Asthma rates have been on the rise for some time - in 2009 nearly 1 in 12 Americans were diagnosed with the long-term inflammatory disease that restricts airways and makes it difficult to breathe.
Other symptoms include coughing, wheezing and chest tightness, and these often get worse when the patient is also fighting a common cold or flu.
Asthma affects people of all ages, but especially children: Up to 10% of children are diagnosed with childhood asthma. Many will grow out of it, but the disease and treatment may impair their lung function and other growth factors in the long term.
While there are medications to help control asthma, medical experts stress the importance of the environment on asthma. Here are five ways to reduce the risk of asthma attacks:
- Improve indoor air quality. A good breathing environment is one of the most important ways to minimize exposure to potential triggers.
Indoor air has been shown to be 5 times worse than outdoor air, so take special care to improve IAQ. Ventilation is important, as well as opening windows regularly (the best times to do so may surprise you - air quality is best on rainy days, for example. Modern apps or localized weather services make this information available in real time).
Air pollution, pollen, tobacco smoke, pet dander, dust mites, perfumes and harsh chemicals have all been identified as common asthma triggers. Avoid them as much as possible.
Clean the home regularly and get rid of materials that can harbor allergens and asthmagens (such as carpets).
- Become a healthier you. A healthier lifestyle could be one of the keys to control asthma in the home. Instead of the same old cleaning products, use natural cleaning products such as vinegar and baking soda. Avoid scented products in the home, including air fresheners and scented laundry detergent.
Stay active and encourage physical activity in asthma patients (but be careful - strenuous exercise or physical activity in cold weather could trigger an asthma attack).
Switch from fatty fast foods and prepared foods to healthier, whole foods prepared at home. Focus on superfoods such as avocado, apples, chia seeds and turmeric to harvest their natural ability to strengthen the immune system and provide a health boost.
- Focus on the bedroom. The bedroom is where children and adults spend a lot of time, so this area of the house requires some extra care. Dust mites are a big concern when it comes to triggering asthma attacks, so experts recommend encasing the mattresses and pillows with dust-proof covers. Keep pets out of the bedrooms, especially cats and dogs, since pet dander is another common trigger, and keep the bedroom clean and tidy. Instead of carpets, go for hardwood floors or tiles in the bedroom, which are easier to keep dust-free. An air purifier helps to remove airborne contaminants that can cause inflammation of the airways. Good quality sleep also helps those suffering from asthma.
- Have a written asthma plan. It will help those suffering from symptoms or those taking care of the patient deal with an attack without panicking.
A typical asthma plan spells out the green, yellow and red zone symptoms, controlling medications, the name of the doctor and other pertinent facts. Also, regular checkups with the doctor may help, even if asthma seems to be under control.
- Use the right tools. An environmental home assessment can pinpoint problem areas in the home, and good source control, ventilation and air purification can improve the indoor air quality significantly.
Use a monitor to keep track of the humidity levels in the home and make sure it’s in the 30-50% range. High humidity can lead to mold growth, another asthma trigger.
A well-maintained HVAC system with filters has been shown to help control indoor air pollution, and a high-quality air purifier, dehumidifier or conversely a cold-mist humidifier can all do their part to provide a healthier indoor air environment.
There are even certain plants that help purify the air. According to David Suzuki, these include Spider plants, Peace lilies, Snake plants (aka mother-in-law's tongue), Elephant ears, Weeping figs, Rubber plants and Bamboo palms (aka reed palm).