(ORDO NEWS) — One in nine Australians suffers from asthma. This is a health burden for many children, costing families dearly in medication, hospital and out-of-hospital costs.
The pandemic has added additional stress and additional measures to check for respiratory symptoms. COVID infection can coexist with asthma, and while studies show that allergic asthma does not increase the risk of COVID infection and death, keeping asthma symptoms under control is still important.
In the home, tobacco smoke, pollen, mold, dust, pet dander, and harmful gases can cause or worsen asthma symptoms. Our recent study – a review and analysis of Australian studies – identified the most significant culprits.
Secondhand smoke, synthetic pillows or blankets, and gas heating in your home are the most commonly identified triggers for the highest rates of asthma in the home. Preventing these common household environmental factors can improve asthma control.
Harmful substances in the house
According to previous studies, various environmental factors can trigger asthma symptoms. But the relevant factors and effect sizes vary greatly across countries and populations. Knowing the most common environmental factors that can trigger asthma symptoms in Australia can help us develop prevention strategies.
We reviewed data from Australian studies to identify significant familial environmental factors associated with asthma. We reviewed 56 studies involving 137,840 people in Australia.
The pooled data confirm that secondhand smoke, synthetic bedding, and gas heating in households are significant triggers for asthma symptoms. These housekeeping features are noted in more homes where people have asthma and are more likely to need asthma treatment.
Being near smokers, such as at home or in the workplace, is the most common factor in indoor smoke exposure for people with asthma. Smoke inhalation interferes with the normal development of the lungs and the immune system and causes irritation to the respiratory tract.
This can lead to asthma symptoms and other lung conditions. The main sources of secondhand smoke in Australia were cited as smoking by parents or other family members at home and colleagues in the workplace. Children are the main victims of secondhand smoke, being exposed to their parents’ – especially mothers’ – smoking at home.
Bed linen and heating
The second most commonly reported household trigger was bedding made from non-natural fibers such as microfiber, nylon, or acrylic materials. Synthetic bedding contains more dust mite allergens than feather bedding.
They also increase exposure to volatile organic chemicals. These are gases given off by certain solid and liquid substances found in many household products. These gases can accumulate in high concentrations indoors and cause health problems.
Synthetic pillows are also more likely to trap cat and dog allergens than feather pillows. The tighter weave of feather pillows makes them a more protective barrier to allergens that can otherwise irritate the respiratory tract. Families with children who are prone to asthma or allergies should pay special attention to the choice of bedding.
Finally, both burnt and unburned gas heaters can release nitrogen dioxide, which can irritate the airways and cause asthma symptoms. In families where asthma is a problem, it is best to get rid of gas heaters or heating systems if possible.
Asthma risks we can control
Our study shows that it is important to pay special attention to the prevention of some common familial environmental factors in order to prevent asthma symptoms. These factors may remain less recognized despite their known influence on the development of asthma.
The scientific evidence that active tobacco smoking is detrimental to asthma control is well known to the general public. However, people may be less aware of the effects of secondhand smoke on asthma.
There is also an opportunity to raise awareness about gas heaters and synthetic bedding as asthma triggers. Families who may be affected should be better informed about these environmental factors lurking in homes, especially in a country where asthma is a major health problem.
Addressing these factors could help control asthma symptoms and reduce the number of COVID tests during a pandemic.
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