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Avoiding Asthma Triggers

How to avoid asthma triggers

Many things can trigger an asthma episode, including the following:

  • Upper respiratory infections

  • Allergies to dust mites, pollens, animal dander, mold and mildew, or cockroaches

  • Exercise

  • Irritants, such as cigarette and other forms of smoke, strong odors and perfumes, fumes from wood stoves or kerosene heaters, and air pollution

  • Weather changes

The following is a list of things you can do to limit your child's exposure to common triggers of asthma:

  • Allergies:

    • Dust mites. The allergy is caused by tiny, insect-like creatures called dust mites. Dust mites are found in mattresses, carpets, and upholstered furniture. They thrive in warm, humid conditions and feed on the shed scales of human skin. The best way to prevent allergy symptoms caused by dust mites is to limit your child's exposure. Be sure to pay special attention to the bedroom where your child spends the most amount of his or her time.

    • Beds. Every bed in your house should have a wooden or metal frame. Do not allow your child to sleep on a couch, sofa, or hide-a-bed. If your child has asthma and sleeps in a bunk bed, he or she should sleep on the top bunk.

    • Mattress and box spring. Place all mattresses and box springs in a zippered, dust-proof cover and tape over the zippers with electrical or duct tape.

    • Pillows. Encase pillows in zippered, dust-proof covers. Pillows should be made of Dacron or other synthetic fiber. Do not use foam, feather, or down pillows.

    • Bedding. Avoid wool or down blankets. Wash all bedding (sheets, pillowcases, blankets) in hot water. Cold water will not kill the dust mites. Dry all clothes and bedding in the dryer to avoid pollen sticking to them when on a clothesline.

    • Floor coverings. If possible, remove wall-to-wall carpeting. If not, vacuum the carpet frequently (at least twice a week). If your child has asthma, vacuum only when your child is away and will not return to the room for several hours after you have finished. Substitute multilayered vacuum bags for regular single layer bags. Small, washable cotton rugs may be used if washed often. Wood, tile, or vinyl flooring without a rug is best, and should be mopped at least weekly.

    • Closets. Remove all stored toys, boxes, and other articles from closets. The closet should contain only clothing and should be as dust-free as the room. Keep all clothes in closets, never lying around the room.

    • Furnace (heating). Electric or gas heat is recommended. Do not use wood stoves or kerosene heaters. Change the air filters on the furnace every month. Cover all furnace outlets in the room with special filters or cover the outlets with ten thicknesses of cheesecloth or muslin. This will catch dust in the furnace air. Change the cheesecloth when it gets dusty underneath (about every two weeks).

    • Air purifier. A HEPA filter unit of the proper size can effectively remove airborne allergens.

    • Air conditioners. Window unit or central air-conditioning is ideal. Change or clean all filters every month. Windows should be kept closed, especially in the summer.

    • Doors. Keep bedroom closet doors and bedroom doors closed as much as possible.

    • Walls. Paint walls or use washable wallpaper. Avoid pennants, pictures, wreaths, flower arrangements, or other dust catchers on the walls.

    • Window coverings. Avoid heavy curtains and Venetian or mini-blinds. Use window shades instead. If curtains are used, they should be washed monthly in hot water.

    • Humidifier. Avoid the use of humidifiers as dust mites grow best in high humidity. Use a dehumidifier to keep humidity in the home at less than 50 percent.

    • Furniture. Remove all upholstered (stuffed) furniture and replace upholstered furniture with wooden or plastic furniture. Avoid open bookshelves, as they are great dust catchers.

    • Sleeping and napping. Your child should nap or sleep only in his or her own bed, which has been made dust-free. When your child travels or visits, he or she should take a nonallergic pillow with him or her.

    • Playing. If your child has asthma, do not allow him or her to jump on furniture or beds or wrestle on carpeted floors. Avoid fabric toys or stuffed animals. If your child has stuffed animals, they should be machine washable and washed in hot water or placed in the freezer overnight at least weekly. Store toys in a closed toy chest.

  • Pollens. In many areas, pollens can be a problem from February through November each year. If your child is allergic to pollen, during pollen season it is important that you keep all car and house windows closed and use the air-conditioning.

  • Animal dander. Pets that have fur or feathers often cause allergy troubles. If your child is allergic to animal dander (the "skin" of the animal), it is best not to have pets and not to visit homes where these types of pets are kept.

  • Mold and mildew. Mold and mildew grow in areas that are dark, humid, and have poor ventilation:

    • Outdoors. Avoid damp, shady areas. Remove fallen leaves and avoid cutting the grass.

    • Bathrooms and kitchens. Always use the exhaust fans when cooking or bathing. If you do see mold and/or mildew, clean the area with cleansers made with bleach.

    • In the house. Use the air conditioner. Avoid using humidifiers, as mold or mildew can grow in the water tank. If you must use a humidifier, clean it daily with a bleach and water solution. Reduce indoor humidity to less than 50 percent. Use a dehumidifier, if needed. Empty and clean the dehumidifier daily.

  • Cockroach droppings. Some people are very allergic to the substance the cockroach leaves behind. Cockroaches are very common in warm climates and in homes of people living in the city. However, even in climates with much cooler temperatures, the use of central heat allows the cockroaches to live. To avoid exposure to cockroaches, it is best to use roach traps or a professional exterminator.

  • Exercise. Even though exercise is a common asthma trigger, your child should not limit his or her participation in sports or other forms of exercise, unless directed by a doctor. Exercise is good for your health and lungs. Some forms of exercise, such as running long distances and playing basketball, may be harder for your child to do. Activities, such as swimming, golf, and karate, are good choices for children with asthma. However, persons with asthma should be able to participate in most physical activities. Always make sure your child has a warm-up and cool-down period before and after exercise. Using a reliever medication 15 to 20 minutes before starting exercise can be very helpful, as directed by your child's doctor. Consult your child's doctor about exercise and asthma if this is a problem for your child.

  • Foods. Certain foods, such as milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish, and food additives can trigger asthma symptoms. It is best to avoid these foods if they trigger an asthma attack.

  • Irritants:

    • Smoke. Do not allow family and friends to smoke anywhere inside the house. Do not allow smoking in the car at any time. Smoke is very irritating in an enclosed area and its odor may be trapped in the car's upholstery for a long period of time and continue to trigger symptoms. When eating out, always sit in nonsmoking sections of restaurants. You should also have nonsmoking child-care providers.

    • Strong perfumes and odors. Your child should avoid things that have a strong smell, such as cleaning products, perfumes, hair spray, tar, fresh paint, gasoline, insect sprays, and room deodorizers.

Please consult your health care provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding this condition.