Asthma can be a debilitating disease, leaving children struggling to breathe and leading to various health issues. Unfortunately, children in Australia and New Zealand have a particularly high susceptibility to asthma. There have been many suggestions made about the reasons behind this. One of the contributing factors could be the use of sheepskins and lambskins in baby rugs and blankets.

How could sheepskins and lambskins cause asthma?

The wool pile of tanned sheepskin or lambskin is a good breeding ground for house dust mites, which are known to trigger asthma attacks in many sufferers. Dust mites are invisible to the naked eye; they thrive on dead skin and the conditions provided by bedding and carpets. Research from the University of Sydney, reported in 1988, showed that one gram of dust from sheepskins contained twice as many dust mites as normal blankets.

What can you do?

If you do buy a tanned skin product for your baby, you should wash it regularly in very hot water (50°–55°C).

In the University of Sydney study, the researchers found that sheepskins used in hospitals didn't have enormous populations of mites, principally because of the severe washing procedures they undergo in hospital –v ery hot water for washing and rinsing, and high temperatures for drying. Domestic washing routines tend not to involve such high temperatures, but they are essential to keep baby's sheepskin or lambskin free from the mites.

The Asthma Foundation of NSW recommends that you have your child tested to see whether they are allergic to dust mites before you introduce costly measures to reduce allergens in your home.