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Asthma and the Home

This article, courtesy of

This article explains what asthmatics need to know about modern homes. Air pollution, exposure to and the eating of processed foods, central heating systems, double-glazed windows help make an ideal breeding situation for dust mites. These environmental concerns are thought to be major contributing factors to the increasing number of asthma cases in the world today

Asthma is a chronic respiratory disease, often arising from allergies, that is characterized by sudden recurring attacks of labored breathing, chest constriction, and coughing. There is currently no cure available for asthma.

However, new discoveries in the medical research field are improving the medications and techniques used to monitor and treat asthma in patients with the disease.

Aspects of modern homes--air pollution, exposure to and the eating of processed foods, central heating systems, double-glazed windows--help make an ideal breeding situation for dust mites. These environmental concerns are thought to be major contributing factors to the increasing number of asthma cases in the world today.

They also contribute to the severity of asthma cases, and the number of attacks suffered by an individual patient.

Different materials within the home may trigger attacks or irritate symptoms in asthma patients:

House-Dust Mites

It is the droppings of these tiny insects the trigger asthma symptoms, and not the insect itself. They frequently live inside of bedding, soft furnishings, and stuffed toys--in addition to in the fiber of carpet. 

If a patient has a known problem with dust-mites, doing the following might alleviate some of the resulting symptoms:

  • Frequently dust all surfaces in the home; even consider using an attachment for the vacuum cleaner.

  • Leave floors uncarpeted.

  • Use plastic or other forms of coverings mattress, duvet cover and pillows.
  • Use a dehumidifier; this makes it nearly impossible for house-dust mites to survive.
  • Vacuum frequently. Use a good vacuum cleaner with a heap filter that does not scatter dust into the air. Better, ask someone else to vacuum while you stay out of the room.
  • Do not use stuffed animals in the home.
  • Use hot water (60 degrees C) when laundering sheets, duvet covers, and even pillowcases--at least weekly.

Carpets and Furnishings

Carpets can contain formaldehyde gas from the manufacturing process.  If you are buying a new carpet, request that the carpet be unrolled and aired out before bringing it home. 

People with latex allergies should never purchase carpet that has a foam underlay.

For the same reasons as above, if purchasing new furniture it is advisable to air the furniture in the garage for a few days (if possible) before moving it into the living space within the house.

Asthmatics with pet dander allergies should ensure that the interior of a newly purchased home is cleaned entirely prior to their moving in. Removing as much as possible of the allergen reduces the risk of symptoms and asthma attacks. 

Cleaning, decorating, building work, and repairs

Chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOC) can be irritants and triggers for asthmatics.  Many household cleaning products, glues and other items contain VOCs. 

The EPA gives the following information about VOCs on their website,


Volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids. VOCs include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short- and long-term adverse health effects. Concentrations of many VOCs are consistently higher indoors (up to ten times higher) than outdoors.  VOCs are emitted by a wide array of products numbering in the thousands. Examples include: paints and lacquers, paint strippers, cleaning supplies, pesticides, building materials and furnishings, office equipment such as copiers and printers, correction fluids and carbonless copy paper, graphics and craft materials including glues and adhesives, permanent markers, and photographic solutions.

Organic chemicals are widely used as ingredients in household products. Paints, varnishes, and wax all contain organic solvents, as do many cleaning, disinfecting, cosmetic, degreasing, and hobby products. Fuels are made up of organic chemicals. All of these products can release organic compounds while you are using them, and, to some degree, when they are stored.


A brief list of household objects and chemicals that can have VOCs as part  of their construction includes furniture polish, air fresheners, and carpet cleaners in liquid spray form. Using solid or liquid alternatives is recommended, along with ensuring proper ventilation.

Decorating: To date, there has been little medical research on the many chemicals used in renovating or decorating a home.

Wet paint might irritate the air passages of an asthmatic

Steps for avoiding exposure to harmful household chemicals of all sorts, particularly those containing VOCs are:

  • Increasing ventilation.

  • Not storing opened containers of unused paints and similar materials inside the house.

  • Seal where necessary. Most chemicals are made in such a way that the levels of VOCs cannot be accurately measured. Formaldehyde can be measured, however. If the chemical cannot be removed from the home, it is important to apply a sealant on all affected and exposed surfaces.

Pest repellants are another common source of chemical irritation. These pest management methods that allow homeowners the ability to reduce the dependency on pesticides.

  • Use household products according to manufacturer's directions.

  • Make sure you provide plenty of fresh air when using these products.

  • Throw away unused or little-used containers safely; buy in quantities that you will use soon.

  • Keep out of reach of children and pets.

  • Never mix household care products unless directed on the label.


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