Children are often sent to bed with the saying “sleep tight and don’t let the bedbugs bite”. While this is just a different way of saying goodnight, parents might unwittingly be quite right about the “bugs” in their kids' room.
We spend about a third of our lives sleeping, and although your bedroom should be a sanctuary away from a busy life, it can be the very room that causes severe allergies. And the offending organisms are mostly invisible to the naked eye.
Allergic rhinitis, for example, may occur when you inhale allergens that irritate and inflame the nasal passages. You might be sleeping badly without realising that the cause of your allergic reaction is right under your nose. Here are five of the most common allergens that might be disturbing your sleep.
1. Dust mites
These microscopic bugs, about 0.4 millimetres in length, are found in carpets or upholstered furniture, and your bed might be home to as many as 10 000 dust mites. They have a particular appetite for flakes of human skin and their faeces contain a substance called DerP1, a very potent allergen. It can cause constriction of the airways, leading to coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. In more severe cases it can lead to asthma-like symptoms or even chronic sinus problems. It is advisable that you wash your bedding once a week in water that is at least 54 degrees Celsius.
Read: Bust those dust mites
2. Pet dander
Buddy the dog might be your best friend, but his dander – also known as dead skin cells – is a common allergy trigger and can be left on your carpet, clothes or bedding. Like most allergens, it’s almost invisible to the naked eye, but can cause chest tightness, shortness of breath and wheezing. Close your cupboard door at night and vacuum at least once a week. Also consider making your bedroom a pet-free zone.
Mould is a small fungus that flourishes in damp areas such as basements and bathrooms. Most people do not expect to find it in their bedrooms, but these fast-growing organisms often proliferate on carpets in dark corners or underneath the bed. Leaky areas in roofs, window sills and wallpaper are also very attractive options for mould. It can start to grow within 24 hours and begin to colonise an area in one to 12 days. Most often, mould is already a problem when you discover it in that dark corner or pull away the bed. Mould spores are airborne and you can inhale them while sleeping. Mould can cause allergy symptoms such as sneezing, postnasal drip, an itchy throat and a dry scaly skin. Open your windows and curtains daily and inspect your carpets and walls regularly to nip mould in the bud.
Read: Mould allergy
These nasty, scurrying insects can often hide in skirting boards, underneath furniture or even at the back of your wardrobe. Is there a pile of magazines on your nightstand, or a heap of clothes on the chair in the corner of your bedroom? It might just attract them. Although they are mainly attracted to food, they are known to survive off cardboard, leather and nylon clothing – all of which are found in your bedroom. Clutter attracts cockroaches and they are nocturnal insects who prefer to live and feed in the dark. Allergic reactions include shortness of breath, frequent ear infections and a cough that doesn’t go away. Seal cracks in your skirting boards, don’t leave wet towels on the floor and regularly clean out your cupboards.
Read: Cockroach allergy
Allergies from pollen are usually associated with flowers and plants in the garden, but there might be hidden pollen in your bedroom. These microscopic, powdery granules can stick to almost anything, and if you have been outdoors during times when it’s abundant, pollen can be on your hair, clothing and accessories. It can also sneak into your home during those brief moments when your windows and exterior doors are open. While a small amount might not trigger allergies in the average person, it can cause an allergy attack or a so-called allergy headache in someone who is already sensitive to pollen. Pain in the sinus area, nausea and nasal congestion are common symptoms. In severe cases a dehumidifier can help to clear the air.
Common allergy myths