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Home arrow Patient Education arrow Controlling Asthma Triggers in the Home
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 Texas Cooperative Extension

Controlling Asthma Triggers in the Home

Children and Asthma

Lorin V. Catalena, MS, PA-C

Texas ENT & Allergy

Janie L. Harris

Extension Housing and Environment Specialist

Housing and the Environment


At least 1 out of every 10 kids in the U.S. has asthma! That’s more than 6 million kids. In kids ages 5-17 years old, asthma accounts for 10 million school days missed per year - more than any other childhood chronic illness. Asthma accounts for 3 million doctor visits each year. It is the most common reason for childhood hospitalizations at 200,000 admissions per year. Finally, asthma costs $726 million due to caregivers’ missed work days.

What is Asthma?

Asthma is a chronic lung condition in which the airways are inflamed, causing airway obstruction. This inflammation is associated with recurrent narrowing of the airways in response to various triggers. Children with asthma often make a squeaky or whistling sound when they breathe through narrow airways. This whistling sound is called a wheeze. Other signs of asthma are difficulty breathing, difficulty taking a full breath, chest tightness, and cough. Proper medications for asthma will cause the narrowing of the airways to partially or completely reverse.

Think of asthma as an allergic response to an allergen or “trigger” that only affects the lungs. Similarly to how controlling allergy triggers in the home can reduce allergy symptoms, asthma triggers can be controlled as well. While patients with asthma require rescue medicine and oftentimes prevention medicine, controlling asthma triggers in the home can greatly reduce the frequency of your child’s asthma attacks.



What Triggers Asthma Attacks?

Upper respiratory infections and allergies are the most common triggers for asthma. In other words, if your child has asthma and is prone to getting common colds or your child has allergies, he or she will have more frequent asthma symptoms. Controlling measures include:

¨ New mothers are encouraged to breastfeed for the first 12 months because  it strengthens a child’s immune system.

¨ Decrease exposures to viruses and bacteria for the very small child by avoiding daycare settings with 5 or more kids per room.

¨ Caregivers and children should frequently use hand sanitizer or warm, soapy water.

¨ Ask your health care provider about your child’s need for an annual flu shot.

Child swimmingExercise can trigger asthma because the child will breathe faster and with an open mouth. Breathing through an open mouth rather than at a controlled, slow rate through the nose does not allow for the nose to warm the air. This change in the air temperature in the lungs causes the muscles around the lungs to contract, but exercise should still be encouraged. Certain sports are less likely to produce this response. Controlling measures include:

¨ Swimming is the ultimate sport for asthmatics because the swimmer is in a humid, warm environment and in a horizontal position, which moves mucus from the bottom of the lungs.

¨ Walking, leisure biking, hiking, and other sports, which require short bursts of energy rather than both speed and endurance, are optimal exercise choices for asthmatics.

Cold weather can cause asthma attacks for similar reasons. When cold air is inhaled, small muscles around the lungs contract. Therefore, ensure that your asthmatic child stays warm. Controlling measures include:

 ¨ Encourage your child to breathe through his nose and wear a scarf over his mouth and nose in very cold weather.

 Cigarette smoke must be completely avoided by the child with asthma. Controlling measures include:

¨ Encourage parents to quit smoking.

¨ Do not smoke around the child, his home, or the car in which he rides.

¨ If an adult smokes, it is important to change clothes before being with the child.

¨ Cigarette smoke in public places can trigger an asthma attack. Look for non-smoking sections in restaurants and other public places.

Dust mites are a common trigger for asthma. Dust mites are microscopic, living creatures that feed off of human skin scales. They thrive in warm, humid places and are the main component of house dust. Even the cleanest house has dust mites in bedding, upholstery, curtains, carpet, and stuffed animals. Controlling measures include:

¨ Frequently clean your home, and vacuum carpets and upholstery with a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter.

¨ Consider removing carpets and rugs from the bedroom.

¨ Keep upholstered furniture out of the bedroom.

¨ Wash stuffed animals in hot water, or place them in a freezer bag and freeze them overnight.

¨ Keep the humidity in your home about 50% in the summer and 35% in the winter.

¨ Cover mattresses, box springs, and pillows with allergen-impermeable covers.

¨ Avoid heavy curtains, and damp wipe venetian blinds weekly.

¨ Air filters should be changed every month during heating and air conditioning seasons.

