Winter Well-being: Crafting an Asthma-Safe Home Environment

Winter Well-being: Crafting an  Asthma-Safe Home Environment

Winter Well-being: Crafting an Asthma-Safe Home Environment 

Asthma is a chronic lung condition that causes inflammation and narrowing of the airways, making breathing difficult. Cold, dry winter air can trigger asthma symptoms like coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath for many people. 

However, there are ways to reduce asthma triggers at home and create a comfortable environment for breathing easily all winter long. This blog post will provide tips on optimizing your home for asthma health during the colder months. 

Maintain Optimal Humidity Levels 

Dry winter air can irritate airways and trigger asthma symptoms. Using a humidifier adds moisture back into the air and can help keep your airways from becoming inflamed and irritated [1]

Aim to keep humidity levels between 30-50% inside your home [2]. Use a hygrometer to monitor the humidity and make adjustments as needed. Cool mist and warm mist humidifiers are both good options. Place humidifiers in bedrooms and main living areas, and clean them regularly according to manufacturer instructions. 

For severe asthma, a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter humidifier is recommended to filter out irritants and allergens that could get dispersed into the air. Consult with your doctor about whether a HEPA humidifier would be beneficial for you. 

Keep Your Home Dust-Free 

Dust mites thrive in winter's indoor heat and can trigger asthma symptoms. Frequent dusting and vacuuming is key to minimizing dust buildup [3]. Areas to pay close attention to include: 

  • Bedding - Wash sheets weekly in hot water above 130°F to kill dust mites. Replace pillows every 1-2 years. 
  • Upholstered furniture - Vacuum crevices regularly. 
  • Curtains and blinds - laundered or wiped down often to control dust. 
  • Carpets - Vacuum 2-3 times per week with a HEPA filter vacuum. 
  • Stuffed animals - Wash frequently in hot water or keep contained in dust-proof covers. 
  • HVAC system - Change filters monthly.

Avoid dust-collecting clutter and use washable décor items when possible. Portable air purifiers with HEPA filters can also help remove allergens and keep indoor air clean. 

Let In Fresh Air Regularly 

Stale, stagnant air can harbor asthma triggers like mold, pet dander, and smoke. Make a habit of opening windows daily for 5-10 minutes, even during winter, to let in fresh air [4]. This exchange of air helps clear out irritants. 

On moderately warm days (40°F or above), open windows and doors for 30 minutes to thoroughly air out and refresh your home's atmosphere [5]. Just be sure to dress warmly to avoid getting chilled. 

Making your home energy efficient with proper insulation, weather stripping, and storm windows will allow you to bring in fresh air without losing too much heat. Consider a heat recovery ventilator (HRV) to continually filter and circulate air. 

Banish Mold and Mildew 

Increased indoor moisture from activities like showering and cooking can lead to mold growth in winter. Mold spores aggravate asthma and make symptoms worse. 

Be diligent about the following steps to inhibit mold [6]

  • Use ventilation fans when cooking, showering, or cleaning to remove excess moisture. Vent fans to the outdoors, not into attics where moisture can accumulate. 
  • Open blinds and curtains after showering to allow moisture to escape. 
  • Uncover cold air returns so air can circulate properly. 
  • Allow extra time for wet items to dry completely before putting them away. 
  • Fix plumbing leaks promptly to avoid damp spots. 
  • Clean bathroom tile, grout, windows, and other high-humidity areas regularly. 

Treat any visible mold quickly with a solution of bleach and water or an enzyme cleaner. Prevent mold regrowth by addressing the source of moisture that allowed it to develop. A dehumidifier can help keep humidity under 50%

Clean Surfaces with Asthma-Friendly Products 

Many conventional cleaning sprays and scented products have volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can irritate airways. When shopping for cleaning supplies opt for: 

  • Fragrance-free and low-VOC products [7] 
  • Plant-based ingredients like vinegar, lemon juice, hydrogen peroxide, and baking soda
  • Microfiber cloths and mops to trap dirt without chemical residue 
  • Non-toxic soaps free from dyes and perfumes 

Avoid dusty dryer sheets and scented fabric softeners which contain respiratory irritants. Look for dryer balls or wool dryer balls as fragrance-free alternatives. 

