Asthma and Other Respiratory Irritants
Asthma in children is the leading chronic illness in the United
States. Environmental pollutants commonly trigger asthma attacks in children
who have a genetic or acquired predisposition to the disease. Children are
particularly susceptible to air pollutants because they breathe a greater
volume of air relative to their body weight.
Indoor Air Pollutants
Poor indoor air quality has been linked with asthma symptoms,
as well as with other respiratory problems in children, such as increased
frequency of respiratory infections, bronchitis, and pneumonia.
Indoor air pollutants can be described as:
- animal dander
- cat saliva
- dust mites
- tobacco smoke
There are many sources of pollutants, both indoor and outdoor.
Pollen originates from plants; dust mites, cockroaches; people and animals
transmit viruses; people, animals, soil, and plant debris carry bacteria;
and pets are sources of saliva, animal dander, and dung. In addition, the
protein in urine from rats and mice is a potent allergen. When it dries, it
can become airborne.
Central air handling systems are a potential breeding ground
for mold, mildew, and other sources of pollutants. These ventilation system
may distribute pollutants throughout the home. Drapery, bedding, and other
places where dust collects can also harbor these contaminants.
Controlling the humidity level in a home can minimize the growth
of some sources of pollutants. Standing water, water-damaged materials, or
wet surfaces also serve as breeding ground for mold, mildew, bacteria, and
insects. Dust mites are one of the most powerful biological allergens and
can exist anywhere.
Asthma is described as a narrowing of the airways in the lungs
that causes difficulty in breathing. Some pollutants release disease-causing
toxins and can trigger asthma attacks and other allergic reactions, including
allergic rhinitis (an inflammatory response in the nasal passages--symptoms
may include nasal congestion, sneezing, or a runny or itchy nose) and hypersensitivity
pneumonitis (a lung disease caused by exposure to a variety of inhaled agents).
Symptoms of allergic reactions to mold and mildew may include sneezing, watery
eyes, coughing, shortness of breath, dizziness, lethargy, fever, and digestive
Some studies suggest that exposure to passive smoking is responsible
for 150,000 to 300,000 annual lower respiratory tract in 7,500 to 15,000 hospitalizations
in the United States each year. Second-hand tobacco smoke has been found to
have multiple health effects on children, including increased risk for:
- lower repiratory tract infections, such as pneumonia and bronchitis
- reduced lung function and symptoms of respiratory irritation, such as
coughing, excess phlegm, and wheezing
- middle ear fluid build-up
- asthmatic symptoms
You should CONSIDER:
- Never smoke around children, especially where children play.
If you need to smoke, smoke outside away from children and never smoke
in a vehicle when children are present.
- Ensure that your air ventilation system is clean. A well-designed
ventilation system that is properly maintained and operated, in most cases,
takes care of normal amounts of air pollutants automatically. Install
new air filters quarterly, make sure that drain pans are clean and slant
toward the drain and ensure that air handling units are clean.
- Prevent moisture build-up. Ventilate the attic and crawl spaces
to prevent moisture build-up. Control humidity levels to prevent condensation
on your windows, and dust mite activity. Thermometers purchased at hardware
stores that measure temperature, humidity, and barometric pressure will
help you monitor the humidity level. When the humidity is high, close
windows and use air conditioner and/or humidifier.
- Clean humidifiers. If using cool mist or ultrasonic humidifiers,
clean the appliance according to manufacturer's instructions. Refill with
fresh water daily. Because humidifers can become breeding grounds for
mold, mildew and bacteria, evaporation trays in air conditioners, dehumidifers,
and refrigerators should be cleaned frequently.
- Clean or remove water damage. Water-damaged carpets and building
materials can harbor mold and bacteria. It is very difficult to completely
rid such materials of pollutants. Thoroughly clean and dry water-damaged
carpets and building materials (within 24 hours if possible) or consider
removal and replacement. Always replace carpet padding if carpets have
not dried within 24 hours.
- Keep your home clean. Dust mites, pollen, animal dander, and
other allergy-causing agents can be reduced, although not eliminated,
through regular cleaning.
- Do not vacuum or sweep when children are in the home. Vacuuming
actually can increase airborne levels of allergens and other pollutants.
Central vacuum systems vented to the outdoors or vacuums with high-efficiency
filters (HEPA filters) are helpful in deterring airborne dust.
- Run water through unused floor drains and sinks. Sewer gas is
a build-up of a variety of chemicals, such as hydrogen sulfide, ammonia,
and methane. Sewer gas may emit when drains are dry. Sewer gas can cause
eye irritation, respiratory tract problems, dizziness, headaches, and
nausea. Prevent sewer gas build-up and emissions by pouring a gallon of
bleach water solution down drains not routinely used. Use approximately
one teaspoon of bleach per gallon of water. If there is a severe odor,
use a 10% bleach solution.
- Limit the number of indoor plants. Although indoor plants are
not a major source of mold spores, it is recommended to limit the number
of houseplants because molds can grow in the dirt, and children may be
allergic to the pollen in flowering plants.
- Remove animals with long hair. Removing animals from a home can
be an emotional issue, but many children are allergic to animal dander.
Children's Environmental Health