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Targeting Asthma Triggers

Tobacco smoke, dust mites, pet dander are among the main asthma culprits in the house

SUNDAY, Nov. 18, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- Ridding your home of dust mites, tobacco smoke, pet dander, molds and other asthma triggers may be a significant way to help asthmatics breathe a bit easier, say experts.

"It's been estimated that if you could get rid of all the major triggers ... you could reduce the number of asthma attacks by about 60 percent," says Dr. Norman Edelman, consultant for scientific affairs with the American Lung Association.

It's unrealistic to think you can eliminate all the asthma triggers in your home, Edelman adds, but you can do simple things to drastically reduce them.

The first thing to do is to determine which of these triggers actually affect the asthma sufferer in your home, says Dr. Michael Cabana, assistant professor of pediatrics with the Child Health Evaluation and Research Unit at the University of Michigan Health System.

"It's important to know what might trigger the asthma before your send your dog that you've had for five years to the dog pound," Cabana says.

There are a number of ways to do that. Make careful observations at home about possible links between triggers and asthma attacks and tell your doctor about them, Cabana says. Your doctor will have screening questions to help you assess these factors.

Your doctor can also check sensitivity to triggers by doing a medical history and skin testing.

"Cigarette smoke is a big and important trigger. It's my opinion that nobody should be allowed to smoke in a household where there's an asthmatic. I think it's important to take a strong position on that," Edelman says.

Cabana agrees. Even going outside to smoke isn't a safeguard. Unless you have a special smoking jacket that stays outside or you smoke naked, you're going to bring the smoke back in on your clothing and pose a threat to people with asthma.

Pet dander is another potential trigger. If you're certain that it is a trigger, the best remedy is to find a new home for your pet. Cabana admits emotional attachment can make that a difficult decision.

"If you don't want to get rid of the animal, keep the animal out of the patient's bedroom. And you might want to install filters on any air ducts that lead to the bedroom," he says.

Then there are dust mites. And there's a good chance you're sleeping with this particular enemy. Dust mites live on dead skin in your bedding. The best way to smite the mites is to wash all your bedding, including pillow cases, once a week in water that's hotter than 130 degrees F.

Speaking of creepy-crawlies, cockroach droppings are another asthma trigger. It may be difficult to eradicate them, but you can reduce their presence by keeping a clean kitchen, Cabana says.

You also need to eliminate and prevent indoor molds. Scrub them off in the bathroom, basement or any other damp locations they may appear, and install exhaust fans that will expel moist air, Edelman says.

Some people think air filters or purifying systems remove asthma triggers. But the American Lung Association warns against using air purifiers that generate ozone.

"Ozone is an irritant to the airways. The air may smell fresh and you may think you're doing good, but you're just generating a respiratory irritant," Edelman says.

As for HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters, Edelman says they can help but only if the HEPA filter is used in a total-house ventilation system that's running all the time. HEPA filter units designed for single rooms are much less effective, he says.

What To Do

About 17 million Americans have asthma and almost 5 million of them are children. Asthma affects 1 in 20 American children and is the most common chronic childhood disease.

For more about asthma triggers and how to deal with them, visit the American Lung Association, the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, or the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency.

SOURCES: Interviews with Norman Edelman, M.D., consultant for scientific affairs, American Lung Association, New York City; Michael Cabana, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of pediatrics, Child Health Evaluation and Research Unit, University of Michigan Health System, Ann Arbor
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