Making Your Home Asthma Safe

Making Your Home Asthma Safe

Making Your Home Asthma Safe

Home is where the heart is, but it’s also loaded with asthma triggers.  

“Many asthma triggers are hiding in plain sight—in the bedroom, in the common living spaces, the kitchen and the bathrooms,” says Jill Heins, senior regional director of Respiratory Health for the American Lung Association of the Upper Midwestleaving site icon 

Before you can remove asthma triggers from your home, it is important to understand what is making a person’s asthma worse.  

There are two main types of triggers: allergens and irritants.  

“Allergens are specific to that person and cause an immune response,” says Heins. “Irritants are things that irritate the nose, lining of the nose, the throat and the lungs.” 

Some of the most common indoor allergens are: 

  • Pet dander 
  • Dust mites 
  • Mold 
  • Cockroaches 

Some of the more common indoor irritants are: 

  • Cigarette smoke 
  • Wood smoke 
  • Strong smells (from cleaning supplies, scented candles, perfume, etc.) 

Other irritants can include

  • Colds or respiratory infections
  • Stress 
  • Laughing or crying hard 

Not everyone has the same asthma triggers. But you can work to find the most bothersome triggers in your home. An allergist, a doctor who specializes in treating allergies, can also help pinpoint triggers with allergy testing. Once you know which triggers are the worst and where they hide in your house, you can work to get rid of them.  

Common Household Triggers:

Ridding the bedroom of asthma triggers means the person with asthma can spend a great portion of the day—eight hours or more—in an allergen-free environment. 

The most likely triggers in the bedroom are dust mites and pets. Dust mites are tiny bugs too small to see. They are often found in mattresses, pillows, bedding, carpets, upholstered furniture and stuffed toys. Many people with asthma are allergic to the droppings and body parts of dust mites. 

To fight dust mites, think about places dust where collects, then clean those spots often. Heins’ tips: 

  • Remove wall-to-wall carpet. If you can’t do that, vacuum at least once a week. 
  • Encase the pillows, mattress and box springs in special covers designed to keep out dust mitesleaving site icon
  • Wash the bedding each week in hot water. That will kill and wash away any dust mites. 
  • Remove or wash stuffed animals often. 
  • When you dust, use a damp rag so you collect the dust rather than move it around.  
  • To lessen the chance pet dander is in the room, keep pets off the bed and out of the bedroom.   

Living room 
The most common triggers in the living room are dust mites, pets, strong smells, wood smoke and tobacco smoke, Heins says. 

“If you have somebody with asthma living in the home, you should never smoke in the home,” she says. “Also, limit or eliminate the use of wood smoke and fireplaces in the home.” 

To reduce other triggers, Heins recommends: 

  • Keep pets off of furniture so their dander does not get into the fabric. 
  • Avoid wall-to-wall carpet and heavy curtains. 
  • Don’t use scented candles or air fresheners of any kind. 
  • Vacuum, including upholstered furniture, and dust at least once a week. 

The primary triggers in the bathroom are mold and strong odors, such as hairspray, perfume, scented candles and air fresheners. Heins’ advice for reducing asthma triggers in the bathroom: 

  • Always use the fan in the bathroom when you shower or take a bath; it will help surfaces dry faster. If you don’t have a fan, be sure to clean bathroom surfaces, towels and shower curtains often. 
  • Avoid heavy perfume, lotions and body products. 
  • Use cleaning products without strong odors, or clean when the person with asthma is not home.  

Also remember the bathroom is a place to wash off triggers. “There are some outdoor triggers that can become indoor triggers,” Heins explains. “When kids play outside, they can bring pollen and ragweed inside as well. So make sure they take a bath and wash their hair before going to bed.” 

“We don't want to think about pests in our homes, but in the kitchen, we need to think about cockroaches,” Heins says. Many people with asthma are allergic to cockroach droppings, and exposure to cockroaches can trigger asthma symptoms. 

To prevent pests and reduce this trigger in the kitchen, Heins suggests: 

  • Clean up any crumbs on the counter right away. 
  • Store food in airtight containers. 
  • Wash away grease on and around the stove. 

Have a gas stove? Know that it releases nitrogen dioxide, which can bother some people with asthma. When you cook, use an exhaust fan. 

Getting rid of asthma triggers can seem like a huge job. Heins says to break it down into simple steps and take a slow, room-by-room approach. “Even small steps will make a difference in the person with asthma,” she says. 

Sources: Indoor Air Pollutants and Healthleaving site icon American Lung Association 2020; Dust Mite Allergy, leaving site icon Allergy Foundation of America

Originally published: 7/1/2016, Revised 2020