Asthma

Controlling Indoor Air Quality to Prevent Asthma Disease

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Indoor air can often prove a greater threat to asthmatics than the air they breathe outdoors.

Pollutants generated in a “sealed” indoor environment commonly build up to dangerous levels. Studies by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported that levels of indoor pollutants tend to be two to five times (and in certain cases 100 times) higher than levels of outdoor pollutants. Furthermore, air conditioning and heating systems are notorious for producing abrupt changes in temperature that can very easily trigger an asthma attack.

The EPA report also concluded that “poor indoor air quality” was the fourth largest threat after “volatile organic compounds, lead dust and asbestos.”

Improving Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) for Asthma Prevention

Although total elimination of indoor pollution is not always possible (or feasible), a great deal can be done to improve indoor air quality. For example, the use of filters and purifiers, and specially designed vacuum cleaners can produce dramatic results. For the asthma sufferer, such devices can make a world of difference.

Device/Mechanism Description How it improves IAQ
HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filters HEPA filtration systems possess a lowest particle removal effectiveness of 99.97% for all particles of 0.3 micron diameter and higher. This size covers most pollens, mold spores, animal hair and dander, dust mites, bacteria, smoke particles and dust. Generally accepted as an essential piece of equipment for the control and management of indoor pollutants, HEPA filters are used extensively in medical and industrial environments. They are now commonly used in residential air cleaners.
Air purifiers Air purifiers are classified according to the technology they use to remove different-sized particles from the environment. They can be either mechanically or electronically operated; certain versions use a chemical process (e.g., ozonization).
(i) large room unit air purifiers Equipped with powerful filters or “collecting” plates, some large units use electrostatic precipitation. Highly effective at removing pollutants (especially smoke and dirt) from large rooms. Generally considered more effective in a single room unit than as fixed central air filters.
(ii) tabletop air purifiers Equipped with small panels of dry, loosely packed, low-density fiber filters and a high velocity fan. Although relatively inexpensive and generally a good value, caution is required when selecting tabletop purifiers. Make sure that the specifications match your requirements. (Can the device cope with very small particles noted for their ability to penetrate the lungs, thus triggering an asthma attack?)
Air filters
(Efficiency is usually measured according to the size of particle that the device can remove).
Air filters fall into two broad categories: central filtration systems (sometimes called “induct” systems) and portable units with fan attachments. Induct system filters are installed in heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems (know as HVAC). Air filters can be mechanically or electronically driven, or a hybrid of both. Asthma sufferers are often advised to choose a HEPA type filter that is capable of trapping both very large and very small sized particles.
Specially designed vacuum cleaners, (e.g., HEPA vacuum cleaners) Equipped with high spec pre-filter and filter systems, these sealed and allergen-free units are capable of removing and trapping asthma-inducing pollutants that normal vacuum cleaners don’t. These high-performance vacuum cleaners are recommended for their capacity to remove potentially dangerous allergens, such as bacteria and mold filled dust.

Portable Air Filters or Central Filtration Systems?

Portable filters are ideal for removing pollution from a single room.
Central filtration systems are better suited to a whole building environment.

The Practical Approach to Controlling Asthma Triggers

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So, we’ve identified potential triggers of asthma. We understand the risks associated with exposure to those triggers. Apart from eliminating the obvious, such as not smoking, what exactly can we do about them when our daily activities involve regular contact and avoidance just isn’t practical? The answer is: a great deal!

Tips for Preventing and Controlling Asthma Triggers

In most cases, a minor adjustment to our everyday routine is all that’s required to control triggers and prevent an attack.

All asthmatics should always carry their asthma inhalers with them.All asthmatics should always carry their asthma inhalers with them, even when they think they are entering a “low” risk environment. This is the best practical measure you can take. Asthma inhalers are designed to help prevent the onset of an asthma attack . . . fast. These devices are light and easy to carry but, most important, they are highly effective at delivering medicine to the airways quickly.

Occupational asthma

  • Occupational asthma is frequently misdiagnosed as chronic bronchitis. If you suspect that substances in the workplace precipitate your attacks, consult your doctor immediately. Request an allergy test.
  • Are you exposed to platinum salt dust, baker’s flour or isocyanates (used in manufacture of polyurethane foams, paints and electronic insulation), or trimellitic anhydride (TMA) and phthalic acid anhydride (hardening agents used to set epoxy resins)? All are known potent allergens.
  • If your occupation requires that you wear rubber gloves, substitute non-latex gloves. Allergy to latex is fairly commonplace.
  • If left untreated, your condition will only worsen with time and you may even risk permanent lung damage.

Asthma in the home

  • Substitute feather and down-filled pillows, blankets, and cushions with those stuffed with human-made fibers.
  • Cover mattresses and box springs with zippered, dust-proof covers.
  • Keep your home as dust-free as possible. No half measures—house dust mites are major triggers!
  • Remove carpets from the bedroom.
  • Replace upholstered bedroom furniture with leather or vinyl.
  • Keep windows tightly shut during pollen season.
  • Consider the possibility that your pet cat, dog, bird or any other furry or feathered friend is the root cause.

