Asthma Mom’s 10 Rules to De-Trigger Your House

When my daughter coughed and flared all day and night before we achieved that elusive asthma control, walking into my house felt a lot like stepping into the scene of a horror movie.

No place felt safe, and while that can be a feature of asthma in general, considering its somewhat unpredictable nature and the way triggers lurk everywhere, that fear also reflected my deep anxiety about my kid’s breathing (or lack thereof).

Clearly, my reaction was a little extreme. At the same time, asthma parents should regard their homes as potential trigger minefields because adjusting a few habits and indoor elements – in conjunction, always in conjunction with a comprehensive treatment plan – can go a long way towards easing the number and severity of flares.

Some of these suggestions are cheaper and more doable than the others and even following all of them won’t eliminate asthma flares completely, but they can help.

1. Completely encase your child’s pillow and mattress in allergen-free covers.
If you’re dealing with a dust mite allergy like I do, avoiding down blankets is a good idea, too.

2. Limit stuffed animals, and treat the ones you do keep for dust mites.
While my kid used to sleep with a stuffed horse, I’d tell her to keep it away from her face on the theory that she couldn’t breathe the dust mites in as easily if she didn’t hold it right next to her nose, as she was prone to do. I have no idea if that actually helped her, but it made me feel better. Use this dust mite elimination process for any teddy bears that stick around in your house.

3. Switch to DIY cleaning solutions instead of synthetic ones.
Did you know you can clean just about anything with vinegar, baking soda, and lemon juice? They’re cheap; they don’t harm the environment; and they don’t contain the chemicals that often act as triggers. Sometimes I use green cleaning products, too, like Seventh Generation’s, but mostly I make my own.

4. Avoid synthetic fragrances, too.
I write about this tip a lot, and it’s a hard one to follow but not impossible.

5. Seek and destroy mold.
Inspect places like bathrooms and laundry areas that are prone to mold, and then check the not so obvious ones. When I moved from humid Florida here to Colorado, I discovered mold all over the bottom of my kid’s box spring, for example. Eliminate any sources of lingering damp.

6. Get smart about fireplaces.
I can’t tell you not to burn wood because of this pile, stacked in my yard as I type:

I can, however, tell you to use fireplaces around asthma kids wisely.

7. Consider the flooring.
If you own your home and you plan to stay there long enough to reap your equity and you have a little disposable cash on hand, replacing carpet with hard flooring isn’t the worst idea in the world. Carpet padding retains mold, pollen, and other triggers underneath the carpet, where you can’t clean, so even just switching out the flooring in your kid’s room only can limit nighttime asthma attacks.

8. Uncover any other sources of indoor volatile organic compounds.
Here’s why and how.

9. Research HEPA vacuum cleaners.
These filter out smaller particles than a traditional vacuum, and we all know it’s the smaller particles that find their way down the airways and into the lungs.

10. Change your furnace and/or AC filters frequently.
This one’s a no-brainer, I know, but hey, it’s the little things.

97 responses to “Asthma Mom’s 10 Rules to De-Trigger Your House”

  1. Kelley says:

    We live in an apartment, so no house filter, however, I totally love the air purifier we have.. it’s energy star compliant and has two filters – the outer one you vacuum (with a HEPA vac) and the internal, ionized filters you just pull out and wash. It works great and we don’t have to pay for new filters.

  2. Sarah says:

    Vinegar triggers me, wierdly enough. However, I am known to break out the baking soda (especially when treating mold, which is common in these parts in the summer.

    Also: Ditto on the carpeting. I hate carpet! With a passion! A night in a carpeted room for me is a sleepless night (unless the carpet is owned by a family like the one I stayed with in Ontario, who break out the carpet steam cleaner once a week and vacuum daily. And even then, I had a couple rough-ish nights). It’s to the point that I’ve decided I shall never, ever live in a house or apartment with carpeting. Period. No room for discussion or compromise. Carpet is the flooring of evil, as far as I’m concerned, and I will avoid it as such.

    As for wood stoves, I love the heat, I hate the smoke. The smoke never used to trigger me, but now it does (though, now just about everything does, unfortunately).

    As far as air purifiers go, I was told to stay away from the ionizing filters as they can increase ground-level ozone in the house and actually worsen asthma. Have you heard anything about that one way or the other?

    Finally, I’ve caved and gotten a WordPress blog for an asthma blog. Hopefully I’ll have worthwhile stuff to write about!

  3. Samantha says:

    My little one ( well okay shes 5 now and gonna be starting school this fall but to me shes little lol) reacts strongly to mold, as do I. we’ve settled up to now for cleaning the bathroom/kitchen with bleach (we’ve given up on outdoor mold… that whole gulf coast living thing makes that an impossibility, year round outdoor mold is just reality) but we do the cleaning when she was at headstart since bleach is such a strong odor, and i cant be sure if it triggers her but i suspect it does. Now its summer break tho… anyone got any practical experience with vinegar/baking soda/whatnot for getting rid of mold?