Ventilate the area you are cleaning by opening a window or turning on a fan. Wearing a mask can also minimize exposure to cleaning product fumes. 

Limit Indoor Pollutants 

Cigarette smoke, wood smoke, and other fumes release particles that provoke airway inflammation and make asthma worse [8]. Avoid indoor pollutants by: 

  • Establishing a smoke-free home. Do not allow smoking indoors. 
  • Refraining from burning candles, incense, and wood fires indoors. 
  • Using properly vented gas, propane, and wood stoves. 
  • Storing paints, strippers, and hobby supplies in a shed/garage. Ventilate well if used indoors. 
  • Letting car engines and gas-powered tools like lawnmowers warm up outdoors. 
  • Running kitchen and bath exhaust fans when cooking and showering to ventilate. 
  • Keeping car, garage, and workshop doors shut to prevent fumes from drifting inside. 
  • Checking furnace/flue for proper venting. Contact a technician if you suspect a leak. 

Carbon monoxide detectors and HEPA air filters provide extra protection against indoor air pollution. Avoid heavily scented plugins and air fresheners, instead use essential oils, fresh flowers, or plants to add fragrance.

 

Control Indoor Allergens 

Dander, hair, and saliva from furry pets can trigger asthma attacks. If possible, finding a new home for pets is ideal to keep the asthma sufferer's environment allergen-free. When this is not an option, the following tips can help reduce pet allergens at home [9]

  • Keep pets out of bedrooms and limit to one room as much as possible. Use HEPA air filters in those rooms. 
  • Bathe pets weekly and wipe them down with a damp cloth in between to remove dander. 
  • Groom pets outdoors if asthma is severe. Wear a mask when grooming. 
  • Vacuum upholstery, carpets, and floors at least twice a week to suck up pet hair and dander. Use vacuums with advanced filters like HEPA. 
  • Wash pet bedding frequently in hot water to kill allergens. 
  • Consider medications or immunotherapy allergy shots to desensitize yourself to pet allergens over time.

For dust mite allergies, encase pillows and mattresses in dust-proof zipped covers. Wash sheets weekly in hot water. Reduce clutter and fabric furnishings to limit dust buildup. Portable air cleaners with HEPA filters can also filter out dust and allergens. 

Maintain Optimal Temperature 

Breathing cold, dry air can trigger airway constriction and asthma symptoms. Indoor temperatures should be kept comfortable for breathing easy. Ideally, maintain temperatures between 68-75°F inside your home [10]. Cooler nighttime temperatures around 65°F can be comfortable for sleeping. 

Use a thermometer to monitor indoor temperatures and adjust your thermostat accordingly. On very cold days, run a humidifier to add moisture back into dry air that can irritate the lungs. 

Dress in layers and add extra blankets at night. Drink warm fluids and avoid chilled beverages to help keep your body, especially your airways, warm. Handheld portable heaters can be used to efficiently heat the room you are occupying without overheating the whole house. 

Follow a Clean Diet 

Eating a diet rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory foods can help reduce bronchial inflammation. Fill up on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, nuts, and fish. Foods linked to reduced asthma symptoms include [11]

  • Oily fish high in omega-3s like salmon, mackerel, and sardines 
  • Leafy greens like kale, spinach and collard greens 
  • Broccoli, carrots, sweet potatoes and squash 
  • Tomatoes 
  • Apples, citrus fruits, berries 
  • Turmeric, ginger, garlic, olive oil 
  • Walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds 
  • Green tea 

Limit processed foods, excess sugar, fried foods, and junk foods which are pro-inflammatory. Being overweight can worsen asthma as extra body fat puts pressure on the lungs and airways. Maintain a healthy body mass index (BMI) through diet and exercise. 

Eating a balanced diet can help manage asthma symptoms and improve overall health.

