Creating a healthy home by reducing toxins and improving indoor air quality can have a direct effect on whether your child develops asthma. And in families already affected by the condition (as many as 10% of American children have asthma), the choices you make when purchasing home furnishings and cleaning agents can be as important as medicine in preventing attacks.
Whether a child develops asthma is determined both by genetics and by environment. While many diseases are becoming less common, incidence of asthma has steadily increased since 1980. It has become the most common chronic disease in children. Research suggests that young children who are exposed to high levels of airborne volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are four times more likely to develop asthma than other children.
VOCs are chemicals that release fumes and are found in many solvents, cleaning products, air-fresheners, polishes, adhesives, paints, new carpeting and furniture. Recent medical evidence indicates that VOCs can cause lung damage, resulting in asthma. Reducing your child’s exposure to VOCs at home is one way you can lessen his risk of developing asthma. For those who already have asthma, these fumes can trigger wheezing. Changes in the home environment can be as powerful as medication in treating this condition.
In 2004, the New England Journal of Medicine reported on an NIH-funded study that followed almost 1,000 elementary schoolchildren for two years, all of whom had severe allergic asthma. Half of the children received routine asthma treatment. The other half got home evaluations by environmental counselors. The counselors identified, reduced and in some cases eliminated allergens by providing environmentally safe sleep zones, with hypoallergenic covers for each child’s mattress, box spring and pillows. Parents used a vacuum cleaner equipped with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter and some ran a HEPA air purifier in their child’s bedroom. The results were outstanding, comparable to those attained by children using inhaled steroid medicines. During the two-year span, the benefits of the changes translated into 34 fewer days with reported wheezing as compared with similar children who did not have the home changes. They also had fewer absences from school (missing 2 weeks less than the control group over the two years), and had four fewer urgent doctor- or emergency-room visits.
The results of this study were achieved only after multiple possible triggers of asthma were eliminated. In previous studies, where only a single change was made, success rates were lower. And even after you’ve made major alterations in your home, medicines may still be necessary to control your child’s asthma, so it’s important that you work with your doctor as you prepare to make alterations to her treatment regimen.