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Your House: How to Make It Asthma-Safe

Tyler just found out that he has asthma. His mom and dad told him that they are going to have to make some changes around the house, but what does their house have to do with his asthma?

What's a Trigger?

People with asthma have what is called a chronic (say: krah-nik), or continuing, problem with their airways (the breathing tubes in the lungs), which can get swollen and full of mucus. This problem is made worse by asthma triggers.

Triggers can be things like:

  • pollen (the fine dust from plants)
  • dust mites (tiny insects that live in dust)
  • mold (a type of small living thing that lives and grows in damp places)
  • stuff in the air (like smoke)

Triggers don't hurt most people, but they can make someone with asthma cough, wheeze, and have trouble breathing. Triggers don't cause asthma (no one knows exactly what does) but they can lead to asthma flare-ups. Your doctor will help you figure out what your triggers are.

As you probably already guessed, the idea is to control the triggers in your house. This is especially important in rooms where you spend a lot of time, like your bedroom.

The Air Indoors

Keeping the air at home clean is important. It can contain irritants (say: ir-uh-tunts), such as:

  • tobacco smoke or wood smoke
  • perfumes
  • aerosol sprays (say: ar-uh-sol; some kinds of hairspray and cleaners come in aerosol cans)
  • cleaners
  • the smell given off by paint or some gases

Air pollution and pollen are triggers that can come into your home from outside if you leave your windows and doors open in warmer weather.

How can your family make sure the indoor air is clean?

  • Don't allow anyone to smoke in the house.
  • Avoid wood fires in the fireplace or wood stove.
  • Run the air conditioning because it filters the air.
  • Keep the windows shut when there's a lot of pollen or air pollution outside (an adult can help you figure this out).

Dealing With Dust Mites

Dust mites are tiny insects that live in dust. You'll find lots of them where there is food, in some kinds of bedding, and in rugs. Bedrooms usually have the most dust mites in a house.

You and your family won't be able to get rid of all the dust mites at home but you can take these steps if they're a trigger for your asthma:

  • Vacuum and dust (especially your bedroom) at least once a week.
  • Stay away from feather or down pillows or comforters.
  • Every few weeks, wash all of your bedding in hot water and then dry it on a high setting.
  • Get special covers for your mattresses, pillows, and boxsprings.
  • Get rid of carpeting, especially wall-to-wall or shag carpeting in your room.
  • Clean up the clutter in your room. Get rid of knickknacks, picture frames, and stuffed animals that collect dust. If you can't part with them, store them somewhere other than your room.

Making Mold Dry Up

Mold is a type of tiny living thing that is kind of like a plant. It grows very well in damp places like bathrooms and basements. Mold makes more mold by sending what are called spores into the air. Mold spores can be an asthma trigger.

The key to getting rid of mold in your home is keeping things as dry as possible. Your parents can:

  • Run a dehumidifier (say: dee-hyoo-mih-duh-fy-ur; this is a machine that dries out the air) in the basement or other damp areas.
  • Get rid of wallpaper and wall-to-wall carpeting in bathrooms and basement rooms.
  • Run the air conditioner.
  • Get rid of houseplants, which may have mold in their soil.
  • Clean visible mold or mildew with a bleach solution.
  • Replace or wash moldy shower curtains.

Coping With Cockroach and Animal Allergens

Animals can be a big asthma trigger. The animal parts that can trigger asthma symptoms are dander (which are skin flakes — kind of like dandruff), saliva, urine, and feathers.

And pets aren't the only living triggers at home — cockroaches can be a major asthma trigger that can be difficult to avoid in apartments.

Unfortunately, if your pet is an asthma trigger for you, you may need to find another home for the animal. Short of that, these tips can help, but aren't as effective:

  • Keep pets outside. At the very least, keep them out of your bedroom.
  • Have someone else wash and brush your pet every week.
  • Don't play with or touch your pet and stay far away from the litter box.
  • Ask other people in your household to wash their hands after touching your pet.
  • If you have an animal that lives in a cage, keep it in a room that you don't spend time in. Someone other than you should clean the cage daily.
  • Consider getting cold-blooded pets, such as fish, which are OK for kids with asthma.

If cockroaches are a problem:

  • Don't save boxes, paper bags, or newspapers.
  • Don't leave open food or dirty dishes lying around your kitchen. Keep counters free of crumbs or spills.
  • Keep garbage containers closed and wash recyclables before putting them in the bin.

You want to be comfortable at home — where you spend most of your time — so try to remove as many asthma triggers as you can. When your house doesn't cause asthma flare-ups, it really is home, sweet home!

Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: November 2011

Kids Health

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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