Asthma: Bad News and Good News

Claudette Reichel  |  3/15/2005 8:05:47 AM

The bad news: Asthma is an American epidemic. The health and economic consequences of asthma are substantial, including:

  • 5,000 deaths per year
  • 470,000 hospitalizations
  • 100 million days of restricted activity
  • $7 to $9 billion a year is direct and indirect costs
  • 10 million missed school days per year

The good news: Almost all people with asthma can lead normal lives with the right treatments. Control of asthma can be accomplished through management of environmental triggers and medications.

Asthma is different from most other illnesses. There are many medications to treat this disease. There is not one “best” medication for everyone, which means that it is important for the patient to actively work with the doctor and report the effectiveness of a particular medication.

Likewise, the asthma sufferer or caregiver must become an “asthma detective.” He or she should keep track of the conditions and situations that are present when an attack occurs. Identifying common patterns with an awareness of potential links will point to asthma “triggers” that could allow the patient additional control over this disease.

Asthma is a disease that makes it difficult to breathe during an attack. Asthma attacks are set off by triggers,which are different for different people.

The residue of dust mites and cockroaches commonly trigger asthma attacks. For many, asthma attacks are triggered by a variety of allergens and irritants like tobacco smoke, dust, animal dander, pollen, and mold. For some asthma sufferers, triggers can be cold air, exercise or even emotional upsets.

Dust mites thrive in bedding, so dust mite-proof mattresses and pillow covers are a good investment. Dust mites too small to see can live in many other places, including carpeting, upholstered furniture and stuffed toys. Regular cleaning is helpful, but the most effective prevention is to keep the indoor relative humidity (RH) at 50% or lower. Dust mites need higher humidity to reproduce. If air conditioning, the use of bathroom exhaust fans, kitchen exhaust fans and other humidity control strategies don’t keep the RH that low. A dehumidifier may prove to be helpful.

Mold problems are also avoided by humidity and moisture control. Fix leaks and get rid of water drips and spills quickly. Speed dry damp materials. Wet materials that can’t be dried within 2 to 3 days should be replaced to prevent mold growth.

Roach control is difficult, but important. Roaches seek food and water, so store food in tight containers. Also, clean up scraps and crumbs promptly. Do not allow snacking in the patient’s bedrooms, TV chair and homework desk. Inspect stored boxes and items for infestation before bringing indoors. Seal gaps in the walls.

Pets shed wherever they go. It is best not to have furry or feathered pets in the home. If that’s not possible, at least keep them out of bedrooms, carpeted rooms and areas where asthma sufferers spend a lot of time.

Dust level in the home can be reduced by using large doormats, having family members remove their shoes at the door, and strategic housekeeping. High performance (HEPA or micro-filtration) and central vacuum cleaners are best. Using damp mops and dustrags is also a good method to control dust. Since cleaning can put dust into the air, it is best to schedule this when asthma sufferers can leave for a while.

It is especially important to clean carpet frequently. Carpet can contain dust, mold, dust mites, lead and other pollutants. Be careful with carpet cleaning chemicals (follow label instructions). If wet methods are used on carpet, use fans with air conditioning, heating or a dehumidifier as needed so carpet dries out within a day or so.

October is national Healthy Indoor Air month. For more information on indoor air quality, visit  www.healthyindoorair.org and http://www.epa.gov/iaq/. Visit the LSU AgCenter web site or call your parish LSU AgCenter Cooperative Extension office for local information and educational programs in family and consumer sciences.

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