Can The Air Quality Of Homes Be Responsible For The Occurrence Of Asthma?

Young woman using an inhaler during an asthma attack.

Written By Lucy Peters

Approximately one in 13 people live with asthma, according to the Center For Disease Control. That equates to 25 million adults and children in America that are going through the daily routine of avoiding asthma attacks and triggers. While one of the most commonly cited triggers is outdoor pollen, there is also overwhelming evidence that the quality of the indoor environment can just as easily trigger or cause asthma or related illnesses. Around two-thirds of people living with asthma say that the air quality worsens their symptoms. However, a key part of resolving this lies in understanding the indoor elements that can trigger asthma and educating asthma patients on avoiding these triggers.

Tobacco And Indoor Smoke

The presence of smoke has been well documented as a trigger for both asthma and asthma-related illnesses such as lung disease. People living with asthma who are exposed to second-hand smoke from cigarettes are more like to have an asthma attack or develop sinus infections. Children also face an increased risk of developing respiratory illnesses and airway inflammation. In 2009, toxic fumes given off by candles was also shown to increase indoor air particulates. This has been shown to compromise lung and respiratory function. Instead, patients can opt for paraffin-free alternatives and maintain moderation when lighting candles to avoid these effects. For tobacco smoke, avoiding smoking in the home or close to it minimizes contact with it.

The Presence And Encouragement Of Allergens  

The presence of certain allergens in the home can cause both asthma and allergies related conditions, including eczema and exercise-induced bronchoconstriction. The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology estimates that around 90 percent of those with asthma also have exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB). The symptoms include tight chest feelings, sneezing and other signs commonly seen with seasonal and outdoor allergies. However, the triggers can also include pet dander, dust mites and cockroaches – all synonymous with the indoor environment. Other studies have shown that exposure to dust mites and termites such as cockroaches is a key trigger of asthma in children. However, a Tulane University study showed that the use of elimination measures such as cockroach bait in a home resulted in as many as 50 fewer days of asthma symptoms a year.

The reduction of these allergens to aid indoor air quality revolves around simple ongoing habits in the home like identifying the source of allergens such as pets, bedding, wall to wall carpet and damp areas. To avoid dust mites, the practice of weekly cleaning habits such as vacuuming and wiping down any surfaces that may attract dust can help. For those with pets, regular brushing and bathing may help reduce the shedding of pet dander. Steps can also be taken to reduce the buildup of moisture in the home by addressing any leaks, using a humidifier, and opening windows after a shower. A damp environment fosters the growth of slow-growing fungi like Stachybotrys, which releases airborne mold spores and can cause skin rashes, breathing difficulties and lung disease. Exposure to mold types like black mold has been shown to trigger severe asthma attacks in asthma patients.

Transmission Of Outdoor Air Pollution

While proper ventilation of the home is key to preventing humidity buildup, it is also important to limit the transfer of outdoor pollens to the indoor environments. Several studies have shown that lengthened exposure to air pollution can both exacerbate and cause asthma in children and adults. Pregnant women who have been exposed to high levels of pollution are not only more likely to develop asthma, but their unborn child is also more likely to develop the condition or have a compromised immune system.

Checking pollution forecasts for high pollen times can identify ideal times to close windows and other openings of the building. Additionally, asthma patients can utilize extractor fans and air conditioners to remove any existing pollens in the home. Finally, ensuring the doors and windows are properly sealed can help avoid outdoor irritants like pollen or smoke from entering the home.

Finally, if the current indoor environment contains any of these triggers, being aware of the early signs of asthma or asthma-related illness will alert patients about when to seek medical help. Frequent coughing, shortness of breath, nasal congestion and other signs of allergies may indicate it may be time to speak to a doctor.