According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), asthma is currently estimated to affect 16 million adults and nearly 7 million children. In 2006, there were 10.6 million out-patient visits for asthma-related illness and over 400,000 people were admitted to the hospital for complications related to asthma. The CDC and the National Center for Environmental Health recommend that all patients who suffer from asthma have an “asthma action plan.” Such a plan is simply a checklist of things that an individual can do to reduce the frequency of asthma attacks as well as an algorithm that streamlines what to do when an attack occurs (i.e. when to use rescue inhalers, when to go the hospital, etc.). The first step in any action plan is prevention through the avoidance of triggers. Here are some helpful tips that can be used to reduce a person’s exposure to potential allergens.
Pet dander is one of the leading triggers of asthma. The best way to control this allergen is to keep all pets, including birds, out of the home. This may be the only strategy that works for people who are severely allergic to pet dander.
Of course, we all love the furry members of our families and sometimes turning Fido out in the snow is just too painful a measure to take. If pets are going to stay in the house, one way to reduce the impact they have an air quality is to limit the rooms into which they are allowed. One of the main areas that should be kept pet-free is the bedroom. Pets should never be permitted into the bedroom of an asthmatic and the door should always be closed to prevent dander from blowing into the room. Frequent vacuuming is important as well, which leads to the next topic.
Frequent cleaning is very important in maintaining indoor air quality. While any vacuum is better than none, certain vacuums are better than others. One of the very best choices is a central vacuum with the canister located in a garage or somewhere outside of the house where any dust output will not affect air in the home.
Central vacuums can be expensive as well as difficult to install in an existing home. If a central vacuum is not an option, a premium vacuum with a HEPA filter is a must. Furthermore, the asthmatic in the family should not use the vacuum and should stay out of rooms while the machine is in use. If there is no choice about who runs the vacuum, a simple dust mask can go a long way to reducing symptoms.
HEPA filtration is one of the best ways to reduce the number of allergens circulating in the home. A HEPA filter on a vacuum is a must, but it is not the only place where filtration is important. The HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) system is a prime way for allergens to enter the home. A high-quality filter on the HVAC system can go a long way to reducing asthma symptoms.
Not all home HVAC systems are equipped to handle a HEPA filtration but there are plenty of other high quality filters on the market that can greatly reduce the number of allergens circulating through the system. Look for filters that offer electrostatic charges. The electrostatic charge helps to trap the smallest contaminants and hold on to them. Top of the line filters generally cost $20-40 depending on their size.
In addition to a quality filter, the HVAC system should be cleaned at least twice per year. Most filters need to be replaced every 90 days, which is a great time to clean the system and remove dust, dirt, and mold that have built up over the past 3 months. At least twice per year the system should be thoroughly cleaned. There are professional services that will do this.
Filters can also be placed in the vents of an asthmatic’s bedroom to further reduce allergen contamination. These filters do not work as well as those on the central HVAC system, but can offer some additional protection for individual rooms. What is more, “in-vent” filters are very inexpensive. These filters should be changed every three months along with the central filter. Never use “in-vent” filters on every vent in the home as the increased resistance to air flow can strain the HVAC system and cause damage.
Finally, running the HVAC system and keeping windows closed can reduce the number allergens that enter a home. Symptoms can be reduced by simply running A/C and heating systems and keeping windows and doors shut.
Most recommendations for reducing the frequency of asthma-related symptoms suggest that the ambient humidity level be kept below 60%. This level can be achieved in several ways. A whole house dehumidifier can be included in the HVAC system and set to automatically control the humidity level in any condition. Alternatively, single-room dehumidifiers can be used as well. Running air conditioning or central heating systems is often enough to adequately reduce humidity levels.
Bathrooms, kitchens, and other wet areas should be allowed to dry completely after use. Such practices not only reduce humidity levels, they also prevent the growth of mold and bacteria.
CARPET AND RUGS
Carpeting and area rugs may look nice but they trap all varieties of dust, dander, and mold. Removing these items from the home can have a major impact on indoor air quality. Even removing these items from sleeping areas alone can be beneficial. If you simply cannot part with your shag carpet, frequent cleaning will be necessary. Professional cleaning should be considered on an annual or bi-annual basis.
Drapes, curtains, and other fabrics can pose similar problems as carpet. Frequent cleaning is necessary if these items are to remain.
Furniture is another potential trap for allergens. One solution to this problem is to avoid cloth furniture and stick with leather or a similar material. Cloth furniture should be cleaned frequently and pets should be kept off the fabric. Asthmatics should not sleep or nap on cloth furniture.
Bedding is one of the top sources for dander and dust mites. Specialized, hypo-allergenic covers should be placed on all pillows and bedding. Pillows and sheets should be washed weekly in warm water (130 degrees) in order to kill mites. Stuffed animals and toys should not be placed on the bed.
A great number of irritants can affect asthmatics. Smoke is one of the most notorious offenders. Smoking should never take place in an asthmatic’s home or car. Other irritants, such as mold and pollen, can be reduced via the steps listed above.
The home is not the only place in which indoor air quality is an issue. Most cars have HEPA or other filtration systems that filter air before it enters the vehicle cabin. The filters on these systems should be changed every 90 days, just as in the home. Furthermore, pets should not ride in the car and smoking should be avoided as well.
Running the heating and cooling system in the car and keeping the windows closed can help reduce the number of allergens entering the vehicle. In addition to reducing allergens, the system itself will also reduce humidity. Frequent cleaning of the car is also important, but I know we’re often guilty of this due to having three young boys and their wake of piled up gear and food items left behind.
Maintaining healthy air quality is one of the most important steps an individual can take to reduce the frequency and severity of asthma-related symptoms. Setting aside one day each week or month to thoroughly clean a home can have a profound impact on quality of life. Of course, preventing the allergens from entering in the first place can make cleaning less of a chore. The best strategy will depend on the individual, but it is important to recognize that a great deal can be done to alter the environment for the benefit of the asthmatic.