Asthma & Indoor Air Quality

What is Asthma?
Asthma is a serious lung disease associated with many factors. When an asthma attack occurs, the airways constrict and make breathing difficult. Symptoms may include shortness of breath, wheezing and coughing. Asthma can even cause death.  Approximately 17 million Americans have asthma, and asthma is the leading cause of long term illness in children today.

About Asthma Triggers
There are many asthma triggers in the indoor environment. These triggers can be divided into two categories; irritants and allergens.  Irritants such as cold air, cigarette smoke, industrial chemicals, perfume, paint and gasoline fumes can trigger asthma. Irritants such as these are suspected to stimulate irritant receptors in the respiratory tract. These receptors cause the muscles surrounding the airway to constrict, resulting in an asthma attack. Allergens are substances that are harmless for most people, but which trigger an allergic reaction in some people. When the body experiences an allergy attack, chemicals called mediators are released. These mediators often trigger asthma episodes. Since Americans spend up to 90% of their time indoors, exposure to indoor allergens and irritants may play a significant role in triggering asthma episodes.

Specific Asthma Trigger Sources
The following are known asthma triggers:

  • Secondhand smoke- Asthma can be triggered by the smoke from the burning end of a tobacco product, or by exhaled tobacco smoke.
  • Dust mites- Dust mites cannot be seen by the naked eye, but are present in every home. They live in fabric and upholstery.
  • Pets-  Dander, urine and saliva from your pet can be a trigger.
  • Molds- Mold grows in high moisture or wet environments. Mold produces tiny spores that waft through the air continually. These spores can be toxic to humans and may trigger asthma attacks. Be extremely cautious around existing mold growth, as it can be  toxic.
  • Pests- The droppings and body parts of  pests and rodents can trigger asthma attacks.
  • House Dust- Particles suspended in the air, including ultrafine particles not detectable by the naked eye, may irritate the  lungs and be an asthma trigger.
  • Combustion By-Products-  Irritants released by the combustion process. People with asthma may be susceptible to the effects of nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide. Also, particulate matter may decrease lung function in asthmatics.

Steps to Reduce Exposure to Asthma Triggers
Steps can be taken to reduce or eliminate exposure to asthma triggers in the home. Consult with a doctor to help identify what may be triggering attacks in your home. If an asthma trigger is suspected but the source cannot be identified, consultation with an indoor air quality specialist may help in pinpointing the source of the problem. Here are steps you can take yourself:

    • Eliminate smoking from your home and car.
    • Wash your sheets and blankets at least once a week in water greater than 130 degrees to kill dust mites. Choose washable stuffed toys for children, and keep toys off of beds. Cover your mattress and pillows in allergen proof zippered covers.
    • Keep pets out of bedrooms and off of carpets and furniture or consider keeping your pets outdoors or finding a new home for them.
    • Keep the humidity in your home between 30% and 50%, and eliminate standing water or moisture. This can be accomplished by using exhaust fans, keeping drip pans clean, and venting your clothes dryer outside. This will help control allergenic and toxic mold growth, as well as dust mites.
    • Ventilate the house properly.