Shopping: Modern problem that is not to be sneezed at - Business - News - The Independent

Shopping: Modern problem that is not to be sneezed at

With allergies on the increase, selecting the right food, linen and household goods can be a life-or-death decision. By Claire Gervat

Modern life is rubbish - and that is official. Despite constant advances in medical science, people seem to be less well than ever. Hayfever, rhinitis and asthma are constantly growing problems, as are health problems triggered by nuts and other foodstuffs, as well as chemicals in our homes and offices. To the people who suffer them, allergies are a serious business, and definitely not something to be sneezed at.

They are not a problem that is going to go away, either. As Muriel Stevens of the British Allergy Foundation (BAF) - a registered charity formed in 1991 by a group of medical specialists to increase awareness, prevention and treatment of allergies - says: "We are definitely becoming more allergic. This isn't just here in Britain, although in the UK we have one of the highest rates of allergy. It's true of most European countries."

She cites a recent report from a study in Germany which compared allergy levels in the east and west both before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall. "Allergy levels shot through the roof in East Germany when the wall came down and the Western way of life came into the East."

So what is it about our way of life that causes so many problems, and what can the canny shopper do about it? Muriel Stevens has at least one suggestion. "For a start we all like to be nice and warm. We have thick carpets and double glazing and central heating blasting away, and the house dust mite says, `Whoopee, this is a lovely environment to live in'." And, unfortunately, house dust mite allergies lead to rhinitis and ultimately to asthma.

Luckily, this does not mean that you have to chuck out your carpets and turn off the heating. There are other ways of coping with the dust mite problem.

You can buy sprays that can be used on carpets and soft furnishings, though not on bedding. Pillows and duvets need to be made of the right materials so they can be washed at the hotter temperatures - higher than 60C - that kill the dust mite.

Sadly, it is not just the house dust mite that can spoil your night's sleep. Niki Kortvelyessy, whose shop World of Difference caters for anyone wanting a more environmentally friendly lifestyle, points out that one allergy not widely talked about is to formaldehyde.

It is used in many household products: carpets, chipboard furniture and in treating cotton bedding to make it non-iron and flame-resistant. "Apparently it never stops exuding," says Niki. "Obviously it's worse when new, but even years and years later it still exudes the fumes." As a result, one of WoD's best-selling ranges is of pure cotton, untreated bed linen.

The British Allergy Foundation also recommends people make sure they get the correct vacuum cleaner, and vacuum curtains and soft furnishings once a fortnight. To help you choose the right cleaner, they have set up a scheme called the Seal of Approval, which looks like a leaf in a circle and is clearly marked on the packaging of selected products. "We test things like vacuum cleaners, air filters, ventilation systems and carpeting to see how they can help in allergen avoidance," says Muriel Stevens. "With vacuum cleaners, for instance, we test whether they suck up dust mites and also whether they retain them."

One useful "one-stop shop" for allergy sufferers is The Healthy House, a mail-order company that concentrates on items you cannot find in the high street.

Maxima Skelton says she and her husband set up the company because their own children suffered so many allergies, "and we had problems finding the right products". Now they sell a full range of goods, from cotton gloves for children with eczema to special paints and varnishes, air filters and detergent-free clothes cleaners.

But what if it is the kitchen and not the bedroom that is giving you cause for concern. There seems little doubt that what we eat is giving increasing cause for concern as our overloaded immune systems start biting back. "Food is a growing nightmare," admits BAF's Muriel Stevens. "You no sooner think that there can't be anything else coming out of the woodwork than it does."

Clare Marriage, marketing director for specialist flour mill Doves Farm Foods, agrees: "For instance, we get a lot of letters from people who tell us that they can't eat wheat or gluten and they buy a variety of products from us. There are gluten-free flours you can buy on prescription, and those tend to be made from wheat that has been treated in a factory to remove the gluten content. The kind of gluten-free flours that we make and sell are all from non-wheat sources - that is, from grains or beans that are naturally without gluten."

The whole subject of food allergies is vast, and the biggest problem people face is finding out what they can eat, where to buy it and how to cook with it. This is particularly true for anyone whose allergy is self-diagnosed, rather than being something their GP has spotted.

Clare Marriage recommends a visit to a good independent health food shop, "because by and large they have a good selection of products that are suitable for people who are thinking about their diets. "More than that, an independent health food store has very often got somebody or several people working there who have the time to talk to an individual and to try and make helpful and relevant suggestions."

Otherwise, it is up to each individual to find out as much as they can about their own allergy, or allergies. As well as keeping an eye on health articles in the press, other sources of information include BAF, which can send out lists of recommended products, help with diagnosis, point you towards your nearest allergy clinic, and generally give useful advice.

In shops, you need to be as demanding as possible to make sure you end up with the right product. As Muriel Stevens points out, "It isn't any good being nice and polite. If you're an allergy sufferer, your life can be in danger."

She cites a recent shopping trip where she went to buy a vacuum cleaner suitable for asthma and was offered the least suitable one on the market. "If I had truly been asthmatic, that cleaner would have caused me serious problems."

In the end, she pointed out the Seal of Approval on the box of another machine, something the shop assistant admitted he had never noticed before.

The message is clear: do your own homework.

Doo't be afraid to ask questions, do as much research as possible, think carefully about what you are prepared to do to tackle your problems. If not, you may well find a whole new meaning to the phrase "rash decision".

British Allergy Foundation, Deepdene House, 30 Bellegrove Road, Welling, Kent DA16 3PY (0181-303 8525); Doves Farm Foods, Hungerford, Berkshire (01488 684880); The Healthy House, Cold Harbour, Ruscombe, Stroud, Gloucestershire GL6 6DA (01453 752216); World of Difference, Woburn Walk, London, WC1H 0JL (0171-387 2363), 11am-6pm Mon-Sat

Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
Life and Style
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition attracted 562,000 visitors to the Tate Modern from April to September
Life and Style
Models walk the runway at the Tom Ford show during London Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015
fashionLondon Fashion Week 2014
Kenny G
peopleThe black actress has claimed police mistook her for a prostitute when she kissed her white husband
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SQL Developer - Watford/NW London - £280 - £320 p/d - 6 months

£280 - £320 per day: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group have been engaged by a l...

Senior BA - Insurance **URGENT**

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: **URGENT CONTRACT ROLE**...

Training Coordinator / Resource Planner - City, London

£35000 - £38000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Training Coordinator / Pl...

Data Governance Manager (Solvency II) – Contract – Up to £450 daily rate, 6 month (may go Permanent)

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently looking...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week