  4. Sarah says:

    Samantha, baking soda paste, laid on top of mold and allowed to dry, then cleaned off with vinegar and wiped with water works well, I find. You may need a few applications. I’m more fond of using lemon juice (even though it’s more expensive) since vinegar triggers me, but you have to rinse lemon juice with water, lest the sugar in it serve as food for more mold!

  5. MC says:

    My mom already avoids a lot of commercial cleaning products, and we all stay away from perfume as it gives her a headache, and has done that to me before (now it triggers me in other ways). And since my mom’s allergic to mold…. that’s something that doesn’t get tolerated long at my house.

    However, at school it’s a different matter. I tend to flare on mondays a lot as that’s the day they clean the bathrooms floor and showers… and the cleaning stuff they use, has a VERY strong smell. I’m not sure that I’d be able to get them to change this. I just learned to work around it and stay out of the dorm hallway as much as possible on those days.

    Ah, the carpet vs hardwood. We have hardwood everywhere except the stairs (don’t ask me why the old carpet is still there). My mom has a HUGE thing about hating carpet because the padding you put under carpet decomposes over time, producing formaldehyde (this is what she mistakenly thought she heard my pulmo say was in symbicort the other day), and that stuff causes her BIG problems. And, that it’s soo much easier to vacuum floors that don’t have carpet.

  6. Kelley says:

    Sarah: i just looked mine up online & it actually describes the permanent filter as HEPA (ugh, I guess I don’t even pay attention to what i buy :-) )

    MC: Is this all carpet pads, or just some? I can’t afford to rent any place with wood floors, so this scares me.

  7. Amy says:

    Kelley–We actually have carpet now, for the first time in forever. (It’s pretty common on Colorado.) I did some reading up on it for that reason – check out this link: http://www.cpsc.gov/CPSCPUB/PUBS/725.html

    Sarah–I’ve read the same thing, though I don’t have any links at hand right now. Maybe this is a post for your blog? Can’t wait to read it – I’m headed over there as soon as I finish up some stuff here.

    Samantha–I hear ya on the Gulf Coast and outdoor mold. That’s an impossible proposition! And ditto what Sarah wrote–I use a similar method instead of bleach, too.

    MC–Does your mom have asthma, too? Don’t know if you’ve mentioned before and I missed it, or if she has allergies only.

  8. rick frea says:

    Great advice. Yet even while I’m alergic to just about everything, I fail at your test. Hepa filters I find to be too expensive, and I hate sleeping on plastic. Does this mean I’m no longer a gallant asthmatic?

  9. Sarah says:

    Rick, there are some allergen-safe mattress covers that aren’t plastic out there – I have one. I doubt if they’re as good as the plastic ones, but they’re all that’s available in my price range over here, so that’s what I have. The bonus of these, I find, is that they’re easy to wash. Just pop them in your laundry machine when you do your bedding.

  10. Amy says:

    Yeah, I buy the hypoallergenic cloth-type covers, too. Sleeping on plastic’s definitely the worst. Too loud and too hot in the summer!

  11. Sarah says:

    Also: Don’t feel bad about not being able to afford a HEPA filter. I keep the windows open in summer because I can’t afford A/C and the place I live becomes unbearable in the summer if I don’t open the windows. My lungs have never found a pollen they don’t hate, so the decision is a questionable one for me. Sometimes, though, comfort wins out!

  12. MC says:

    Kelley: my mom said that formaldehyde is normally not in carpet, but often in the padding placed under the carpet. However, I haven’t done really much research in this to back it up or really know for sure. But I do know that when we lived in NC, we had carpet and my mom was sick all the time. Out of frustration, she took the carpet out, and it helped drastically. She told me the smell is bad, and though I don’t remember it (I was 3-4 at the time), I have smelled old carpet as it was getting pulled out at my uncle’s old house… it wasn’t a very lovely smell, but if you’re not sensitive to smells, you probably wouldn’t have thought it came from the padding under the carpet there.

    Amy: no, as far as I know, my mom doesn’t have asthma. No one in her side of the family has it, which makes explaining to my grandmother kind of challenging… I haven’t yet figured out the word for “inhaler” in French (though I do know nebulizer and other asthma terms). My grandmother’s never really seen an inhaler before, so I had to give her a somewhat detailed description before she even had really any clue what I was talking about. My mom does have allergies, and plenty of them, though things have gotten better since my family no longer lives in NC. Odd thing though is, my little sister was just diagnosed with cough-varient asthma a few weeks ago.

  13. Sarah says:

    MC, according to my French-English dictionary, there’s two words for inhaler: Inhalateur, and fumigateur. Now, I have no clue if they differ in terms of context or meaning or whatever, but I hope that helps you out a bit.

  14. Amy says:

    The main point with all these tips is, do what you can, both whatever’s within your means & what you’re willing to do, according to your triggers. I don’t want to give up a woodburning fire at Christmas, for example – especially since AG loves it more than everyone else – so I limit our usage.

    We also have carpet now for the first time in years b/c that’s what was available when we moved here, but I don’t worry as much about it here since Colorado is so dry.

    You do what you can, but you gotta live your life at the same time.

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