Home is where the heart is. Unfortunately, for children (and adults) with asthma, it can also be the place where a lot of asthma triggers are. That’s daunting if you’re facing a long winter (or a long period of sheltering in place).
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If you’re worried about having to spend a lot of time inside, don’t. It’s possible to protect your child or yourself from indoor asthma triggers with these helpful tips from pediatrician Roopa Thakur, MD.
Understanding asthma attack triggers
To figure out what causes an asthma flare-up, it helps to understand how asthma affects the body.
In a person without asthma, the airway is wide open. Air can flow freely into the lungs. In people with asthma, two factors can reduce airflow and make it hard to breathe:
- Inflammation: People with asthma experience a strong reaction to allergens. The reaction causes inflammation or swelling that narrows the airways. “There’s less space for air to get through,” explains Dr. Thakur.
- Muscle contraction: During an asthma attack, the muscles around the airways can tighten, making the airways even smaller. “That’s why you feel short of breath during an asthma attack,” Dr. Thakur says.
What triggers asthma in the home?
Not everyone with asthma responds to the same allergens. Some kids are super allergic to pollen, for instance, while others can run through a field of ragweed without a care in the world.
Several common allergens often trigger flare-ups — and many are hard to avoid if you’re stuck inside. Some of the most common indoor asthma triggers include:
- Dust mites.
- Household pets.
- Pests such as cockroaches or rodents.
- Secondhand smoke.
8 ways to reduce asthma triggers
A little prep can go a long way toward making your home safe for family members with asthma.
1. Track it
“Keep a log of when your child has difficulty breathing so you can look for patterns,” Dr. Thakur says. Do they have attacks whenever they’re near your cat? Do most flare-ups strike when they’re in bed? Jot down the details, and share them with your doctor to help identify possible causes of asthma attacks.
2. Get tested
If you’re having trouble seeing patterns, ask your doctor about allergy testing. Such tests can help pinpoint whether your kiddo is reacting to pet dander or struggling with mold exposure.
3. Make the bed
Stuffed animals, pillows and blankets can collect a lot of dust (and, ew, dust mites). “Anything that harbors dust can trigger allergies,” Dr. Thakur says. Take steps to asthma-proof the bedroom:
- Wash bedding and pillows frequently in hot water.
- Remove stuffed animals from the bed (or wash them often, if they’re washable).
- Use hypoallergenic mattress and pillow covers.
4. Tidy up
You don’t have to be a perfect housekeeper, but it’s good to keep dust levels in check. Vacuum rugs regularly. Mop hard floors to clear dust and pet dander. If cockroaches or mice are a problem, keep food securely stored and look into pest control options.
5. Pet-proof your place
Pet dander can be a problem for kids with asthma — even if your pooch doesn’t shed. To avoid attacks, keep Fluffy and Fido out of your child’s bedroom and off the furniture. If your child still has frequent asthma attacks, you might want to consider finding a new loving home for your pet.
6. Skip the smoke
Breathing second or thirdhand smoke — even old smoke on someone’s clothes — can increase the risk of asthma attacks, Dr. Thakur says. Family members who smoke should smoke outside and change their clothes when they come back in.
7. Manage mold
In humid rooms like bathrooms and kitchens, turn on fans or open windows to prevent mold from growing. When the weather is muggy, a dehumidifier can help dry out the air and keep mold levels low.
8. Follow your doctor’s orders
Identifying and managing asthma triggers will go a long way toward preventing asthma attacks. But it’s also important to work with your child’s doctor to identify triggers and manage symptoms. “We’ll ask you a lot of questions so we can classify your child’s asthma and come up with a plan to control it,” says Dr. Thakur.