Carpet has long been regarded as the enemy when it comes to allergies and asthma. Those living with asthma and/or allergy symptoms were advised to remove all carpet in the home, because carpet traps allergens, and it was believed that this would exacerbate the symptoms of these conditions. However, recent studies have challenged this line of thinking, and have suggested that in fact the reverse may be closer to the truth.
2005 German Study
In 2005, results of a study conducted by the DAAB (German Allergy and Asthma Society) were published in the German magazine ALLERGIE konkret. The article outlined the specifics of the study, and highlighted the message that wall-to-wall carpet actually improves air quality:
"The core result of the study is, however, clear: In a room with a bare floor, the risk of more airborne fine particulate rises, while the use of wall-to-wall carpeting minimizes this risk."
Most people understand that carpet holds allergens such as dust, dander, hair, etc. But instead of being a drawback to carpet, that is actually a huge advantage, especially to those who are sensitive to such allergens.
The same allergens on a hard surface floor, such as hardwood or vinyl flooring, are free to move around. As the air stirs, caused by a breeze through an open window or even just people walking around, the dust, hair, and everything else on the floor get blown up into the air, where they are then breathed in by those in the home.
By contrast, carpet holds onto the allergens and does not release them into the air, thereby trapping them where they cannot be inhaled. Thus, the air quality in carpeted areas is actually better than that of non-carpeted areas.
2008 Sauerhoff Study
Another, more recent study was conducted in 2008 by toxicologist Dr. Mitchell W. Sauerhoff, Ph.D., DABT, titled Carpet, Asthma and Allergies - Myth or Reality?. Dr. Saurerhoff, according to the Carpet and Rug Institute, researched studies "encompassing scientific investigations performed in 8 different countries over a period of 19 years." His findings were fairly conclusive:
"In conclusion, based on the available science, carpet does not cause asthma or allergies and does not increase the incidence or severity of asthma or allergies symptoms. In fact with respect to asthma and allergies, multiple studies have reported fewer allergy and asthma symptoms associated with carpet."
1996 Swedish Study
Another well-known study was conducted over the course of 15 years in Sweden where, as reported by Roshan L. Shishoo and Alf Borjesson, the use of carpet declined between 1975 and 1990 - from a market share of 40 per cent to a mere 2 per cent . By contrast, however, during the same time frame the rate of allergic reactions and environmental sensitivities in the general population increased. The Swedish Institute for Fibre and Polymer Research asserts that a reduction in the use of carpet will not benefit most allergic patients.
Read more about the study here.
European Community Respiratory Health Survey
A large study of more than 19,000 people in 18 different countries was conducted, and the results published in 2002 in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 110:285-92. In addition to several European countries, the study included data from the United States, Australia, New Zealand and India. The study looked at the association between household characteristics such as dampness, mold exposure and dust mite levels and asthma in adults. Again, the findings are clear: "Results: Fitted carpets and rugs in the bedroom were related to fewer asthma symptoms and bronchial responsiveness…."
Read the full study at the Canadian Carpet Institute's link here.
The above-referenced studies, along with others that have been conducted, demonstrate that carpet does not worsen allergy and asthma symptoms. In fact, most of the studies have determined that the use of wall-to-wall carpeting actually reduces the symptoms of allergy and asthma sufferers by trapping allergens in the carpet, thereby preventing them from becoming airborne and subsequently inhaled.
Vacuuming is Essential
Of course, some maintenance of your carpet is required to be able to truly breathe easy. Regular, thorough vacuuming of carpeting is essential for allergy and asthma patients, in order to remove these allergens from the environment completely. For cut-pile carpets, using a vacuum with a beater bar or power head attachment is most effective. (Do not use a beater bar or power head attachment on a looped style/berber carpet.)
Always Seek a Physician's Advice
Please note that while I support the belief that carpet does not worsen allergy and asthma symptoms, I am not a doctor. As always, talk with your doctor or healthcare provider to determine what is best for you.