Approximately 20 million Americans suffer from asthma, a chronic breathing condition. Asthma occurs when the breathing passages become narrowed or inflamed. Asthma attacks can be very serious if not treated properly.
The average household contains myriad asthma triggers. Knowing what these triggers are and how they affect asthma conditions is important to lowering your risk of an asthma attack.
Asthma symptoms differ from person to person. A classic asthma attack may include any or all of the following symptoms:
- Chest tightness or pain
- Rapid heart rate
- Shortness of breath
- Tightened neck muscles
Asthma Triggers Found in the Home
Many common allergens that trigger asthma can be found in the home. Some of the most common household asthma triggers are:
Airborne irritants: Fumes, vapors, dust and smoke in the air can trigger an asthma attack. Cigarette smoke is the most common household irritant, but irritants can also come from commercial cleaning products, aerosol sprays, perfumes, air fresheners, paint, gas stoves and smoke from a wood-burning fireplace.
Cockroaches: Cockroaches are found in many urban dwellings. Their feces and carcasses mix with household dust to provide a very common asthma trigger.
Dust mites: Microscopic insects feed off the dead skin cells we leave behind and are virtually impossible to prevent. As with cockroaches, their carcasses and feces are the culprit for asthma attacks. Dust mites are commonly found in pillows, mattresses, bedding, rugs, draperies, upholstery and stuffed animals.
Mold: Warm, moist areas in the home are potential breeding grounds for mold. Common areas for potential mold growth include the bathroom (mildew is a form of mold), the basement, refrigerator drip trays, trash cans, air-conditioning systems, plants and humidifiers.
Pet dander: Household pets are often problematic for people with asthma. Even shorthaired pets leave behind particles of dead skin, called dander. This dander — not animal hair — is what triggers asthma attacks.
Pollen: While pollen is generally considered to be an outdoor irritant, it can find its way into homes very easily. Pollen can attach itself to clothing and hair. It can also get into a house via open windows or an indoor/outdoor pet.
Reducing Household Asthma Triggers
While it’s impossible to keep most asthma triggers from entering your home in the first place, you can take steps to minimize the damage they cause.
First of all, forbid any cigarette smoking in your house. If a household member or a guest must smoke, insist they do so outside. Consider installing a HEPA air purifier in bedrooms and purchasing a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter. These devices will help in reducing dust mites and other airborne allergens in your home.
Don’t use aerosol sprays or heavily scented products in your home. Consider cleaning with natural products like baking soda and vinegar, rather than using commercial cleaners.
Invest in allergen-free covers for pillows and mattresses. At least every two to three weeks, wash all bedding in hot water and dry in a dryer. If your child owns stuffed animals, wash them with the bedding. If the stuffed animals are not washable, you can kill dust mites by running them through a hot dryer or placing them in the freezer.
For reducing cockroach asthma triggers, keep all food in tightly covered containers. Make sure that any cracks in corners or around doors are sealed, and keep kitchen countertops free of crumbs. Keep trash covered and remove it often. If you elect to hire an exterminator, be sure to be out of the house when the extermination occurs. Plan to stay out of the house for a few hours longer than the exterminator advises, since the chemicals they use can also be an asthma trigger.
A dehumidifier can be helpful in reducing mold in dark, damp areas like the basement. Clean bathrooms regularly with bleach and use a venting system to keep the air cool and dry.