e.g. sofas, mattresses, curtains etc.), so one way to lessen their presence is to have wipe-clean window blinds and wood/vinyl flooring.
Carpets and beds ideally need to be vacuumed several times a week and upholstery once a week (pay particular attention to seams, as mites gather there), using a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter that contains more of the dust and mites in the machine.
Bedding should be washed frequently (preferably 1-2 times a week) on a hot wash (at least 60 degrees) to kill mites. You can buy allergy-proof covers for your mattress, duvet and pillows, which can help a lot, but your duvets and pillows should still ideally be washed every 6 weeks and tumble dried on a hot setting (it may be easier to do this at a launderette, with their larger machines).
Hard surfaces (shelves etc.) should be dusted with a damp cloth, preferably daily (never use a dry cloth, as this just spreads the dust to the air); you can cut down on the amount of dusting needed by keeping books and ornaments in enclosed display cabinets/cupboards, rather than open shelves.
Soft toys can be frozen to kill dust mites, but brush them after to remove the dead mites.
Damp and mould can cause lots of health issues, but can particularly affect people with allergies and skin conditions. They are caused by excess moisture, either in a building itself or by condensation from cooking, showering/bathing, drying clothing indoors, inadequate ventilation etc. If you already have mould, it needs careful treatment to remove (please do a web search for the best methods of mould removal).
You can prevent the build up of condensation by regularly ventilating rooms (opening windows and doors), and by shutting the door of rooms where you’re cooking, showering etc, as well as having an open window/fan on in those rooms.
Good insulation and using central heating help prevent damp, although central heating can also dry skin out, which is not helpful for our skin conditions; you can counteract this by placing bowls of water near radiators. Dehumidifiers are a good way to dry out damp rooms, if you have or can borrow one.
You can avoid build up of mould in washing machines by leaving the door open until the machine dries out after every use.
Many household cleaners contain chemicals than can act as irritants for our skin, but there are lots of alternatives out there, many of which also have the advantage of being better for the environment.
Unperfumed, non-biological laundry detergents work well for some people with sensitive skin, but can still be a trigger for others. Eco balls/eco eggs/soap nuts/castile soap can be an eczema/allergy-friendly alternative and are usually good value. If using laundry detergents or fabric conditioner, try to stick to unperfumed ones and choose the double rinse cycle, if your machine has one, to remove any chemicals left in the laundry.
‘Old-fashioned’ cleaning methods, such as using distilled (white) vinegar to clean windows and washing machines, and bicarbonate of soda or castile soap to clean bathrooms and kitchens can often be the most skin and eco-friendly methods. (Castile soap is very gentle and can also be used to do laundry and on the skin/hair).
It’s always best to wear gloves when cleaning; wearing cotton gloves underneath normal household cleaning gloves is kindest to skin (some of us also have latex allergies, in which case use non-latex gloves).
Some of the above may not be affordable and might be a tall order for lots of us who have busy lives with work, children etc., as well as trying to manage our chronic skin conditions, so please don’t feel bad if you can’t manage all (or any) of the above; even doing some of it whenever you feel able will be beneficial (I definitely don’t do all of the list above!). It may be worth considering doing a work/skills swap with a friend or relative who can help you with some of these cleaning tasks in exchange for you doing something for them that is within your capabilities - or out of the goodness of their hearts, if you’re lucky!
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If you require medical advice we recommend you always contact your healthcare professional.
If you or someone you are caring for seems very unwell, is getting worse or you think there's something seriously wrong, call for emergency services straight away. For general medical advice, please contact your healthcare professional, this article does not contain or replace medical advice.
Do not delay getting help if you're worried. Trust your instincts.