According to Dr Glenis Scadding, consultant allergist at the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital in London, as many as 40% of child asthma sufferers could reduce their symptoms dramatically by having an old-fashioned spring-clean at home. At the moment, says Scadding, most of Britain’s 5.1 million asthmatics – 1.4 million of whom are children – are treated for the symptoms of asthma, not its cause. A couple of decades ago, they would have undergone a series of skin-prick tests to isolate the allergens that triggered their asthma: today, only 4% of newly diagnosed youngsters are given this option. For while the number of patients has soared, the number of allergists has dwindled: there are currently only 27 across the country. Most asthma patients are treated by inhaled steroids, but they don’t alter the underlying problem – in fact, no one is even looking for the underlying problem. When asthma patients are allergy-tested, the number-one enemy is the house dust mite. House dust mites are everywhere in today’s central-heated, unventilated, carpeted homes. Most people assume contact with them is an inevitable fact of life. But, Scadding argues that there has not been enough research into the effect of reducing the dust mite population on asthma symptoms, which is why she has agreed to take part in an unscientific but fascinating experiment to find out whether having a clean house could reduce the symptoms of 10 young asthma sufferers. First to go were the carpets and curtains in the bedrooms, replaced with a laminate floor and blinds, which would not harbour dust mites and would be easier to keep clean. Next, an industrial cleaning company gave the houses an epic once-over, with every inch damp-dusted and steam-cleaned. The families were told to leave the bedroom windows open a bit during the day to keep the rooms ventilated, because that helps keep the dust mites down, and the mattresses were covered with special anti-allergenic covers. Every family involved in the programme found there was a marked improvement in their child’s symptoms. It was remarkable, and almost instant.
“It is not that simple, says Dr Martyn Partridge, professor of respiratory medicine at Imperial College. “Not all asthma is caused by allergy to house dust mites – for many people with asthma, this treatment would not be effective. Recent research has also questioned whether control of mites provides benefits even to those patients whose asthma is attributed to them.”, he says more research is needed. “Allergen-avoidance is an exciting area,” he says. “But at the moment, major scientific studies have given much iffier results than this experiment.” His worry is the guilt factor: how, he asks, will it make parents feel if they believe it is their hygiene standards that are contributing to their child’s illness? “We’ve got very good, scientifically-proven medications for dealing with asthma, and we’ve had huge success in reducing the number of hospital admissions over the last few years because of them. I’d hate to think anyone was going to think they could do a spring clean and stop using their inhaler.”
1. What does Dr Glenis Scadding think about the connection between child asthma and spring clean at home?
2. Does Dr Martyn Partridge agree with her?
3. What are the major reasons why he thinks so?
1. She believes that a spring clean is a perfect way of allergen-avoidance, since it can be very effective in reducing asthma triggers. She also argues that these days allergy cure is concentrated on the medical treatment of the symptoms instead of searching and eliminating its causes.
2. No, he claims the problem to be more complex.
3. Firstly, not all the asthma types are related to mites. Secondly, he is concerned about the parents’ feelings of guilt if they suppose to cause the asthma for their children with their low-level hygiene standards.
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