Allercy and Asthma Health
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The Official Publication of AAN - MA

Baby, It’s Warm Inside—But There Are Lots of Allergens, Too

By Carol Proctor, RRT, RPFT, AE-C

So, you thought because there are no trees, grass, flowers, or goldenrod indoors, you and your asthma were safe inside this winter? Unfortunately, homes and offices may harbor many asthma triggers. The Environmental Protection Agency says we spend up to 90% of our time indoors, and that makes recognition and control of indoor triggers particularly important.

Secondhand smoke is number one on the list of triggers. Not only should we be concerned about the visible smoke from tobacco products, but even the exhaled breath and clothing of the smoker, because smoke tends to linger. Both homes and cars should be smoke free, and don’t forget to talk about this to other people with whom your family is in contact. It is especially important to make sure places your child may frequent, such as schools, daycare, and grandparents’ homes, are free of smoke.

Dust mites, which are too small to be seen, are lurking in almost every mattress and the bedding that covers it. Additionally, they may be found in carpets, upholstered furniture, stuffed toys, and curtains. To minimize exposure to dust mites, cover mattresses and pillows with dust proof, zippered covers. All bedding should be washable and washed weekly in hot water. Stuffed toys should also be washable, washed often in hot water, and thoroughly dried.

Household dust may contain things that make asthma worse. Wipe surfaces, including ceiling fan blades, frequently with a damp cloth. Dust can fall from the fan onto other surfaces, so put a bed sheet underneath while cleaning and wash it afterwards. Dust buildup can be managed by vacuuming carpets and furniture fabrics.

Mold is most commonly found in bathrooms, kitchens, and basements. Wash and dry hard surfaces completely. Ceiling tiles and carpet may have to be replaced if moldy. Leaky plumbing should be fixed and other sources of water that may allow mold growth need to be removed. Drip pans on appliances should be clean and dry. When showering, cooking, or doing other activities resulting in steam, use exhaust fans or open windows. Vent clothes dryers to the outside.

Cockroach body parts, secretions, droppings, as well as the droppings and saliva of rodents, may be found where food and water are present, and they are common asthma triggers for people with asthma. Store food and garbage in securely closed containers. All crumbs and liquids need to be cleaned up promptly. Dirty dishes in the sink also attract household pests.

The skin flakes, urine, and saliva of cats, dogs, and other warm-blooded pets living indoors are also triggers. These are not only on Fido and Fifi. When kitty licks herself and then brushes against you or the furniture, saliva may be transferred. As a respiratory therapist, I often recommend that a new home be found for pets belonging to my asthma patients. Of course, many families find this distressing and are unable to part with their beloved animals. In that case, I would recommend keeping pets out of sleeping areas at all times, with the doors closed. Vacuuming also helps with this situation.

Indoor fuel-burning appliances may generate nitrous dioxide as well as other chemicals and particles that are irritating to the lungs. This would include gas stoves, gas or oil furnaces, fireplaces, wood stoves, and unvented kerosene or gas space heaters. Properly ventilate a room where a fuel-burning appliance is used and use appliances that vent to the outside whenever possible. Have a professional perform an annual inspection and cleaning of the entire heating system.

Enjoy your home, but remember: good housekeeping and good home maintenance will go a long way to keeping you and your family healthier.

Carol Proctor is a member of the American Association for Respiratory Care from Clearwater, FL, where she serves on the A-Team at the Lung Center at Morton Plant Mease Healthcare.

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