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Fighting Asthma and Allergy Triggers Begins at Home


Arkansas DemocratLittle Rock is among the top 10 asthma and spring allergies "capitals" in the nation, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. These high marks for sneezy wheezy conditions have ramifications: Many of the same things that set off asthmatic and allergic reactions also affect those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis, lung cancer and other lung-related problems, which are the fourth leading cause of death in Arkansas.

More than 250,000 Arkansans have been diagnosed with lung cancer and chronic lung disease, says the Arkansas Respiratory Health Association; more than 32,000 children suffer from asthma.
Treatment of such conditions is up to physicians. But steps can be taken at home to minimize exposure to the triggers that set off attacks and discomfort.

And home is definitely the place to start. We spend almost 90 percent of our time indoors, with 65 percent of that inside our houses or apartments, according to the National Safety Council.

While plenty of irritating airborne particles are floating around outdoors, indoor levels of pollutants are often two to five times higher.

The triggers that set off asthmatic attacks and affect others with allergy and lung problems can be simple things, says the American Lung Association:

Tobacco smoke and wood smoke.

Perfume, paint, hair spray or any strong odors or fumes.

Allergens (the particles that cause allergies) like dust mites, pollen, molds, pollution, animal saliva and dander (tiny scales or particles that fall off hair or skin), cockroaches.

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emanating from carpets, rugs, paint, cabinets and clothing that use formaldehyde in the manufacturing process.

Colds, influenza and other respiratory illnesses.

Exposure to cold air or a warm-to-cold change.

Vigorous exercise.

Excitement or stress.

Foods such as nuts, shellfish, peanut butter, eggs; food additives like monosodium glutamate.

Additional triggers may exist for each individual; your doctor can suggest ways to identify them.


Controlling exposure to triggers outdoors is difficult, so when air pollution, pollen and mold levels are up, it's best to stay inside.

Here are steps to take indoors:

Ask family and friends who smoke to do so outdoors.

Forgo wood-burning fireplaces and stoves.

Virtually all pets, including birds and small animals like hamsters, affect those with allergies or lung problems. Consider a pet-free environment.

Minimize carpeting and upholstery, which harbor dust mites, pet dander and pollen and often are made using formaldehyde. Instead of area rugs, try rug tiles like those from FLOR.

Most surfaces are nylon; some are natural fibers like hemp or wool. Tiles can be pulled up to clean stains and spills using cool water and nonsolvent cleaner and are recyclable. Visit www.flor.com.

Use washable window shades or curtains for easy cleaning.

Avoid using candles, perfume, room deodorizers, standard cleaning chemicals (especially aerosols or sprays), paint and talcum powder.

Cockroaches are a notorious cause of asthma. Store food in sealed containers and keep crumbs, dirty dishes and other food sources cleaned up.

Reduce the clutter of knickknacks and objects that collect dust.

Prevent mold, including a regular check of houseplants; they may have to move outdoors.


An increasing number of products join the market each year to combat symptom producers like dust mites and mold. Other items assist in house cleaning, reducing pet dander, modifying humidity and cleaning indoor air.

Start in the bedroom, where we spend about one-third of our lives sleeping.

Manufacturers such as Royal-Pedic make hypoallergenic mattresses that use natural toxic free materials. Its latex mattresses are mold- and dust mite-resistant. Another line is designed for those who react to multiple chemicals.

Pillow choices include hypodown, wool, allergen-barrier and synthetic down in an array of sizes and levels of firmness. Synthetic downs from companies like PrimaLoft are hypoallergenic, machine washable, and extremely soft.

Ogallala Comfort Co. makes hypodown pillows with a mix of fibers from Hungarian goose down and syriaca (a milkweed). Syriaca is hypoallergenic and stabilizes the components in down that cause allergic reactions. The company also produces chemical- and glue-free wool pillows that are dust-mite resistant and hypoallergenic, and are firm. It makes duvets and comforters, too.

A bed can house anywhere from 1 million to 10 million dust mites. One way to eliminate them is to place a barrier between you (their source of food, the tiny flakes of skin we all shed constantly) and your pillows, comforter and mattress where they live.

Dust Mite EncasingsAll dust mite encasings used to be backed by a layer of urethane, making them waterproof as well as allergen-proof. But this fabric is relatively noisy and can be uncomfortably hot to sleep on. It's still available, mostly as a box spring casing or as protection from bed-wetting or incontinence as well as allergies.

