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Your Child's Asthma: Avoiding Triggers

How to avoid asthma triggers

Many things can trigger an asthma flare-up, including the following:

  • Upper respiratory infections, like colds or the flu

  • Allergies to dust mites, pollens, pets, mold, or cockroaches

  • Exercise

  • Irritants, such as cigarette and other forms of smoke, strong odors and perfumes, fumes from wood stoves or kerosene heaters, and air pollution

  • Weather changes

The following is a list of things you can do to limit your child's exposure to common triggers of asthma:

Allergies:

Dust mites. The allergy is caused by tiny, insect-like creatures called dust mites. Dust mites are found in mattresses, carpets, and upholstered furniture. They like warm, humid conditions. Be sure to pay special attention to your child's bedroom.

  • Mattress and box spring. Place all mattresses and box springs in a zippered, dust-proof cover and tape over the zippers with electrical or duct tape.

  • Pillows. Use dust-proof covers on pillows. Pillows should be made of Dacron or other synthetic fiber. Do not use foam, feather, or down pillows.

  • Bedding. Avoid wool or down blankets. Wash all bedding (sheets, pillowcases, blankets) in hot water every one to two weeks. Cold water will not kill the dust mites. Dry all clothes and bedding in the dryer.

Beds. Every bed in your house should have a wooden or metal frame. Do not allow your child to sleep on a couch, sofa, or hide-a-bed. If your child has asthma and sleeps in a bunk bed, he or she should sleep on the top bunk.

Floor coverings. If possible, remove wall-to-wall carpeting. If not, vacuum the carpet frequently (at least twice a week). Vacuum only when your child is away and will not return to the room for several hours after you have finished. Use regular single layer vacuum bags. Small, washable cotton rugs may be used if washed often. Wood, tile, or vinyl flooring without a rug is best, and should be mopped at least weekly.

Closets. Remove all stored toys, boxes, and extra items from closets. The closet should contain only clothing and should be as dust-free as the room. Keep all clothes in closets, never lying around the room.

Air conditioners. Use a window unit or central air-conditioning. Change or clean all filters every month. Windows should be kept closed, especially in the summer.

Doors. Keep bedroom closet doors and bedroom doors closed as much as possible.

Walls. Paint walls or use washable wallpaper. Avoid pennants, pictures, wreaths, flower arrangements, or other items that collect dust on the walls.

Window coverings. Avoid heavy curtains and Venetian or mini-blinds that can catch a lot of dust and are not easily cleaned. Use window shades instead. If curtains are used, they should be washed monthly in hot water.

Furniture. Remove all upholstered (stuffed) furniture and replace upholstered furniture with wooden or plastic furniture. Avoid open bookshelves, as they also collect a lot of dust.

Sleeping and napping. Your child should nap or sleep only in his or her own bed, which has been made dust-free. When your child travels or visits, he or she should take a nonallergic pillow with him or her.

Playing. If your child has asthma, do not allow him or her to jump on furniture or beds or wrestle on carpeted floors. Avoid fabric toys or stuffed animals. If your child has stuffed animals, they should be machine washable and washed in hot water or placed in the freezer overnight at least weekly. Store toys in a closed container.

Pollen. In many areas, pollen can be a problem from February through November each year. If your child is allergic to pollen, during pollen season it is important that you keep all car and house windows closed and use the air-conditioning.

Pets. Pets that have fur or feathers often cause allergy troubles. If your child is allergic to pets, it is best not to have pets and not to visit homes where these types of pets are kept.

  • If you do have pets, keep them out of your child's bedroom. The pet should be brushed and bathed often by someone other than your child. And, your child should try to avoid a lot of contact with pets. If he or she does handle pets, make sure hand-washing is done afterwards.

Mold. Mold grows in areas that are dark, humid, and have poor ventilation:

  • Outdoors. Avoid damp, shady areas. Remove fallen leaves from the yard.

  • Bathrooms and kitchens. Always use the exhaust fans when cooking or bathing. If you do see mold, clean the area with cleansers made with bleach.

  • In the house. Use the air conditioner. Avoid using humidifiers, as mold can grow in the water tank. If you must use a humidifier, clean it according to manufacturer's instructions with a bleach and water solution. Reduce indoor humidity to less than 50 percent. Use a dehumidifier, if needed. Empty and clean the dehumidifier daily.

Cockroach droppings. Some people are very allergic to the substance the cockroach leaves behind. Cockroaches are very common in warm climates and in homes of people living in the city. However, even in climates with much cooler temperatures, the use of central heat allows the cockroaches to live. To avoid exposure to cockroaches, it is best to use roach traps or a professional exterminator.

Exercise. Even though exercise is a common asthma trigger, your child should not limit his or her participation in sports or other forms of exercise, unless directed by his or her health care provider. Exercise is good for your child's overall health and lungs. Some forms of exercise, such as running long distances, may be harder for your child. Always make sure your child has a warm-up and cool-down period before and after exercise. Using a reliever medication 15 to 20 minutes before starting exercise can be very helpful, as directed by your child's provider. Talk with your child's provider about exercise if this is a problem for your child.

Irritants:

  • Smoke. Do not allow family and friends to smoke anywhere inside the house. Do not allow smoking in the car at any time. Smoke is very irritating in an enclosed area and its odor may be trapped in the car's upholstery for a long period of time and continue to trigger symptoms. You should also have nonsmoking child-care providers.

  • Strong perfumes and odors. Your child should avoid things that have a strong smell, such as cleaning products, perfumes, hair spray, tar, fresh paint, gasoline, insect sprays, and room deodorizers.

Please ask your child's health care provider about any questions or concerns you may have regarding your child's asthma. 

Online Medical Reviewer: Holloway, Beth, RN, M.Ed.
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically-affiliated clinician
Date Last Reviewed: 7/1/2014
© 2000-2014 Krames StayWell, 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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