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Environmental Triggers in Asthma

There are many air-borne allergens that can aggravate asthma. During a cold or cough, a person with asthma is more vulnerable to air irritants. This is because the bronchial tree lining has been perturbed by the infection. The immune response against the infection can be accentuated by the presence of irritants. Also, some of the immune response cells can become sensitized to the irritant, setting the stage for a possible allergic response in the future.

Here are some well known aggravants:

CIGARETTE SMOKE: second hand smoke is considered the most irritative allergen in children.

AEROSOL SPRAYS and CLEANING PRODUCTS: can be especially aggravating. Any child with asthma, as well as those who have a bronchial cough should stay away from close contact with aerosols.

CAT DANDER: can actually ‘cling’ to walls, furniture and clothes and takes a long time (months), to completely clear a house after the cat is gone. Large houses with high ceilings and wood floors often don’t aggravate some cat allergic people. Often children with a history of asthma and cat sensitivity do better visiting relatives with cats in the warmer months when windows can be left open. Nonetheless, the child should not sleep in a room where the cat has been. Also, upholstery can be vacuumed and covered with a sheet prior to the child’s arrival.

HOUSE MITES: Houses with high humidity and lots of plush fabrics and rugs can have higher mite counts. Vacuuming helps, but one trick is to increase the ventilation in the house on a cold/dry day . Mites hate extremes of temperatures. Also, area rugs can be swept outdoors and left to “bake” in the sun, or “chill in the cold”. An old fashioned way to “freshen” a rug is to put it on the back porch, sprinkle it with snow, and vigorously sweep the snow off.

COCKROACH and MICE DROPPINGS: Parents should not use aerosol sprays to get rid of pests. It’s best to use a “roach trap”.

MOLD: Floods and leaks can cause a build up of mold which is an aggravant in many people. If there is a leak in a wall, the best thing to do is expose it to the sun, if possible, or bright light and use a dehumidifier. Visible mold can be cleaned with a solution of 1 part chlorox 9 parts water. Watch out for leaking air conditioners. They can cause leaks along a wall. Also, some air conditioners have areas where water drips collect, allowing mold to build up within the air conditioner.

POLYURETHANE: Chemicals used in paints and varnish are a potential trigger. It’s very important to ventilate the living space until all odors of the varnish have faded.

PLASTIC PRODUCTS: There are many products, such as shower curtains, mattress covers, plastic clothing bags, that emit an odor when first opened. Allow these products to ‘vent’ in an area away from the asthmatic child.

FURNITURE GLUES: Many pieces of furniture contain glues that can be aggravating to the child with asthma. If a new piece of furniture containing press-board is purchased, it should be allowed to ‘vent’ in an area of the house away from the asthmatic child. This is especially important for growing families who buy a piece of furniture for the child’s bedroom. The glues within the furniture can “off gas” for weeks, becoming an asthma irritant.

E.Pytlak, MD 2/2008