Asthma and pregnancy

  • Look into your family medical history. The tendency to allergic asthma can be inherited. If you or a family member is asthmatic, there’s a higher risk that your baby could be affected.
  • Asthma and pregnancy doesn’t pose a problem in the majority of cases. However, you’re advised to take a little more care with your normal management routine. Most likely, you will be advised to continue taking your prescribed medication. Studies suggest that most prescribed asthma medications are generally safe for the fetus. Your physician should be consulted for specific recommendations.
  • Although management of the condition usually doesn’t change dramatically during pregnancy, take care in the first few weeks to avoid any unnecessary medication. Avoid combination remedies that contain drugs other than standard asthma medications.
  • A few drugs should be avoided altogether, including: adrenaline (except when prescribed by a doctor), codeine, potassium iodide, phenobarbitone and other barbiturates, tetracycline, ciprofoxacin and aminoglycoside antibiotics.

Childhood asthma

  • Don’t be complacent if your child has a wheezing cough or is breathless. Talk to your doctor and investigate the chance that your child may be suffering from childhood asthma.
  • Don’t smoke or take your child into a smoky environment. Cigarette smoke is known to increase levels of IgE (antibodies that can trigger an attack).
  • Ask your doctor to test whether your child has become sensitized to dust mite protein. Those who have will produce IgE antibodies. Reduce the likelihood that your child’s toys are infested with house dust mites. Tip: To kill these mites put the soft toy in the freezer for a few hours.
  • Be sure that your children understands how to apply an inhaler properly. (Does your child possess the latest version of asthma inhalers?)
  • Start using a peak flow monitor to determine your son or daughter’s inhaling and exhaling capacity.
  • Limit exposure to strenuous outdoor play, particularly in the spring and fall when pollen levels are high.
  • Stress and emotions are major triggers. Never underestimate even a young baby’s ability to react to a stressful environment.

Exercise-induced asthma

  • If you’re prone to wheezing while exercising, don’t just assume you’re unfit. You may be suffering from exercise induced asthma.
  • Avoid intense exertion in cold, dry conditions. Asthmatics should try to avoid participation in winter sports, e.g. skiing, vigorous ice skating and ice hockey.
  • Outdoor sports involving sustained exertion, such as football or long-distance running, are less suitable sports than those involving short bursts of exertion.
  • Consider activities that are more leisurely paced.

Controlling Factors That Trigger Asthma Attacks

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This following article discusses the symptoms of asthma and the wide range of triggers that can provoke an attack. It offers practical advice on how to identify and control triggers in the home, the workplace, and the general environment. Guidelines concerning how to enhance indoor air quality are provided.

Taking Control

Asthmatic bronchitis is on the increase. Experts conclude that the increase is due to worsening atmospheric pollution and increasing allergens. Even more worrisome is the number of new cases in infants being diagnosed daily. Childhood and infant asthma affects and estimated ten percent of children in the Western hemisphere.

These statistics are indeed a cause for concern for both parents and the medical profession.

Although medication and treatment are becoming increasingly targeted and specific to help manage these alarming trends, asthmatics and parents of affected children can do much to control the numerous triggers that exist in our everyday environment.

The Key to Management

It is estimated that approximately 5% of adults and 10% of children suffer from the asthma.

Asthma triggers are everywhere in our environment: indoors, outdoors and in the very air we breathe. Identifying triggers, however, is not always simple. It usually involves a process of elimination. An excellent starting point is a discussion with your doctor. Ask for guidance. Your doctor may recommend a skin test for allergies. To assist your doctor, keep a personal medical diary to record the details of instances when your symptoms become particularly aggravated. It might be simple things like coming into a smoky or dusty environment or exercising outdoors in the cold air.

But first things first: learn to recognize the general symptoms of asthma caused by exposure to such triggers.

Typical symptoms include:

  • Breathlessness
  • The tightness of the chest (often painless)
  • Wheezing (loudness varies from almost inaudible to very loud)
  • Sweating, increased pulse rate and anxiety (more pronounced in severe cases)
  • Bluish tint to face and lips (cyanosis) in acute attacks
  • A cough (due to the accumulation of phlegm—sputum—in the lungs).

What is a trigger

A trigger is any material or situation which provokes a reaction in the respiratory tract, thus “triggering” an attack. Anyone who already has asthma or exhibits allergic symptoms of asthma is particularly sensitive to such triggers.

Recognizing Infant Asthma

Identifying symptoms and triggers in infant asthma is not as straightforward as it is for teens and adults. Sometimes the symptoms are masked so a parent might be unaware that the child has asthma. Parents can easily misdiagnose the symptoms as merely “a bit of a wheeze.”

The sobering reality is that the majority of infants who die from asthma do so because their parents have failed to identify the seriousness of their condition.

Learn to distinguish between the symptoms of a common cold and those of severe asthmatic bronchitis in your infant. Persistent hacking or a congested cough, with or without wheezing, can sometimes indicate the onset of asthmatic bronchitis in newborns. Much better to be secure than sorry: if uncertain, consult your child’s pediatrician.