The University Record, September 17, 2001

Household hints help ease asthma symptoms for kids

By Mary Beth Reilly and Kara Gavin
Health System Public Relations

Asthma, a chronic inflammatory disease of the lungs, is the leading cause of long-term illness in children. It can be triggered by irritants that are controllable, such as household dust or by conditions less under our control, including weather or coming down with a common cold.

Parents are learning that old-fashioned ‘elbow grease’—concentrated housework—is one way to reduce the triggers causing their children’s asthma. Common sense is another tool in reducing a child’s exposure to asthma triggers. For Angela Lee, whose 10-year-old son Darrius has asthma, the disease is part of their everyday life.

“It’s not horrible to the point that it scares me, but it’s a part of our lives, and I deal with it as it comes,” Lee says.

According to Toby Lewis, lecturer in pediatrics and communicable diseases at the Medical School, the number of children with asthma has been increasing over the past 10 years.

“Even children who have mild asthma can have very severe attacks. It’s important to know that people do die from asthma, although it isn’t very common. Since we can’t cure asthma, we focus on preventing the asthma attacks, which is a combination of medications, being under the care of a doctor and making some environmental changes, particularly at home,” Lewis says.

Lewis and other health system caregivers have joined members of the Detroit community to teach families how to make changes in their homes and reduce the triggers that cause asthma in children.

“In this project, which we call Community Action Against Asthma, members of the community and the University recruited individuals with outreach experience, but not necessarily with asthma, and gave them intensive training about asthma and its triggers. Now they can go into a home to teach parents what they can do to help prevent their children from having asthma attacks,” Lewis says.

Parents learn simple changes that can help keep their kids a whole lot healthier.

“I’ve learned how to store our food, how to dust properly, keep things clean and keep the bugs away. It’s making a big difference because during the last year, we haven’t had as many attacks. Darrius is just a whole lot better now,” Lee says.

Lewis points out that people with asthma often are allergic to the things that trigger their asthma, such as pets, dust or feathers. Other triggers include chemicals with strong smells, such as bleach, ammonia or cosmetics. Smoke is an extremely common trigger.

“The first thing I say is to reduce children’s exposure to second-hand, tobacco smoke. About 30 percent of adults in the U.S. smoke and kids breathe in smoke that comes from the burning cigarette, as well as exhaled smoke from the adults. The smoke also settles on clothing, furniture and rugs, so even if adults only smoke when the child isn’t there, the smoke particles can still be breathed in later by the child,” Lewis says.

Symptoms of asthma

  • Coughing

  • Wheezing

  • Shortness of breath

  • Tight feeling in chest

    Common asthma triggers and how to respond

  • Tobacco smoke: Choose not to smoke in your home or car, and do not allow others to do so.

  • Animal dander: Consider keeping your pets outside, or at least keep them out of the bedroom and other sleeping areas.

  • Molds: Clean up the areas where molds can grow, such as near leaking pipes, in the drip pans of air conditioners, refrigerators and dehumidifiers, and keep them clean and dry.

  • Strong odors and sprays: Avoid perfumed hairspray, cleaning solutions, incense, potpourri and perfumed candles.

  • House dust mites: Dust twice a week; wash sheets and blankets in hot water weekly; remove carpets or rugs from bedrooms, or vacuum at least weekly.

  • Household pests: Do not leave food or garbage out; store food in airtight containers.

  • Feathers and kapok stuffing in pillows and furniture: Put mattresses and pillows in hypoallergenic covers.

  • Colds and infections: Keep your child as healthy as possible, encouraging nourishing foods and liquids, and getting plenty of sleep and exercise. Encourage hand washing and get your child’s annual flu shot early.

  • Exercise: Talk to your health care professional about medicine your child can take before exercising.

  • Weather: When it’s cold outside, have your child breathe through his/her nose rather than mouth, and wear a scarf that covers nose and mouth.