- Ventilation is crucial.
"The building of tightly-sealed houses over the last two decades has made it much easier for moisture and dust to collect in homes," Harvard professor Dr. Douglas Dockery notes. Many vapors trapped indoors, from perfumes and air fresheners to formaldehyde from particleboard, irritate asthmatics. When it’s fresh or even cold outside, keep windows open a crack to circulate air. On hot days, close windows and use air conditioners to ventilate and filter out smog.
- Don’t harbor dust mites.
Microscopic dust mites and their droppings are a potent allergen and asthma trigger. One of the best ways to limit the amount of dust mites in your homes are to encase mattresses with impermeable covers.
- Eradicate cockroaches and keep clutter to a minimum.
Piles of dirty clothes make a growth environment for mildews and mites; piles of paper attract cockroaches. Remember, you can eliminate household pests without using toxic pesticides.
- Maintain humidity below 50 percent.
"Dehumidifying is enormously important, as many asthmatics are highly allergic to mildews and molds," says Harriet Burge, Ph.D., associate professor at Harvard School of Public Health.
- Minimize pet dander.
"Cat dander is everywhere, even if you wash the cat," Centers for Disease Control Dr. Ruth Etzel says. "The only real solution is not to have the cat." Or, wash every two to three weeks, Los Angeles pediatrician Harvey Karp advises.
- No cigarette smoking in the home or car, or anywhere in asthmatics’ presence.
Furnace and heating duct filters should be replaced periodically as they collect dust and molds. Some businesses provide duct-cleaning services.
- Keep asthmatics away from gas stoves.
"Open the oven door and you get a blast of NO2," says University of British Columbia professor emeritus Dr. David Bates. "The asthmatic child should not sit in the kitchen doing homework if the oven is being used." Make sure that stoves are well-ventilated, too.
- Ask your pediatrician about allergenic foods.
If there is a family tendency to allergy, Dr. Ruth Etzel from the Centers for Disease Control says, parents might limit foods associated with allergies, such as cow’s milk, from the child’s diet in the first two years. She and other pediatricians recommend that mothers try to breastfeed their infants for at least the first year.
- Check your local air quality index daily.
Asthmatic children should not exert themselves outside in hot, smoggy weather, or when a dusty wind blows; smog counts tend to be highest between 3pm and 6pm. Air Now, a site provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, allows you to check your local air quality, get ozone maps and more.
- Try air cleaning and purifying machines.
Consumer Reports says a good air cleaner can help those allergic to dust and mold spores, citing the fan/filter models as most effective in removing airborne dust. The machine will help most in the asthmatic’s bedroom; but keep it at least six feet from the bed (it creates draft), and don’t place on carpet (it can kick up dust). But, "They can only help if you’ve gotten rid of the risk factors first, like dust mites, mold and danders," Harvard School of Public Health associate professor Dr. Harriet Burge warns. Warning: many asthmatics experience irritation from the ozone type of air purifier.