A new process weaves fabrics so tightly that dust mites and other microscopic allergens, including pet dander, can't pass through the pores. But the fabrics are breathable.

Zip-up pillow, mattress and duvet covers are available in various pore sizes and blends.


Keeping a clean environment is important for those with asthma and allergies, so minimize dust, pollen, mold, pet dander and other allergens.

Many conventional cleaners, though, contain chemicals and odors that also set off symptoms.

Fortunately, more choices among non-allergenic products exist for laundry and cleaning as well as controlling various triggers.

If you're using dust mite encasings on pillows, mattress and duvet, pillow covers need washing every few weeks and mattress covers three or four times a year as long as you use regular bedding over them that you wash weekly.

Use 140-degree water plus anti-allergen detergents such as Allersearch Allergen Wash. An anti-dust mite additive is available for loads requiring lower temperature water and regular laundry soap.

Specialized cleaners exist for hard floors, tubs and tile, glass and Plexiglas and dishwashing. There's also concentrated multipurpose M-1 House Wash, which is nontoxic and biodegradable. M-1 also makes an odorless nontoxic sealant that stops mold and mildew indoors and out for two to four years.

Dyson VacuumsVacuum cleaner manufacturers - Miele, Dyson, Electrolux,Sebo and Nilfisk among them - have developed machines that filter and contain allergens. Look for a vacuum with a HEPA filter and exhaust. Some experts suggest emptying the dirt container when it's half full (or throwing it away). Some companies, like Dyson, have systems designed for pet hair.

For regular vacuums, switch to a HEPA bag that holds allergens inside, plus an exhaust filter.

Sprinkle X-MITE onto rugs, carpets and upholstered furniture before vacuuming to deactivate allergens from pollen, dust mites and pet dander; it's effective for three months.

Chemical-free vapor steam cleaners sanitize and deodorize carpets, mattresses, pillows and fabrics without saturating them. Mix Dustmite & Flea Control with the water to finish off dust mites on contact; it's odorless and doesn't stain.

Electrostatic dust cloths, microfiber glass cloths, dust control and smoke-removing sponges and perfume- and chemical-free odor eliminators are on the market.


Not all air purifiers are alike or effective. Different ones target different pollutants, and some even pollute the air with ozone. HEPA filters, for example, do well at eliminating dust, animal dander and pollen, but aren't so good at removing foul odors or chemical and VOC fumes.

The first step is to identify the kinds of particles you need to remove.

AchooAllergy.com has an excellent buyer's guide to air purifiers (and other product categories) that takes into account air changes per hour, clean air delivery rate, noise level and energy efficiency.

Portable and travel air purifiers also exist. Visit www.achooallergy.com.

Furnace, vent and window filters trap the great majority of larger particles. Some for the furnace are permanent and designed to be washed, dried and reinstalled.

Trane offers its CleanEffects whole-house air cleaner, saying it removes 99.98 percent of airborne allergens as small as 0.l microns (cat and dust mite allergens are mostly larger than 2 microns). For more information, view www.trane.com.

Too much humidity causes mold and mildew growth. Damp air, which dust mites love, can contribute to respiratory illness. But air that's too dry causes nasal, sinus and skin problems. The best relative humidity is 45 percent to 50 percent, according to the EPA.

Acu-Rite makes a digital humidity gauge that monitors the indoor level as well as the temperature.

Some humidifiers have anti-microbial and anti-mold capabilities. Dehumidifiers can be placed anywhere but may be most useful in basements, laundry rooms, bathrooms and closets and under sinks.


If you can't resist a pet, keep the bedroom as allergen-free as possible. That means no pets allowed inside. If you can convince your pet to stay off upholstery, that's advisable. Weekly baths can cut down on pet dander and saliva.

Look for products that reduce dander and neutralize allergens in the coat. Allerpetmakes a cleaner applied with a wet washcloth, while Quick Bath offers wipes. Gonzo has pet stain remover wipes in a dispenser package for quick cleanups.

There are several brands of dry crystals that absorb odors and last longer than baking soda. To pick up hair, check dry-use lifter sponges and pet brush vacuum attachments.

This article was published on page 37 and 42 of the Saturday, September 08, 2007 edition in the HomeStyle section.