Asthma Online Help & Resources 

Here are some helpful resources for learning more about asthma and staying on top of your condition: 

  • American Lung Association - Offers info on asthma triggers, treatment, action plans, and an Asthma Health Quiz. Website: www.lung.org/asthma 
  • Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America - Provides education, advocacy, and asthma camp for kids. Phone: 1-800-7-ASTHMA. Website: www.aafa.org 
  • Allergy & Asthma Network - Provides asthma management tools like medication wallet cards. Website: www.allergyasthmanetwork.org 
  • Centers for Disease Control (CDC) - Has asthma data, info on diagnosis, an action plan, and more. Website: www.cdc.gov/asthma 
  • National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute - Offers comprehensive asthma guides for adults, kids, and allergies. Website:
    https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/asthma 
  • American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology - Provides allergist locator, asthma action plans and news. Website: www.aaaai.org 
  • KidsHealth Asthma Center - Kids site with videos, quizzes, and tips on living with asthma. Website: https://kidshealth.org/en/kids/asthma.html 
  • AsthmaMD - Patient app to track asthma, get reminders, and personalized guidance. Website: www.asthmamd.org 
  • Local Support Groups - Check for in-person asthma meetups through hospitals or nonprofits. 

Staying informed through reputable health organizations and advocating for your needs with your doctor is key to successfully managing asthma long-term. 

Manage Stress and Get Adequate Sleep 

Psychological and physiological stress negatively impacts asthma by causing airway constriction. Practice relaxation techniques like yoga, deep breathing, meditation, or

visualization to activate your relaxation response [12]. Getting 7-9 hours of quality sleep nightly is also essential for keeping stress and asthma under control. 

Maintaining your home environment thoughtfully can make a significant difference in keeping asthma under control during cold, dry winters. Implementing these healthy home practices helps ensure the air you breathe indoors is moist, clean, and free of triggers so you can live comfortably with asthma in any season. 

References: 

[1] Arundel, A V et al. “Indirect health effects of relative humidity in indoor environments.” Environmental health perspectives vol. 65 (1986): 351-61. doi:10.1289/ehp.8665351 

[2] Guarnieri, Gabriella et al. “Relative Humidity and Its Impact on the Immune System and Infections.” International journal of molecular sciences vol. 24,11 9456. 29 May. 2023, doi:10.3390/ijms24119456 

[3] Gøtzsche, P.C., Johansen, H.K., Schmidt, L.M., & Burr, M.L. "House dust mite control measures for asthma." Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2004, Issue 4, Article Number CD001187. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001187.pub2. 

[4] Holden, Karl A et al. “The impact of poor housing and indoor air quality on respiratory health in children.” Breathe (Sheffield, England) vol. 19,2 (2023): 230058. 

doi:10.1183/20734735.0058-2023 

[5] Win, Patrick H., and Iftikhar Hussain. “Asthma Triggers: What Really Matters?.” Clinical Asthma (2008): 149–156. doi:10.1016/B978-032304289-5.10017-7 

[6] Moses, Loveth et al. “Exposure to Indoor Mouldy Odour Increases the Risk of Asthma in Older Adults Living in Social Housing.” International journal of environmental research and public health vol. 16,14 2600. 22 Jul. 2019, doi:10.3390/ijerph16142600 

[7] Pacheco Da Silva, Emilie et al. “Household use of green and homemade cleaning products, wipe application mode, and asthma among French adults from the CONSTANCES cohort.” Indoor air vol. 32,7 (2022): e13078. doi:10.1111/ina.13078 

[8] Breysse, Patrick N et al. “Indoor air pollution and asthma in children.” Proceedings of the American Thoracic Society vol. 7,2 (2010): 102-6. doi:10.1513/pats.200908-083RM 

[9] Chabra, R., & Gupta, M. "Allergic and Environmentally Induced Asthma." StatPearls, updated on 2023 Aug 7, StatPearls Publishing, 2023 Jan-.

[10] Chen, Yuxiong et al. “Associations between ambient temperature and adult asthma hospitalizations in Beijing, China: a time-stratified case-crossover study.” Respiratory research vol. 23,1 38. 22 Feb. 2022, doi:10.1186/s12931-022-01960-8 

[11] Han, Yueh-Ying et al. “Diet and asthma: an update.” Current opinion in allergy and clinical immunology vol. 15,4 (2015): 369-74. doi:10.1097/ACI.0000000000000179 

[12] Luyster, Faith S et al. “Sleep quality and asthma control and quality of life in non-severe and severe asthma.” Sleep & breathing = Schlaf & Atmung vol. 16,4 (2012): 1129-37. doi:10.1007/s11325-011-0616-8

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