Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 457-459)



  Q457Chairman: Good morning and thank you for coming. The session is being web cast. I am Lady Finlay and I chair this Select Committee inquiry. There is a paper declaring the interests of the members of the Committee so we will not be reiterating those as we go round today. I would like to start by inviting you to introduce yourselves and then we will start asking questions. Would you like to start, Mr Bryson?

  Mr Bryson: Good morning. My name is John Bryson and I am here representing the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health. I am the Chairman of their Policy Development Board and recently chaired a commission on housing renewal.

  Dr Harrison: Good morning. I am Paul Harrison, Director of the Institute of Environment and Health at Cranfield University. I am a toxicologist interested in the interactions between environmental factors and human health.

  Mr Ager: Good morning. I am Grant Ager, Director of Fairfield Housing Cooperative in Perth who commissioned one of the first allergy homes in the UK.

  Professor Custovic: Good morning, I am Professor Adnan Custovic. I am Professor of Allergy at the University of Manchester.

  Q458  Chairman: I would like to start by asking all of you how allergic diseases such as hayfever, perennial allergic rhinitis, allergic asthma and atopic eczema impact on the quality of life of sufferers.

  Professor Custovic: Obviously talking about life threatening diseases like anaphylaxis is quite easy but what I would like to emphasise is the enormous impact that a disease as simple as hayfever—allergic rhinitis—can have on quality of life of sufferers. Let us not forget that this is a disease that affects almost a quarter of our children and young adults. A lot of people in primary care in particular would say that it is just a little bit of sneezing and runny nose. I put to you that it is much more than a bit of sneezing and runny nose. Some fabulous recent evidence from the UK suggests that children with hayfever are twice as likely to drop grades in their GCSEs as compared to children without hayfever. If, on top of that, they take sedating antihistamines for the treatment of the disease this risk goes up three fold, so you may be two to three fold more likely to drop a grade between the mock exams in December to the real exams in June when the hayfever season kicks in. That is much, much more than a simple case of sneezing and a runny nose. Clearly not only can it affect the way you feel, but it can affect the long term prospects in life of quite a substantial proportion of our children. Let us not forget that all the major exams take place exactly during the time of the year when pollen levels are highest. This is not a disease to sneeze at.

  Q459  Chairman: Can I ask if our other witnesses want to add anything to that?

  Dr Harrison: I would just add that it can be debilitating in the sense that a child with asthma or allergic rhinitis is likely to opt out of sporting activities so not only might it affect their learning abilities but also their well-being in the sense of being fit.

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