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Dust Mites - Animal Dander -
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Molds That Come Indoors - Smoke & Fumes -General Maintenance
Certain things in our environment can trigger asthma flare-ups. You can learn how to avoid or
lessen exposure to your triggers.
Most triggers can be divided into three groups: allergens, irritants, and
Allergens are organic substances that trigger over reactions of the immune system in people who
have a hereditary tendency toward allergies (including allergic asthma). The most common allergens
are the proteins in plant pollens, mold spores, dust mite droppings, animal dander, cockroaches,
and latex. Foods generally do not trigger asthma alone, although respiratory symptoms may be
part of a food allergy reaction that can also include hives, swelling, eczema, diarrhea,
vomiting and loss of consciousness.
How Can You Control Allergens?
- Identify your allergens. Each individual can be allergic to a
different allergen or group of allergens. Allergy tests can identify
the ones that are a problem for you (or your child), along with a
physical examination and careful medical history discussed with your
- Learn how to control triggers both at home and away from home Set
Dust mites are microscopic bugs related to ticks and spiders. They eat
dead skin that people shed every day and prefer warm
humid environments. Dust mites live mostly in mattresses, pillows, carpets,
bedding, stuffed toys, and fabric-covered furniture. Dust mite droppings
are the most allergenic part.
How Can You Avoid Dust Mites?
- Wash sheets, blankets and comforters once a week in hot water and dry in a
clothes dryer. This applies to bedding at day care as well as at home.
- Use allergy-proof mattress and pillow encasings (or pillows that can
be washed and tumble-dried weekly).
- Keep the humidity low, between 30% and 50%.
- Avoid stuffed animals except for ones that can be
thoroughly washed in hot water and tumble-dried.
- Avoid dust collectors. Store books and toys in enclosed book cases or toy chests.
Do not use drapes and fabric hangings, other than light curtains that can
be washed regularly in hot water.
- If rugs or carpets must be used, vacuum frequently (every day or two) with a vacuum
that has a HEPA filter or uses double-layer dust bags.
Through allergy tests and discussions with your doctor, determine the pets to which you are
allergic. Some people, for instance, may be allergic to cats, but not to dogs, birds, mice, rats or
guinea pigs. Others may be allergic to all or several of them. All pets can cause allergies, no
matter what size, what breed, or how long their hair is, or whether they shed. The asthma trigger
(the sticky dander) is found in the animal's skin flakes, saliva, and urine (which dries, floats
through the air, and attaches to everything from floors to ceilings, clothing and furniture).
Dander can stay around for months after a pet has gone.
How Can You Avoid Animal Dander?
- The best method of avoidance is to find a new home for any pet
causing allergies in your family or child care setting.
- The next best method of control is to keep the pet outdoors and wash it
- Avoid feather-stuffed furnishings, pillows, and toys.
- Animal dander left by a previous pet is very difficult to remove
without thorough cleaning.
Indoor mold and mildew spores grow in damp and humid places such as bathrooms, kitchens,
and basements. They can also be found in old books. The best way to control mold is to control
moisture and humidity.
How Can You Avoid Mold?
- Any damp surface where molds can grow - refrigerator drip pans,
shower stalls and curtains, damp areas under sinks and around toilets -
should be cleaned weekly with a weak bleach solution.
- Use exhaust fans or open windows in kitchens, bathrooms, and basements when showering,
cooking, cleaning or using the dishwasher.
- Fix leaky plumbing or other sources of moisture.
- Check periodically for leaks and areas of standing water.
- Absorbent moldy materials, such as ceiling tiles or
carpets, may need to be replaced.
- Never lay carpeting on concrete floors or in damp areas like basements
or bathrooms. It is almost impossible to keep these carpets dry.
- Maintain low indoor humidity, ideally between 30% and 50%, as measured by a
humidity gauge (hygrometer) that can be purchased at a hardware store. If you
use a dehumidifier (to take moisture out of the air), be sure to empty and clean
the machine regularly.
- Do not use a humidifier (which puts moisture into the air).
