Doctors are to expose babies to dust mites in an attempt to halt the rising allergy epidemic in Britain.

Experts hope that exposing babies less than a year old to the common allergen – often found in pillows, mattresses and on carpets – when their immune systems are developing will prevent them from becoming allergic in the future.

As many as one in four people in the UK are affected by an allergy at some time in their lives, with children accounting for half of all those affected.

Dust mites are the most prevalent allergy-triggering substance, causing a number of different allergies and inducing reactions in 85 per cent of children with asthma.

A total of 120 babies aged five to nine months with a family history of allergy will take part in the project.

It is being conducted at the respiratory biomedical research unit at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust and the David Hide Asthma and Allergy Research Centre at St Mary's Hospital on the Isle of Wight.

Professor Graham Roberts, a specialist in respiratory and allergy medicine, said: "Although we still do not know why more children are suffering from asthma, eczema, hay fever and food allergy, we do know that children born in families with asthma and allergic disease are at a higher risk of developing them.

"Therefore, we hope that by giving babies a common allergen when their immune systems are working out what is and isn't harmful will allow us to teach their bodies to accept it and not become susceptible as they grow older."