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Health Topics Asthma Triggers

Asthma Triggers

Asthma is a lung disease that causes difficulty in breathing and can sometimes lead to death. In the US, around 20 million people are affected by asthma, many of whom are children. When asthma is under control, the airways are clear and open. When asthma is not under control, the muscles around the airways inside the lungs tighten and the airways fill with mucus. This causes people with asthma to wheeze, cough, and suffer from a shortness of breath.

Many things can trigger an asthma attack – several of them can commonly be found in the home. Pet hair and fur, second-hand smoke, mold and mildew, roach and rodent droppings and excessive dust can all trigger asthma episodes (attacks).

While asthma has no cure, it is treatable. Effective medications, paired with environmental modifications to reduce exposure to common triggers, can enable most people living with asthma to lead normal, active lives. The home is an important front in the battle to control a person’s asthma.

Pet Dander

Animal dander from your pet may worsen your asthma. Pets produce dander that puts asthmatics at risk. These pets include dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, and rodents.

Pet dander is the protein in skin flakes, urine, feces, saliva, and hair, and it can trigger asthma symptoms. These proteins are miniscule. They travel through the air and land on a body part, make their way eventually to the nose or the mouth and are then inhaled. Symptoms may occur immediately, or they may not develop until 8 to 12 hours later.

Insect and Rodent Infestation

The saliva, droppings, and decomposing bodies of cockroaches and rodents contain proteins known to trigger allergies that can increase the severity of asthma symptoms, especially in children. Cockroaches are often found in warm climates and in city homes, but they also can be found in cooler climates because of the use of central heat. Rodents can be found in almost any climate. Eliminating roaches and rodents can be done safely through the use of integrated pest management techniques.

Second-Hand Smoke

Smoking in the home of a person with asthma can be a deadly habit. In addition to the significant risk of cancer for the smoker and those who breathe in the second-hand smoke, an asthma attack can be triggered by the smoke.

Mold and Mildew

Mold in the home produce allergens that cause allergic reactions. These reactions include sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, itchy eyes, and skin rashes. Mold therefore can trigger asthma episodes and respiratory problems. Mold and mildew thrive in dark and humid areas with poor ventilation. Mold reproduces by making spores, which can be inhaled. Mildew is mold growing on fabric.

EPA estimates indicate 50 to 100 common indoor mold types have the potential for creating health problems. Getting rid of mold can be difficult and even dangerous. DDOE suggests locating a certified contractor to evaluate serious mold problems before trying to remove mold on your own.

For more information on mold, please visit the DC government Mold Resource page

Managing Asthma in the home

Avoid these chores when someone with asthma is inside:

  • Sweeping, vacuuming and dusting
  • Painting
  • Using strong cleaners or bug sprays
  • Cooking strong-smelling foods
  • After completing any of these tasks, open the windows and/or use exhaust fans to “air out” your home

Maintain a tidy bedroom

  • Take out soft chairs, cushions and extra pillows
  • Consider removing carpets and rugs
  • Vacuum and wet mop twice a week
  • Do not let animals in the bedroom
  • Wash sheets and blankets in hot water.
  • Avoid pillows made with goose down
  • Take stuffed toys off the bed and keep them to a minimum in the home

 

For more on asthma, visit the DC Asthma Partnership website – dcasthmapartnership.org;
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