Get Proactive with Prevention for National Allergy and Asthma Awareness Month
May is here which means it’s now National Allergy and Asthma Awareness Month! According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, nasal allergies affect approximately 50 million people in the United States. The foundation also states that allergy rates are increasing; affecting as many as 30% of adults and 40% of children.
Allergies are a chronic disease, and the Asthma and Allergy Foundation also states that they are the fifth leading chronic disease among Americans of all ages and the third most chronic in children under the age of 8. Evidence also indicates that prenatal exposure to lead may heighten a child’s sensitivity to allergens. This exposure could stem from lead-based paint in the home, such as lead dust particles in the air or on a surface in the house.
Maintaining a clean and healthy home is key to managing allergens and asthma triggers that may affect you, your child, or other family members. This will also reduce the risk of lead or other toxic substances being present in the dust that accumulates in your home.
It’s time to get proactive about preventing allergens, asthma triggers, and potential sources of airborne lead dust! Here are some ways that you can create a healthier home to accomplish that:
Maintaining a Clean home to Reduce Exposure to Allergens
The American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology (ACAAI) recommends engaging in seasonal cleaning rituals to avoid allergy and asthma symptoms. Establishing a routine and putting a cleaning plan into action will help control the accumulation of dust and other allergen triggers in your home. Not only will cleaning eliminate existing allergens but it will also prevent new ones from entering. Creating a plan and sticking to it will only make this process easier and more efficient.
As the seasons are changing, the ACAAI recommends keeping these tips in mind to reduce the presence of allergens as much as possible:
- Don’t leave windows open for long periods of time at the start of allergy season. This could allow more allergens to enter the home.
- Avoid chemical air fresheners. Opt for natural aromas that can be used in an enclosed living environment, such as organic air fresheners.
- Regularly scrub tiled areas that are prone to accumulating mold.
- Vacuum parts of your home frequently inhabited by pets and do not allow pets to enter bedrooms of people with animal-related allergies, so that they can get better sleep symptom-free.
- Change air filters every three months and vacuum your home regularly to get rid of dust mites.
- Take medication before going outside. Wear gloves and a pollen mask, if allergic. Avoid touching your eyes and be sure to wash your hands afterwards.
Keep the Lead Out of the Dust and Out of Your Life
To promote lung health and reduce lead exposure in your home, make sure to target dusty areas of your home. Any home built before 1978 could potentially have surfaces covered with lead-based paint that could chip, chalk, or peel. This can cause small lead particles to break off and mix in with household dust, which can potentially have a negative impact on you or your loved ones’ respiratory health. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) states that toxic chemicals or substances, including lead, can also be tracked into the home from outside sources.
If you see dust accumulating in your home, be sure to clean that area immediately and properly. The EWG suggests these tips for cleaning various dust-covered surfaces:
- Frequently vacuum surfaces in your home with a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter. These are more efficient in trapping small particles than other filters. Change the filter regularly to ensure it is working at its best.
- Wet mop all uncarpeted floors.
- If you’re looking for new furniture, consider opting for wooden furniture or pieces that have down, wool, polyester, or cotton fabric. These materials typically do not contain as many fire retardant chemicals as others.
- Wipe your furniture with a wet or microfiber cloth. Microfiber cloths are great for grabbing dust off fabric-covered surfaces. A wet cloth will suffice if a microfiber one is not available.
- Caulk and seal cracks throughout your home to prevent dust from forming in places that you cannot normally reach.
- Equip forced-air heating and cooling systems with high-quality filters and change them regularly.
- Dust electronic equipment frequently.
- Pay close attention to specific areas where young children crawl, sit, and play most often.
If you have any further questions about lead poisoning or how to best prevent it in your home, visit the New Jersey Poison Control webpage on lead or call at 1-800-222-1222. NJ Poison Control advises that, if you call, explain your situation and symptoms and have the name of the contaminated product container ready or describe the suspected source of exposure. If someone is not breathing, seizing/convulsing, unconscious, bleeding, or experiencing any other potentially life-threatening symptoms, call 911 instead.
Take Control of Your Asthma with an Asthma Plan!
Compared to allergies, which may only affect the body for a period of time, asthma is a chronic condition where symptoms can be triggered by external factors. Managing one’s own asthma condition is important to living a healthy life. The American Lung Association provides a six-step plan that you can take to get you or your child’s asthma under control:
- Make your medical visits more productive – Know what symptoms are affecting you most, what medication you are currently taking, how long your symptoms have lasted, and what could possibly be triggering them. Identify the questions you should ask your healthcare provider before visiting them.
- Make an asthma plan – develop a plan of action with your healthcare provider that will provide you, your child, or a caretaker with key information on managing you or your child’s asthma.
- Assess and monitor your control – Keep track of your symptoms and when they are most severe during various levels of activity.
- Understand your medication – Each person’s case of asthma is different, and setting up a personalized plan is key. Communicate with your doctor and healthcare team so they can work with you to create the best plan.
- Reduce triggers – Identify what triggers your symptoms and educate yourself on simple ways that can limit your exposure or avoid them completely.
- Learn self-management skills – Learn more about asthma as a medical condition and understand it beyond its observable symptoms. A better understanding can aid in more effective management.
The American Lung Association provides a form to better assist you in creating an asthma action plan. In this form, you can provide key information, such as: your severity classification, a list of asthma triggers, your peak flow meter personal best, and specific symptoms ordered by severity with corresponding plans of action.
List the least severe symptoms and treatment protocols in the green section, the moderate-to-severe symptoms and medical plans for those in the yellow area, and the most urgent and immediately threatening symptoms in the red zone along with the associated action plan. There are also areas to provide an emergency contact and healthcare provider.
There is a separate version of this asthma action plan form for children that are attending school or spend time with a caregiver, such as a babysitter, daycare provider, or aftercare program worker. This version contains specific language for school-aged children to carry and use their asthma inhaler independently.
Learn from the Pros and Get Involved in Creating a Healthier Home
Creating a healthier living environment will help reduce the risk of allergens or asthma triggers to emerge in the home. Keeping the surfaces in your house clean and dust-free will also reduce the potential risk of lead-based paint particles from appearing in dust, which could then be inhaled.
If you or your child have asthma, be sure to know your symptoms, what triggers them, and what your course of action will be should they present themselves. Having an asthma action plan will direct you to selecting the right immediate relief treatment for specific symptoms once they occur.
Erica Vasquez of the NJ American Lung Association will be joining us at the Northern Regional Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention and Healthy Homes Coalition meeting on May 31st to discuss asthma management in childcare settings with the Partnership volunteers and staff members. For more information about the Coalition, call 973-372-4353.