WOOL AND ALLERGIES

A recent Wools of New Zealand informational segment provides food for thought for those allergy sufferers among us considering the most suitable flooring surfaces for ourhomes.  There is so much to talk about when it comes to wool; it’s always hard to decide where to begin. Initially, I considered writing about the beautiful land where wool sheep are raised or detail the many natural attributes of the wool fiber. But, with the approach of winter and spring on our heels, I decided it could be more helpful to address one of the bigger concerns folks have with wool: that is allergies.

This Wools of New Zealand article describes an incident that occurred in 1973 when the Swedish government banned the use of carpet based on the premises that carpet contributed to allergy concerns.  Ironically, instituting this policy actually exacerbated incidence of allergies among Swedish people.  The anecdotal evidence from this incident suggests that, contrary to popular belief, carpet actually diminishes the potential allergens and sheds light on this concern many people have with wool carpet. 

People think they are allergic to wool because they’ve worn a sweater that’s made them itch when what they’re really feeling is the “tickle and prickle” (WNZ) of the coarse fibers against their skin, much like the itchiness felt after a haircut. This happens when coarse wool is blended with fine apparel wools to reduce cost (WNZ). Coarse fibers of any type would cause the same problem if used in apparel.

The reality is that wool is a non-allergenic fiber and does not promote the growth of dust mites or bacteria. What’s more, wool fibers are too long and too coarse to be inhaled and therefore do not affect asthma sufferers. (WNZ)

Unfortunately, many doctors routinely recommend carpet removal due to allergy concerns. They believe that if all possible places where allergens can be held are eliminated, allergic reactions will disappear.  According to Wools of New Zealand:

In 1973, The Swedish government shared this viewpoint and banned the use of carpet in all public facilities. Carpet was replaced with hard surface flooring materials in homes, commercial environments and government buildings. Follow-up studies by the Swedish Central Statistics Bureau indicated a dramatic increase in reported allergies by the Swedish population following carpet replacement. As carpet was removed and hard surface flooring was installed, the incidence of allergies increased among the Swedish population. This alarming increase was in direct proportion to the amount of hard flooring materials installed. After 17 years, the allergic reactions were finally confirmed and the ban was removed.  (WNZ)

Medical commonly professionals agree on the fact that people prone to respiratory problems are most affected by airborne particles.  The irony twist on the story above is that these airborne particles are more easily disturbed in an environment of hard surfaces. Carpet holds dust in its structure, preventing the whirling up of particles that irritate hay fever and asthma. “Unlike synthetics, wool actually goes a step further to purify indoor air by absorbing pollutants and gases” (WNZ). 

So, counter to the commonly held belief, carpet in general and wool carpet in particular, may actually prove to improve indoor air quality and reduce potential airborne allergens.  What do you think about that?

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