Asthma: Triggers and tips
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 7.3 percent of adults and 8.3 percent of children currently have asthma, which is actually a slight decrease from 2009. Still, there are a large number of people with asthma, a condition that causes your airways to become inflamed, and if you’re one of them, there are lifestyle changes that can help reduce your exposure to key triggers.
Genny Carrillo, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor with the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health, offers tips to keep these asthma triggers out of your home—and you.
Kick the habit
Smoke is one of the biggest asthma triggers, and it is the most preventable. A whopping 21 percent of adults with asthma smoke. Even if you are part of the remaining 79 percent that don’t, secondhand smoke is just as harmful to those with asthma.
“When people smoke, the particles stay on their clothes, body or just in the general area,” Carrillo said. “The best way to avoid making smoking a trigger is just to avoid smoking.”
Secondhand smoke can be very dangerous, so if you smoke, even if you don’t have asthma yourself, be considerate of others and avoid smoking in common areas where someone with asthma might frequent.
Keep a clean home
The average person spends most of their day indoors, and that is where a lot of the common triggers can occur. Routinely cleaning your home can reduce most of your asthma triggers: mainly dust mites, mold and pet dander.
“Having a clean home and dry home is crucial to controlling asthma,” Carrillo said. “Excessive moisture can lead to mold, which is very damaging for asthma because of its harmful spores.”
To prevent dust mites, use allergen-resistant covers for pillows, mattresses and bed springs, and, if you are able to, replace carpeting with hardwood floors. Keep a dehumidifier, or use air conditioning, to help keep the dust mites and mold from invading your home.
Another asthma trigger is strong smells. Be cautious around air fresheners, scented candles or certain cleaning products; even those with a pleasing odor may be a trigger.
Keep out unwanted guests
If your parents ever told you not to eat in your room, they were probably trying to keep the house tidy. This is even more important for people with asthma.
“Eating in the dining room is important because cleanup is easier and more efficient,” Carrillo said. “Crumbs in other rooms can attract pests, and their feces are allergens that are very harmful for kids with asthma.”
And when faced with pests, it is better to remove food and water sources that may attract them than to use pesticides. “Parents see a roach and run for a can of Raid,” Carrillo said. “That may do more harm than good; they would do better grabbing a fly swatter or even a shoe.”
Check the seasons and talk to your doctor
Keeping an eye on the temperature outside and the time of the year could help manage asthma. Changes in temperature and pollen levels in the air on a windy day are hazardous to those with asthma. When influenza season comes around, Carrillo advises getting the flu shot, instead of the nasal spray vaccine, every year because the live attenuated virus in the nasal spray may have increased risks to those with asthma.
“Getting a flu shot is very important,” Carrillo said. “Influenza can be very serious for people with asthma, and it could lead to further complications.”
In fact, according to the CDC, adults and children with asthma are more likely to develop pneumonia after getting sick with the flu than people who do not have asthma.
Having asthma should not hinder a child’s lifestyle. “If asthma is well controlled, there’s no reason why a child shouldn’t lead a perfectly normal and active life,” Carrillo said.
It is important to manage symptoms and to know the difference between control and relief medications. Following your physician’s regimen can be the difference between managing your symptoms and your next attack.