Asthma & Allergen Triggers
With over 5,000 asthma related deaths reported in the U.S. each year – most of which are children – periodic testing of your indoor environments for asthma and allergen triggers is advised.
Most Americans spend up to 90% of their time indoors. We like to think of our homes, schools, and workplaces as safe, but how often is that the case?
Since indoor allergens can play a significant role in triggering asthma attacks it is important to recognize potential asthma triggers indoors and reduce your exposure to those triggers. With today’s technology, indoor environments can be tested for asthma triggers and allergens quickly and affordably.
Common Indoor Asthma Triggers and Allergens
Some of the most common indoor asthma triggers include mold, dust mites, cockroaches and other pests, household pets, combustion byproducts, and secondhand smoke. You may not be affected by all these triggers. However, your doctor can help you to determine which triggers affect your asthma or may lead to you developing asthma and help you create a customized asthma management plan.
Molds are microscopic fungi that live on plant and animal matter and can be found almost anywhere. They grow on virtually any substance when moisture is present and are one of the leading and most debilitating causes of asthma attacks. There is no practical way to eliminate all molds indoors. The way to control indoor mold growth is to control moisture.
Molds produce tiny spores to reproduce, just as plants produce seeds. Mold spores waft through the indoor and outdoor air continually. When mold spores are indoors and land on a damp surface, they may begin growing and digesting the surface they land on in order to survive. Some molds can grow on wood, paper, carpet, foods and even dynamite.
Dust mites are tiny insects that are invisible to the naked eye and can be found in almost every home. They nest in mattresses and bedding materials, carpets, upholstered furniture, stuffed toys and curtains and feed on human skin flakes. Body parts and feces from dust mites can trigger asthma in individuals with allergic reactions to dust mites. Exposure to dust mites can cause asthma in children who have not previously exhibited asthma symptoms.
Droppings and body parts of cockroaches and other pests can trigger asthma. Certain proteins, called allergens, are found in cockroach feces and saliva. In some individuals they can cause allergic reactions, or trigger asthma symptoms. Cockroaches are commonly found in crowded cities and the southern regions of the United States. Cockroach allergens likely play a significant role in asthma in many inner-city areas.
Dogs, cats, rodents, including hamsters and guinea pigs, and other mammals can trigger asthma in individuals with an allergic reaction to animal dander. Proteins in the dander, urine, feces, hair or saliva of warm-blooded animals have been reported to sensitize individuals and cause allergic reactions or trigger asthma episodes.
The most effective method to control animal allergens in the home is to not allow animals in the living space. If you remove an animal from the home, it is important to thoroughly clean the home including floors and walls, but especially carpets and upholstered furniture. Even with thorough cleaning, pet allergen levels are reported to stay in the home for several months after the pet is removed.
Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2)
NO2 is an odorless gas that can be a byproduct of indoor fuel-burning appliances, such as gas stoves, gas or oil furnaces, fireplaces, wood stoves and unvented kerosene or gas space heaters.
NO2 can irritate your eyes, nose and throat and cause shortness of breath. Exposure to low levels of NO2 may cause increased bronchial reactivity in people with asthma and make young children more susceptible to respiratory infections. Long-term exposure to high levels of NO2 can lead to chronic bronchitis.
Secondhand smoke, also known as Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS), consists of exhaled smoke, and side stream smoke from the burning end of a cigarette, cigar or pipe. Secondhand smoke contains more than 4,000 substances, including several compounds that are known carcinogens.
Scientists believe secondhand smoke irritates the chronically inflamed bronchial passages of people with asthma. Secondhand smoke is linked to other health problems, including lung cancer, ear infections and other chronic respiratory illnesses, such as bronchitis and pneumonia. Children’s developing bodies make them more susceptible to secondhand the effects of secondhand smoke.