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Treatment & Prevention

Asthma-Safe Homes

You want to feel good in your own home, right? If you have asthma, you can take steps to remove or minimize triggers at home. That way, they’re not as likely to cause breathing problems and asthma flare-ups.

What Are Triggers?

Triggers are the things that can make your asthma worse — like pollen, mold, dust mites, and cigarette smoke. Triggers are usually harmless to people who don’t have asthma. But if you do have asthma, they can cause coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.

People with asthma always have some swelling or irritation in their airways. Coming in contact with triggers can make this problem worse.

Asthma Triggers at Home

Because triggers are different for each person, you’ll work with your doctor to figure out yours. If you think an allergy is triggering your asthma, talk to your doctor about getting allergy testing to find out what you might be allergic to.

Once you know what’s making your asthma worse, you can work to get rid of that stuff at home. What you need to do depends on your triggers. Some people are affected only by animal dander. Others might have several triggers. It may take some time to figure out all your triggers and what to do about them.

The Air Indoors

The air in your house could contain irritants like tobacco or wood smoke, perfumes, aerosol sprays, cleaning products, and fumes from paint or cooking gas. All of these can trigger asthma flare-ups. Even scented candles are triggers for some people with asthma.

Air pollution, outdoor mold, and pollen are also common triggers that can travel inside, especially if you leave your windows and doors open in warmer weather.

To improve your air quality at home:

  • If you smoke, quit. If someone else in your household smokes, ask them to quit or at least do it outside.
  • Avoid wood fires in the fireplace or woodstove.
  • Ask your family to switch to unscented or nonaerosol versions of household cleaning products. Avoid scented candles or room fresheners.
  • Run the air conditioning, especially on days when the pollen or mold count is high outdoors or when there are ozone or pollution warnings.
  • If you need to open windows and doors on days when the pollen count is high, do so after midmorning. Pollen counts are usually highest between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m. You can usually find out if pollen counts are high by checking your weather forecast.
  • If you need to open windows and doors on days when ozone is a problem, open up in the early morning hours before pollution has had a chance to build up. Local weather forecasts or air quality apps often give details on outdoor air quality.

Dealing With Dust Mites

Dust mites are microscopic bugs that live in dust. There are lots of them in upholstered furniture, on some kinds of bedding, and in rugs. The highest number of dust mites in the home is usually found in bedrooms.

You won’t be able to completely get rid of dust mites. But you can try these tips to reduce your contact with them:

  • Vacuum and dust your home (especially your bedroom) at least once a week. Ask your folks to buy a special small-pore filter bag for your vacuum or purchase a vacuum with a HEPA filter. When you dust, use a damp cloth to avoid spreading dust mites in the air.
  • Stay away from feather or down pillows or comforters. Use bedding made with synthetic (man-made) materials instead.
  • Every few weeks, wash all of your bedding in hot water (greater than 130ºF, or 54ºC) and dry it on a high-heat setting.
  • Cover your mattresses, pillows, and box springs with mite-proof covers (your doctor can tell you where to get these).
  • Get rid of carpeting, especially wall-to-wall or shag carpeting in your room. If you have area rugs, make sure they are washable and wash them weekly in hot water.
  • Clean up the clutter in your room. Get rid of knickknacks, picture frames, and stuffed animals that collect dust.

Minimizing Mold

Molds are microscopic living things that are kind of like plants. They can grow on many surfaces and do especially well in damp places like bathrooms and basements. Molds reproduce by sending spores into the air. When people with asthma breathe these in, it can trigger breathing problems.

The key to controlling mold in your home is keeping things as dry as possible:

  • Ask your family to make sure that your bathrooms and basement are well ventilated.
  • If you have any damp closets, clean them well. Leave a 100-watt bulb on all the time to increase the temperature and dry out the air.
  • Run a dehumidifier in the basement or other damp areas. Empty and clean the water pan often.
  • Get rid of wallpaper and wall-to-wall carpeting in bathrooms and basement rooms.
  • Run the air conditioner (this is especially helpful if you have central air).
  • Get rid of houseplants. They may have mold in the soil.
  • Clean any mold or mildew you can see with a solution that is one part chlorine bleach to ten parts water.
  • Replace or wash moldy shower curtains.

Coping With Cockroaches and Animals

Animal allergies are caused by a specific protein found in the animal’s dander, saliva, urine, or feathers. Animal hair itself does not cause allergies, but it can collect dust mites, pollen, and mold. The droppings of animals that live in cages (like birds or gerbils) can attract mold and dust.

Pets aren’t the only allergy-causing creatures at home: Cockroaches are a major asthma trigger that can be difficult to avoid in apartments.

If you have a pet and you’re allergic to it, your best bet is to find it a good home somewhere else. Of course, that’s not possible for some people. If that’s the case for you, try taking these steps:

  • Keep pets outside. It’s especially important to keep them out of your bedroom.
  • Have someone else wash and brush your pet every week.
  • Don’t play with or touch your pet.
  • Stay far away from a cat’s litter box.
  • Ask other people in your household to wash their hands every time they touch your pet.
  • If you have an animal that lives in a cage, keep it in a room that you don’t spend time in regularly. Someone other than you should clean the cage daily.

Fish aren’t as cuddly as puppies and kittens, but they’re OK pets for people with asthma.

If cockroaches are a problem:

  • Talk to your parents about getting the house professionally exterminated every few months. In between exterminations, use bait traps to catch roaches (don’t use aerosol sprays because they can affect asthma).
  • 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.

Trigger Happy

It can seem overwhelming to make your home trigger free, especially if you have lots of triggers. Here are five steps to take to begin:

  1. Put mattress covers on your bed.
  2. Get rid of carpeting.
  3. Reduce dust.
  4. Get rid of any pest infestations.
  5. Ban tobacco smoke.

Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: January 2014