Asthma & Allergens

What is Asthma?

Asthma is a common chronic inflammatory disease of the airways characterized by a variety of recurring symptoms that make if difficult for the affected person to breathe. Common symptoms include wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. Asthma is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Symptoms can be prevented by avoiding triggers, such as allergens and irritants. Asthma triggers vary from person to person. Common triggers found in many homes include:

  • Dust and dust mites
  • Animal dander
  • Cockroaches
  • Mold and moisture
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Fragrances, including air fresheners
  • Cleaning products

Asthma is the most common chronic health problem in children. It affects 9.6% of children nationally and is the leading cause of visits to the emergency room and missed school days.

Rates of asthma continue to increase. Children, females, African-Americans, the poor, and urban dwellers and disproportionately affected. Asthma is a life-long condition but can be managed by monitoring and controlling environmental triggers.

Who is at Risk?

Asthma affects people of all ages, but symptoms usually start during childhood. There are 25 million people with asthma in the United States, 7 million of whom are children. Asthma is the most common chronic health problem in children.

Children who have asthma have increased emergency room usage and hospitalizations for respiratory problems.

Older and distressed homes are more likely to contain asthma triggers, many of which can be repaired or eliminated through simple changes.

Symptoms

Wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, asthma attack.

Health Impacts

Asthma is a life-long disease that can be managed, but not cured. Symptoms and attacks can disappear for a period of time but asthma does not. It can return at any time.

Solutions

Most people with asthma are able to live normal, healthy, and active lives by limiting their exposure to triggers, using preventive medicine, and following the guidance of their doctor.

Controlling Asthma

Controlling environmental triggers in the home can reduce the reliance upon medicine. Some strategies include the following:

Dust Mites

  • Use a dehumidifier or air conditioner to maintain humidity at 50% or below.
  • Encase pillows and mattress in allergen covers.
  • Wash bedding once a week in hot water.
  • Remove wall-to-wall carpeting¬†in bedrooms.
  • Use a damp mop or rag while dusting.
  • Vacuum using a HEPA filter to trap allergens.
  • See here or more information.

Mold

  • Use a dehumidifier or air conditioner to maintain humidity at 50% or below.
  • Vent bathrooms and dryers to the outside. Run bathroom and kitchen vents while bathing and cooking.
  • Check regularly for leaks in faucets, pipes and ductwork. Repair as needed.
  • See here for more information.

Cockroaches & Mice

  • Keep food, garbage and pet food in tightly sealed containers.
  • Never leave out food or dirty dishes.
  • Eliminate water sources such as leaks.
  • Mop and wash floors and surfaces at least once a week.
  • Limit food areas to one room in the house.
  • Seal up crevices around the house.
  • Use bait stations and low risk pesticides to control pest population.
  • See here for more information.
  • To learn more about using Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to get rid of pests, contact Healthy Homes.

More information can be found here:

Resources

Asthma and Secondhand Smoke (563 KB)

A brochure from the Michigan Department of Community Health about asthma and secondhand smoke.

Asthma Home Environment Checklist (161 KB)

A checklist for the Environmental Protection Agency to help you assess your home for asthma triggers.

10 Steps to Make Your Home Asthma Friendly (49 KB)

Simple steps to make your home more friendly for people with asthma.