Last updated on August 26, 2021.
Suffering from asthma or allergies? In 2017, one in two people in Hong Kong experienced at least one or more types of allergies and the number of children aged 14 or below suffering from allergies keeps rising. It is mainly due to genetic issues and environmental changes.
Climate change has been found to be highly related to the emergence of respiratory allergy symptoms. For example, heavier rains have made the surface and walls of buildings humid and damp causing increased house moulds, cockroaches and house dust mites. Humidity and air pollution can cause many allergic reactions such as asthma, or even worse, pneumonia and cerebrovascular diseases.
Our Healthy Matters team has compiled 5 easy ways for you in Hong Kong to reduce home allergens.
Tip #1: routine pest control and cockroach traps!
Cockroaches are a common cause of allergies and asthma in households, and in Hong Kong they seem to be everywhere. According to the Pest World Organization, between 78% and 98% of homes in urban areas have cockroaches. Action needs to be taken to avoid interaction with them and other pests that might roam in your house. Put cockroach traps in places where they would usually hide such as behind stoves, around the refrigerator, drains, sinks, lockers, cracks or holes in walls or staircases. Make sure to store all food in proper jars and containers and seal them well. Check to make sure that there are no pathways for them to enter and contaminate. They are most common in the kitchen or toilet and they can hide everywhere including in piles of papers and boxes.
If possible, conduct professional pest controls to reduce any other pests invading your homes. It will prevent and control the breeding of pests and disinfestation of pests are generally dealt using the appropriate insecticide. Pest control staff of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department in Hong Kong also gives advice on making the conditions unsuitable for the breeding or attraction of pests.
Tip #2: keep pets outside your house and maintain cleanliness of pets
Animal dander is the second most common allergen after dust mites in Hong Kong. It can be from cats, dogs, or any pets that roam in your home. Same as humans, these animals release dead skin cells. Even if pets don’t live inside your house, these particles can still spread from the fabric of the pet owners that interact directly with the pets or non-pet owners that went to public places with animals. Animal allergens are smaller than dust allergens therefore if not purified it may stay in the air for a longer time, causing people with animal allergies to be very sensitive even if they do not touch or directly interact with the animal.
A way to solve this is to – if possible – keep your pets outside your home to prevent the chances of contaminating the air inside. If this is not feasible, make sure that you clean and wash your pets 2-3 times a week with proper soap and disinfectants. Pet owners should wash their clothes regularly and not keep used clothes in a place for too long. Yes, we know, although we love pets, having one (or more!) in Hong Kong is not easy…
Tip #3: improve indoor air quality. Use dehumidifiers and air purifiers.
The way to reduce humidity is to use dehumidifiers that can be easily found in supermarkets or convenience stores in Hong Kong. Air purifiers are typically more expensive however if you choose the right one, it can be a very good investment. Air purifiers essentially work as fans that absorbs the air and dust, cleans and filters it, then purify the clean air back to the room. It also traps the smell and smoke and neutralize them.
However, usually air purifiers do not have a wide span of absorbance, meaning using one air purifier in a large packed room would not be enough to purify the air of the whole house. In most cases, air purifiers can only be effective if there is one in each room. Also, air purifiers do absorb the dust in the air but not dust mites because they are not airborne, therefore even if you use multiple air purifiers at home, you still have to use vacuum cleaners to absorb dust mites.
Tip #4: clean regularly and use vacuum cleaning!
Homes should be regularly cleaned with a vacuum cleaner with HEPA filter. This filter can trap mould, pet danders, dust and other allergen particles, and thanks to a mesh of fiberglass, they are not released to the same air. It is particularly beneficial to people having asthma: it removes dust in the air and also reduces possible contamination.
Dirt is easily present mainly due to our dead skin cells and fibers, therefore when not cleaned properly, it can invite unwanted pests such as cockroaches, which in turn can cause allergy. It is important to do regular cleaning in areas such as your kitchen. Keep closets and lockers tidy, and use plastic containers to reduce clutter items. Piles or clutter of items on closets would increase the availability of dust therefore sorting them out using containers or boxes would be an effective way.
Another tip: avoid using carpets, because they are the ideal breeding place or “magnet” for dust mites.
Tip #5: use allergen-proof covers for your pillows, carpets and/or bed sheet.
House dust mites grow in humid environments and dust found in homes. They are usually in fabrics such as pillows, carpets or bed sheets. These fabrics are directly in contact with our body and skin, so using allergen-proof covers is a good way to prevent dust mites. Most allergen-proof covers are made of microfiber so dense that allergen substances cannot go through and moisture would still circulate, thus reducing humidity. Proper maintenance is still needed with these allergen-proof covers, such as washing them regularly with warm water.
Another tip: pillows made of feathers (better material, higher density) tend to have less dust mites. The tighter the material, the less likely that dust mites can enter!
How can I tell if I have an allergen in my home?
Unfortunately, there is no easy way to find out the substances causing your allergic reactions besides trial and error. You may consider hiring a company to perform an environmental assessment for you if the problem seriously troubles you.
How do I find out what I'm allergic to?
Consult an allergy specialist to take an allergy test. Read our expert guide to allergy specialists in Hong Kong for more information.
How to get rid of home allergens ?
Clean your home thoroughly from time to time and pay special attention to pest control, cleanliness of pets, indoor air quality as well as cleanliness of fabrics like bed sheets and pillows.
If you feel you or your family may have an allergy, seek medical assistance from a general practitioner or allergy specialist.
Dr. Adrian Wu 鄔揚源醫生 is a US board certified specialist in allergy and immunology currently in private practice. He is the director of the Centre for Allergy and Asthma Care in Hong Kong.