Animal dander is a protein from the animal’s skin or saliva. Pets in the home can cause a significant problem for asthmatic children. Cats are the most troublesome pet. Controlling measures include:

¨ Remove pets from the indoors. The bedroom should be off-limits for pets.

¨ Shampoo pets once a week. Measures taken to control dust mites will also help control dander.

CockroachCockroaches can cause severe allergic responses that can lead to difficulty in controlling asthma in children. Studies show that in areas where cockroach infestation is out of control, there is a higher rate of asthma. Controlling measures include:

¨ Vacuum regularly.

¨ Keep the house clean and sanitary by wiping up spills, and keeping garbage and pet food covered and sealed.

¨ Keep pests out of the house by sealing cracks, repairing window screens, etc.

¨ Get rid of places where pests can hide such as stacks of magazines, newspapers, boxes, and clutter in general.

¨ Kill the pests with the least toxic method. If you have an infestation or severe problem, you may need to establish a regular schedule with a pest control company.

Mold & mildew can grow in any warm, moist area. Mold will often grow outdoors on leaves and in standing water. Molds are frequently seen in bathrooms, kitchens, and utility rooms. Controlling measures include:

¨ Remove piles of leaves and standing water from around the house.

¨ Empty pans under air conditioners and refrigerators frequently to prevent standing water in the home.

¨ Purchase a dehumidifier for your home; run the air conditioner in warm climates.

¨ Wipe down wet shower walls with a dry rag after use, and leave shower doors open to increase air flow.

¨ Throw away moldy foods, and empty the garbage frequently.

¨ Clean indoor mold growth; prevent future growth by controlling moisture. Keep the area clean with an anti-mold solution.

Reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), can cause asthma attacks in children. Acid from the stomach can enter the airways and can affect even the voice box, sinuses, and ears. Some infants and children with reflux spit up frequently or are more irritable than other children. Controlling measures include:

¨ Talk to your pediatrician if your child’s asthma worsens after meals or if she has a chronic cough, hoarseness, or frequent ear infections.

Strong emotionsStrong emotions, believe it or not, can worsen asthma. Laughing, crying, or yelling can stimulate muscles around the lungs to contract. Controlling measures include:

¨ If your child’s asthma has the tendency to worsen with intense emotions, have him practice relaxing his breathing during these times. Talk to his pediatrician if his asthma medications do not control him well enough during these emotional periods.

Household irritants such as cleaners, paints, thinners, varnish, bleach, polish, and strong-smelling sprays such as perfumes, deodorants, and hair sprays can trigger your child’s asthma to worsen. Controlling measures include:

¨ Have her wear a mask during projects where use of these products is necessary to protect her airways from the fumes, or have her avoid these irritants entirely.

Nitrogen dioxide is an odorless gas that can irritate your eyes, nose, and throat, cause shortness of breath, and trigger an asthma attack. This gas can come from the use of appliances that burn fuels, such as gas, wood, and kerosene. Carbon Monoxide DetectorCarbon monoxide is another odorless gas that is emitted into the air by appliances or machines such as fireplaces, stoves, water heaters, furnaces, and vehicles. Carbon monoxide not only can trigger an asthma attack, it can kill. Controlling measures include:

¨ Make sure that fuel-burning household appliances vent to the outside.

¨ Use the exhaust fan in the kitchen while cooking on the stove. 

¨ Never use the gas cooking stove to heat the house. 

¨ Purchase and install a carbon monoxide alarm. 

¨ Never leave a car running in the garage.  

¨ Have fuel-burning appliances checked annually by a plumber.

Take Control!

Plan to control the triggers to your child’s asthma. Go back through this and re-read the “controlling measures” for each asthma trigger. Place a check mark (√) adjacent to each item once you have taken that action. Do what you can for your child to eliminate the triggers that cause his or her asthma to worsen.


About the Authors

Lorin V. Catalena is a certified Physican Assistant with the Texas ENT & Allergy team in College Station, Texas. Prior to joining the ENT practice in 2005, she worked for four years as a Pediatric Physician Assistant.

Janie L. Harris is a Texas Cooperative Extension Housing and Environment Specialist, providing leadership for development of Extension educational materials and programs for adults and youth in the area of housing and the home environment.

For additional home and health-related information, visit Texas Cooperative Extension’s Family and Consumer Sciences website

This document is meant for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider.


Educational programs of Texas Cooperative Extension are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, or national origin.

The Texas A&M University System, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the County Commissioners Courts of Texas Cooperating

Used with permission. 

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