On average, Americans spend up to 90 percent of their time indoors. When it comes to asthmatic triggers, there’s a common misconception that the home is safer than the great outdoors, where ozone and pollen pose a constant threat. However, indoor allergens and irritants play a major role in triggering asthma attacks, which must be treated with inhalers or nebulizers. Here are 6 of the biggest culprits – and how to get rid of them.
Secondhand Smoke – Secondhand smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals, many of which cause cancer. If anyone in your household smokes, the exhaled fumes can trigger asthma episodes and increase the severity of symptoms. The risk is especially strong for children, whose developing bodies and faster respiratory rates cause them to breathe in more secondhand smoke, and therefore be more susceptible to its effects. If you want to rid your home of this trigger, don’t bother opening the windows or powering up the fan: the only way to stop secondhand smoke exposure is to make your home smoke-free. And if you must light up, do so outside.
Dust Mites – These bugs are too small to be seen by the naked eye, but there’s a good chance your house is teeming with them. The critters feed off the dead skin cells that your body sloughs off naturally, and live pretty much anywhere: mattresses, pillows, upholstery, carpet, clothes, you name it (if you want to see what they look like – and they’re not pretty – here’s an interesting video). The mites themselves are harmless, but their droppings contain enzymes that can trigger asthma attacks, even in children who have not previously exhibited symptoms. You probably won’t be able to get rid of them completely, but you can reduce their numbers by washing bedding once a week, using dust-proof covers on mattresses and pillows, and vacuuming regularly.
Mold – Where there’s moisture, there’s mold. These microscopic fungi produce similarly microscopic spores that can trigger an asthma attack when inhaled. Mold thrives in damp, dark environments, and typically makes its presence known; you might see a white, orange, green or black “fuzz,” smell a musty odor, or notice a discoloration in a part of your home with prior water damage. If you suspect that there may be mold growth in your home, first figure out where it is coming from. Then proceed to wash the mold off, clean the area, and let it dry. Be wary that some materials – such as ceiling tiles – may need to be replaced entirely. And wear a mask while you do clean-up, so you don’t inhale the nasties!
Cockroaches – These lovely little creatures spread all sorts of lovely little diseases, and guess what? They’re one of the most prevalent indoor asthma triggers. Enzymes in the cockroaches’ droppings and saliva can trigger allergic reactions and asthma attacks; ironically, the insecticides you use to kill them can prove just as loathsome to your lungs. Roaches tend to make themselves scarce, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take steps to keep them from crawling into your home – keep your counters, sinks and floors clean, seal up any cracks you find around the house, and make sure to keep all food in airtight containers.
Pets – We all love our pets – but like it or not, if you’re allergic, Fido’s pet dander may be to blame for an asthma attack. The easy fix is to find another home for your cat or dog, but nobody wants it to come to that – so before you take that last resort, take other steps: keep your pet off the furniture and out of the bedroom of the person with asthma, vacuum carpets and furniture regularly, and make sure pets spend time outside. And remember – hairless critters like fish and turtles are great for people with pet allergies.
Household Chemicals – This being the 21st century, there’s a good chance your home contains at least a few chemical irritants, be they cleaners, paints, pesticides, cosmetics, or air fresheners (schools and businesses also tend to be teeming with them). These irritants can cause an asthma attack, especially when used in poorly-ventilated rooms. Consider investing in products that are Green-certified, and if you must use a product, make sure to open windows and doors. And always, always follow the instructions on the product label.
Guest Writer: Zoe Camp is an avid blogger for justnebulizers.com and a student at Columbia University who spends her time researching and writing about health.