- Keep air conditioner filters clean and dry.
- Vent clothes dryers to the outside.
Pests (cockroaches, mice, or rats)
- Do not leave food or garbage out. Quickly clean up all food crumbs
or spilled liquids.
- Store food in airtight containers.
- Throw away piles of paper where pests hide.
- Plug up cracks and holes in walls, floors and ceilings, where rats and
roaches can get in.
- Try using poison baits, boric acid (for cockroaches), or traps before using
- If these steps are not enough, limit any spraying to
infested areas, carefully follow instructions on the label, make sure
there is plenty of fresh air when you spray, and keep the person with
asthma out of the room.
- In some people latex can trigger an asthmatic reaction. They need to avoid exposure
to latex (such as latex gloves and balloons).
Outdoor allergens can follow you home and become indoor allergens.
- Identify, through testing, which pollens affect you. Learn
when they are in season (e.g., in New England, tree and grass pollens come
in the spring; ragweed grows from mid-August to the first frost; molds grow on wet piles of leaves and compost).
- During your pollen season, or moldy times, keep windows closed and
use a clean air conditioner instead for air circulation.
- Wash hair and shower nightly to remove pollens brought in from the outside. Wash
pollens off clothes. Don't hang laundry outside to dry.
- Check pollen counts to see
if it may be a bad time for you.
IRRITANTS - SMOKE AND FUMES
Irritants aggravate the inflammation in the airways that is characteristic of asthma. Below is a
list of common irritants, and ways to avoid or control them:
- Smoke from cigarettes, wood fires and charcoal grills:
- These irritants should be avoided. Tobacco smoke is the most
preventable trigger of asthma. Smoking is dangerous to everyone - the
person smoking and those who breathe in secondhand smoke. Don't smoke
and don't allow smoking in your home, car, or child care setting.
Children of mothers who smoke are twice as likely to develop
- Fumes and odors from household cleaners, paint, perfumes, cosmetics, and gasoline:
- Whenever possible, choose products without fumes, labeled "fragrance-free."
- Instead of spraying products into the air, use them to wet a cloth for
cleaning. Use a plain cloth dampened with water alone, whenever possible.
- Avoid newly painted areas and construction areas until they are dry and
free of odors and dust.
- Use a face mask to avoid breathing in fumes that can't be avoided.
- Fumes and air pollution from outside:
- Avoid having cars, trucks, or buses idle where fumes can be drawn in through air intake
vents or open windows.
- Stay indoors as much as possible on high ozone days.
- Support efforts to retrofit or eliminate diesel buses.
Respiratory infections and colds can trigger asthma. Try to control the spread of infections
through frequent hand-washing and wiping frequently touched surfaces (such as faucets) with a
mild bleach solution rather than disinfectant sprays. People with respiratory conditions are
generally advised to get flu shots, unless they are allergic to eggs. Ask your doctor how to adjust
your medications to deal with infections.
- Use a vacuum cleaner with a high efficiency ("HEPA") filter or
double-layer dust bags. (Other vacuums blow tiny dust particles back into
- Dust often, with a damp cloth, to avoid stirring up the
- If you have a forced air system, use a HEPA or electrostatic
filter for your furnace. Clean or replace furnace filters often. You can
also cover duct vents with filters.
- Air cleaning machines can remove
smoke and odors, but not heavier particles that do not stay "airborne."
It is important to try to avoid the things that produce airborne triggers.
- Cold air, humidity and sudden weather changes:
- Plan outdoor activities to avoid your triggers when possible.
- Use a mask or scarf over your nose and mouth to avoid cold air.
- Exercise and activities that make you breathe harder or take in cold air quickly, if your
asthma is not under control (such as laughing, yelling, and crying):
- Learn warm-up activities that warm the air you breathe in.
- Exercise is important for general health and fitness.
Pre-medication before exercise helps people with exercise-induced asthma.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
- More extensive information about asthma and allergies can be found on our national
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency - www.epa.gov/iaq.
Visit this website for more information about controlling asthma triggers at home, school and child