Boosting Air Quality 'Helps Control Kids' Asthma'

Peter Russell

November 02, 2016

Children with asthma should not be exposed to indoor air that's contaminated with allergens and pollutants to reduce their risk of asthma attacks.

A clinical report from the American Academy of Pediatrics says breathing clean air can be as effective as medications taken to control the disease.

Asthma is one of the most common long-term conditions affecting children. There are currently 1.1 million children in the UK receiving treatment for asthma – that's 1 in 11 children.

Children 'More Exposed'

The US report says children may be more sensitive to allergens and pollutants than adults. This could be because the structure of their airways means they may be exposed to larger doses of airborne pollutants or because they spend more time on the floor where substances collect.

The report suggests that doctors and nurses should ask parents whether their child is exposed to a wide range of asthma triggers. These include:

· Dust mites and mould, both of which are more common in environments where humidity is high. The report says an estimated 30% to 62% of children with persistent asthma are allergic to dust mites. Also, children exposed to indoor mould appear to be at greater risk of having an asthma attack.

· Furry pets. Between 25% and 65% of children with persistent asthma are allergic to cats and dogs, according to the report. Allergens from these pets – mainly cats and dogs – stick to clothing, walls and furniture. When the allergens stick to clothing, they can then be transported to other places, such as the school classroom.

· Presence or evidence of pests such as cockroaches and rodents, which may be associated with higher levels of social deprivation.

· Sources of indoor air pollution, such as breathing in second-hand tobacco smoke or from gas cookers and heaters, wood-burning stoves, open fires, smoking cannabis and vapours from e-cigarettes.

· Household chemicals, such as those found in air fresheners and cleaning agents, which can be respiratory irritants and trigger asthma symptoms.

Cutting Down on Pollutants

Commenting in a statement, Dr Elizabeth Matsui, who led the study, says: "We know that targeting all exposures that can trigger a child's asthma is more likely to be successful and result in significant improvement than targeting only 1 or 2 of them, and can help reduce asthma attacks and the need for medication."

The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organisation of 66,000 health professionals who specialise in well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults.

Asthma UK says there are plenty of steps that people can take to cut the number of allergens and pollutants in their homes. Experts from the charity say people should consider:

· Making sure that chimneys and flues from wood-burning stoves and open fires are swept regularly so that smoke and fine particles can escape properly

· Buying second-hand furniture, because a chemical called formaldehyde is sometimes used in the manufacture of new furniture. The chemical, which is also found in some new carpets, shelving and bedding has been linked to asthma.

· Keeping rooms well aired when you bring new furniture into your home or have new carpets laid.

· Consider buying feather bedding instead of synthetic bedding, although be aware than some people say their asthma gets worse if they sleep under a feather duvet

· Avoiding cleaning products such as furniture polish, air fresheners, carpet cleaners and oven cleaners that contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These products delivered by spray are more likely to trigger asthma symptoms than solid or liquid products.

· When decorating, opt for paints that are low in VOCs. Water-based gloss paints may be better for people with asthma

· Open windows or use extractor fans to reduce humidity. Better ventilation helps get rid of gases produced from heating and cooking and means fewer house dust mites and mould spores.

Cut Out Passive Smoking

Dr Andy Whittamore, Asthma UK's in-house GP, says in an emailed comment: "A cornerstone of good asthma management is to identify which of these allergens are a trigger for you and reduce their impact. The problem is, whereas many triggers are largely avoidable, such as animals, others including house dust mites are notoriously difficult to reduce to levels that would make a difference to someone’s asthma. And as soon as you step outside and go to work for example, you’ll be exposed to many of them again.

"This is why it is vital that people continue to take their asthma medication as prescribed, particularly their preventer inhaler which builds up protection over time.

'If removing allergens from your home reduces your asthma symptoms, you can talk to your GP about potentially reducing your medication, but this should never be done without professional medical guidance.

"There is an asthma trigger you can remove completely from your home with ease - second-hand tobacco smoke. There are many health reasons not to smoke around children, one of which is it could trigger a potentially life-threatening asthma attack."

SOURCES:

Indoor Environmental Control Practices and Asthma Management, E Matsui et al, American Academy of Pediatrics

Press release, American Academy of Pediatrics

Asthma UK

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