Don't ignore sneezing and wheezing. Reduce your chance of suffering an allergic reaction with our expert guide
About 99.9% of UK households harbour dust mites, so it's almost impossible to avoid them altogether. Using cotton or synthetic fabrics rather than wool and washing your bedding at a temperature of at least 60°C will kill many of them. Try freezing delicate fabrics that can't be washed hot for 24 hours before laundering to kill the dust mites. Better still, check out the range of anti-allergy bedding at www.allergymatters.com.
Cover bedroom air vents with layers of cheesecloth to help lower the amount of large allergen particles coming into your home. Curtains and slatted blinds attract dust - think about replacing them with plastic pull blinds, which will also be easier to clean.
'We're overloading our systems with different foods nowadays and this could contribute to the increase in intolerances,' says Doris-Ann Williams of the British In Vitro Diagnostics Association (BIVDA). 'For example, we used to eat strawberries only in the summer, but now they're available all year, so we're increasing our exposure to them. Also, if you're intolerant to a certain food, you could also find that you react badly to other things from the same plants or groups.'
Smoke can trigger and aggravate symptoms of asthma and hay fever, and studies show that the children and partners of smokers tend to suffer with more asthma and respiratory conditions than those of non-smokers.
Pet allergies are on the rise - cat allergy affects 15% of adults in the UK - and pet allergens are known to worsen asthma symptoms. Wash your hands thoroughly after stroking pets and bath them at least once a week to reduce the allergens they shed.
Be careful when drinking herbal tea because some varieties may contain pollen grains that could trigger hay-fever symptoms - even in winter! Echinacea is also known to set off symptoms, while rooibos, camomile, nettle, St John's Wort, eucalyptus and eyebright could all help to reduce them.
Rubber from the soles of shoes, and latex in condoms can trigger contact eczema or dermatitis. Chemicals in cleaning products, hair products and cosmetics can also cause allergies. Swap rubber gloves for cotton or synthetic and rubber soles for plastic, and wear a mask and gloves if you deal with chemicals.
You probably sleep with about two million dust mites in your bed, and your bedroom pillow will double in weight over six months due to the build-up of dust-mite droppings. Wash your quilt and pillows every six months to combat this and strip your bed and vacuum it regularly. Try a handheld Ewbank Raycop Anti-Allergy Bed Vac, £149, which uses a sterilising lamp to kill bacteria and dust mites.
This is especially important if you've been outside - you don't want to transfer a headful of pollen onto your pillow to aggravate your hay-fever symptoms during the night.
Metal belt buckles, watch straps and bra fasteners can all contain nickel, which causes itchy skin rashes in 15% to 20% of women. Choose plastic varieties instead.
Research shows that up to 100,000 dust mites can live in just one square metre of carpet and mite-allergen concentration in dust from carpets could be six to 14 times higher than that on wood and laminate floors. If you can't afford to rip up all your carpets at once, do so in your bedroom and wash remaining carpets and rugs every week. You should also vacuum at least twice a week with a vacuum cleaner that has a HEPA filter.
'Central heating encourages dust mites and, even if you're not yet allergic to them, being around more of those sorts of allergens increases your susceptibility,' says Williams. Dust mites hate cold, dry air, so in winter open your windows every day to air your house and hang bedding to air outdoors at least once a week.
Avoid dust traps such as teddy bears, cushions, dried flowers and fabric toys, and never keep items under your bed - they all act as a breeding ground for dust and dust mites. The same goes for furniture upholstered in fabric - replace it with wood and plastic alternatives and dust them regularly with a damp cloth.
Feather and down products can cause allergies, so replace pillows and quilts with synthetics.
About two in five people in the UK believe they have an allergy to gluten, when in fact only one in 100 actually do. But about 19% of the population, even if they test negative for coeliac disease, may still have problems digesting gluten. If you suspect this could be you, avoid products containing wheat, rye, barley and oats.
Allergy UK 01322 619898
Asthma UK 0800 121 6255 or for an asthma specialist nurse (mon-fri 9-5) 0800 121 6244
Food Reactions : for information about intolerances, allergies, sensitivities and adverse reactions
National Eczema Society 0870 2413604
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