Struggling to breathe or watching a loved one gasping for breath is a troubling situation. Unfortunately, these days, asthma is very common, especially in children. The allergens and toxins in the air we breathe is a major reason for increasing incidence of respiratory problems. Surprisingly, the problem is often worse indoors than in the open. It may be impossible to eliminate contaminants from your home, but there are things that you can do to make a huge improvement.
1. Reduce your VOC exposure to help minimize asthma risk
Volatile organic compounds or VOCs are used as solvents in finishes such as paints, polishes, sealers and other coatings. They off-gas toxic chemicals like formaldehyde, which irritate the respiratory tract. Whenever you buy coatings or adhesives, insist on low VOC or VOC free products. Use water-based sealers and glues instead of solvent based products.
2. Remove or contain lead and asbestos
If your home was constructed before the 80s, you can’t rule out the use of lead-based paints or asbestos. Have your home checked by an expert. If lead or asbestos is present, the expert will recommend the best course of action. Lead or asbestos removal has to be done by an expert. For safety reasons, it may become necessary to vacate the home during the process. It may also be possible to contain lead and asbestos instead of removing it.
3. Replace carpets with bamboo flooring
Carpets gather dust and skin flakes. They provide the ideal environment for dust mites. Carpets tend to accumulate dirt from footwear and they are difficult to clean. Glues used for installing carpets are often VOC based. If someone at home has allergy or asthma, get rid of carpets.
Bamboo flooring is tough and durable and it is a far better alternative to carpets. Unlike carpets and compared to other types of wooden floors, bamboo flooring is very easy to clean. Bamboo countertops are also available in many attractive styles and patterns, and they can do without VOC-based finishes.
4. Get outdoor wooden structures tested for arsenic
Outdoor wooden structures like decks made before 2006 may contain CCA, an arsenic-based insecticide, to prevent rot and insect damage. Arsenic is a carcinogen and was banned by the EPA in 2004. If wooden structures test positive for arsenic, replacement is the best option. If that is too expensive or infeasible, it can be contained by coating the wood periodically with penetrative sealers.
5. Ensure adequate ventilation to help minimize asthma risk
If you live in a region where summers or winters are severe, your home is likely to have a tight envelop. This gives good isolation between indoor and outdoor air and reduces heating and cooling costs. Unfortunately, it also prevents stale air from leaving the home. Ventilation is essential for good indoor air quality. If someone at home has asthma, good ventilation can make a huge difference.
When the weather is pleasant, keep the windows open to encourage ventilation. Install a ventilation system to ensure good ventilation during extreme weather.
6. Replace drywall with gypsum panels
Gypsum panels are better than standard drywall. They are moisture resistant and have special coating to prevent moisture and discourage mold growth. Mold spores are common asthma triggers. Gypsum panels also offer superior fire resistance.
7. Install a central vacuum system
Central vacuum systems are better at removing dust and dirt and for most homes, installing them is not difficult.
8. Install carbon monoxide detectors
Carbon monoxide is a colorless and odorless gas that is formed due to incomplete combustion due to lack of oxygen. Gas stoves and furnaces are potential sources of carbon monoxide. The poisonous gas irreversibly affects the ability of blood to carry oxygen. When inhaled in large amounts, it is usually fatal. Get carbon monoxide detectors and alarms installed in all areas of your home, especially in and around bedrooms. Get the chimney regularly serviced and checked for obstructions. Keep the kitchen well ventilated.
9. If you have a fireplace, upgrade it
If someone at home has asthma, don’t use a wood-burning fireplace. Irrespective of the fuel used, smoke, fumes, gases and carbon particles from fireplaces can trigger asthma attacks or make them worse. Upgrading the fireplace with one that uses a sealed combustion gas unit will solve the problem to a great extent. They don’t vent gases into your home.
10. Use organic products for landscaping
Artificial fertilizers and pesticides will eventually find their way into your home. Use natural pesticides and compost for landscaping and kitchen gardens. If you must use toxic pesticides, take extra precautions and avoid storing them at home. Clean your hands thoroughly after handling fertilizers or pesticides.
11. Use a good vacuum cleaner
Use a vacuum cleaner with HEPA filters. Vacuum regularly to remove dust, pollen and other particles that accumulate on surfaces. Corners and invisible areas tend to accumulate dust. Use special attachments to remove dust from otherwise unreachable gaps and crevices.
12. Install a media air cleaner
Whatever you do, dust, pollen, germs and other contaminants are unavoidable. To keep them in check, install a media based air cleaner. Avoid electrostatic type air cleaners because they may produce ozone. An air cleaner with a suitable MERV rating that can be integrated with your HVAC system is the best option. Using a good air cleaner will greatly reduce the incidence of asthma attacks and other problems like bronchitis, flu and allergy.
Check with your HVAC contractor to find the right filter for your HVAC system. Fine filters restrict airflow and using an incompatible filter may damage your HVAC system or result in energy wastage. Filters clog up with use and must be changed periodically. A dirty filter will be counterproductive, so remember to change them in time. When it comes to filter life, go by the manufacturer’s instructions and the advice of your HVAC contractor. There is no benefit in changing filters frequently. Most MERV filters reach their peak efficiency towards the middle of their estimated lifespan.
13. Install a whole-home humidifier
Low humidity is a problem during the dry winter months. The dry air causes dry skin, eye irritation, respiratory tract irritation and other problems like static electricity. A whole-home humidifier with an automatic humidity regulator is the best solution. They calculate the optimum humidity after taking both the inside and outside temperature into consideration. This allows adequate humidity without the risk of condensation. Whole-home humidifiers can be integrated with the HVAC system. Consumables like the water panel (if applicable) should be changed according to manufacturer’s recommendations.
14. Check and fix seepage
Seepage and wet walls encourage mold growth. If you have a seepage problem, find the cause and get it fixed. Ensure that gutters and spouts are in good shape and they keep rainwater away from the walls and foundations of your home.
Asthma is a lung disease. It causes people to wheeze, cough, be short of breath, and sometimes even die. People with asthma can suffer from frequent periods of difficulty breathing called “asthma attacks.” During an attack, the airways swell, the muscles around them tighten, and the airways produce thick yellow mucous. An estimated 20 million Americans suffer from asthma (1 in 15 Americans), and 62% of asthma cases are “allergic-asthma.” The prevalence of asthma has been increasing since the early 1980s across all age, sex and racial groups.
- Asthma is the most common chronic condition among children.
- Asthma is more common among adult women than adult men.
- Asthma is more common among male children than female children.
- Asthma is more common among children (7 to 10%) than adults (3 to 5%).
- Nearly 5 million asthma sufferers are under age 18. It is the most common chronic childhood disease, affecting more than one child in 20.
- Asthma is slightly more prevalent among African Americans than Caucasians.
A number of factors are thought to increase your chances of developing asthma. These include:
- Having a blood relative (such as a parent or sibling) with asthma
- Having another allergic condition, such as atopic dermatitis or allergic rhinitis (hay fever)
- Being overweight
- Being a smoker
- Exposure to secondhand smoke
- Exposure to exhaust fumes or other types of pollution
- Exposure to occupational triggers, such as chemicals used in farming, hairdressing and manufacturing
Improving indoor air quality and removing toxic materials from your home will reduce the risk of asthma and other health problems. There are many things that you can do to fix indoor air quality issues without a lot of renovation or investment. Even minor improvements can make a big difference to an asthma sufferer in the long run.