There are over 3 million Canadians who suffer from asthma, a disease doctors describe as a chronic inflammation of the airways. There are many reasons why people experience a flare up of the condition, but many people don’t realize that poor indoor air quality can trigger asthma.
Asthma can affect someone anytime, anywhere, but minimizing your exposure to triggers is key to preventing the symptoms of asthma from occurring. Symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath are common, and are caused by air becoming obstructed as it passes through the lungs. This can happen when the lining of the airways becomes inflamed or irritated by an allergen and produces more mucous, or when the muscles surrounding the airway become sensitive and tighten, narrowing the passage of air. Sometimes both can happen at the same time.
Poor indoor air quality can trigger asthma by containing or perpetuating triggers in the indoor environment. A trigger is anything that causes inflammation in the airways that leads to an asthma attack. There are two categories of triggers. The first is a symptom trigger, something that may cause already sensitive airways to constrict – they include things like exercise, strong emotions, smoke, food additives, or cold air. The second kind is an inflammatory trigger, which can be found outdoors or indoors – air pollutants, pollens, molds, animals, and dust mites. While outdoor triggers (especially those caused by pollution or climate change) get all the attention, poor indoor air quality can trigger asthma more frequently and sometimes more severely – so it’s important to ensure that you are addressing triggers within your home.
Triggers found in indoor air quality can be further classified into irritants or allergens. Something like tobacco smoke is one of the most common irritants for asthma suffers. Quitting, smoking outdoors and away from air intakes or windows are obvious solution to this trigger, but other triggers like chemical odours and household dust can be difficult to control at the workplace or in public spaces. Laundry detergents, perfumes, hairspray, and paint are all common irritants that are easy to control in the household – choose products that are natural or fragrance free.
Dust mites and household dust as another common problem for people suffering from asthma. Dust mites tend to live in soft furnishings like mattresses, pillows, and bedding, where they feed off of shed human skin. Dust mites can be controlled by dehumidifying damp areas, removing carpets, washing your linens in hot water, and encasing pillows and mattresses in mite resistant coverings. Since dust mites are too small to see, many people don’t realize the presence of these small creatures can affect their indoor air quality.
Poor indoor air quality can trigger asthma by containing particles from the second class of indoor air triggers – allergens. The most common allergen is pets – dander, saliva, or even urine can all cause asthma attacks or flare ups. Mold is another common allergen, and like dust mites, is often not visible to the naked eye.
Because poor indoor air quality can trigger asthma, it’s important to have your home checked or your indoor air quality monitored to keep down the severity or frequency of attacks. An air quality specialist can help you make positive, long-term changes, and solve or eradicate problems to create a healthier indoor environment.