It’s Autumn and it’s beautiful outside. Leaves on the trees have turned to brilliant shades of amber and crimson. Soon, they begin to fall to the ground, a few at first then all at once, piling up faster than you can remove them.
“Can I go outside to play?”
Your child has asthma, it’s cold, the ground is damp, and the leaves everywhere are probably growing mould and sending spores flying in all directions. But it’s hard to tell what’s going to be an asthma trigger and what’s not, and even harder to say no to your little one.
To help inform your decisions, we discuss 5 potential types of triggers which your child should avoid all year round and what else you can do to safeguard their health.
- Respiratory infections
The most common triggers for an asthma flare-up are respiratory infections such as sinus infections or influenza. These illnesses are usually brought about by viruses and cause the airways to become swollen and narrow. Such effects increase your child’s chances of getting an asthma attack.
To lower the possibility of a respiratory infection, ensure that your child gets an annual flu vaccine, has good hand-washing habits (with soap and water) and avoids contact with people who are sick with a cold or flu. It is also important that you keep your child’s breathing equipment clean and that they do not share this equipment with others. If your child has flu-like symptoms, follow their asthma action plan on what to do in in the case of illness. Check your child’s progress regularly and consult their paediatrician immediately if you have any concerns.
Exposure to smoke, including tobacco smoke and smoke from burning wood fires or plants, can irritate the airways and trigger asthma symptoms. Children with asthma who are exposed to smoke tend to have asthma attacks that are more frequent and more severe.
If your child has asthma, do not allow any smoking in your home and avoid smoky places such as areas with bars and pubs. This reduces the possibility of secondhand (inhaling tobacco smoke from others) and thirdhand (from smoke residue that sticks to clothes and surfaces) smoke.
- Outdoor air pollution, airborne particles, and weather
Air quality is affected by outdoor air pollution, airborne particles and the weather which in turn, influence the likelihood of your child experiencing asthma symptoms.
Air pollution (e.g. smog, vehicle exhaust, and fumes) has been shown to worsen asthma symptoms. The aforementioned examples also contribute to ozone, a harmful gas that irritates the airways. Ozone makes it more difficult for you to breathe deeply and high concentrations of this gas in the air directly influence the frequency of asthma attacks. If your child has asthma, you should keep track of air pollution levels on a daily basis and make changes to any plans to take them outdoors, if necessary.
Similarly, airborne particles such as mould spores and pollen can be potential triggers for asthma symptoms. According to Asthma UK, around 42% of people notice that their symptoms are triggered by mould and fungi. On the other hand, 62% of people with asthma report that their symptoms are triggered by pollen. When pollen grains are inhaled, a person’s immune system reacts by producing histamine – a type of chemical that causes hay fever symptoms (e.g. runny nose, sneezing, and coughing). The release of histamine also worsens asthma. If your child’s asthma is triggered by mould spores and pollen, do take note of daily weather and pollen forecasts. Keep your windows closed, particularly when going out in the car, and avoid woodlands or parks that may have problematic plants.You should keep your home dry with the help of a dehumidifier and check for any sources of leaks or mould on a regular basis.
Mould spores are also broken into smaller, easily inhaled fragments during a thunderstorm, therefore becoming a prominent asthma trigger during rainy weather. On a cold day, air that is breathed in may trigger a spasm that results in asthma symptoms such as wheezing and coughing. Exercising in the cold may thus trigger asthma in a similar manner, since air is breathed in rapidly and does not have the time to warm up before it reaches the airways. Before your child heads out on a cold day, you may wrap a clean scarf loosely over their nose and mouth to warm the air that they breathe in.
It’s always good to stay informed of weather changes and abnormalities in air quality so that you may protect your child against potential triggers. Information on air quality is typically available, and kept up-to-date, on your environment authority’s website or weather forecasts.
- Dust mites and cockroaches
Dust mites are little bugs that exist in nearly every home. They thrive in warm, humid environments available to them in bedding, carpeting, and furniture. Dust mites produce harmful small particles, called allergens, that can trigger asthma attacks. To prevent asthma symptoms triggered by dust mites, avoid giving your child down-filled pillows or quilts, use mattress and pillowcase covers, and remove stuffed toys from their rooms.
Cockroaches also produce allergens that concentrate in their fecal matter and fragments of their body parts. Similar to those from dust mites, these small particles can become airborne and trigger asthma symptoms. Since cockroaches are often attracted to food sources in your home, remove any scraps and crumbs that may be left behind and prevent cockroach infestations with the use of traps.
- Pet dander
Furry or feathery pets such as cats, dogs, and birds often shed pet dander – extremely small flecks of skin. Since these flecks are so tiny, they stay suspended in the air for a long time and can be breathed in, causing an allergic or asthmatic reaction. They also stick to all sorts of surfaces and fabrics, thus spreading quickly in and out of the house. If your child is sensitive to pet dander, avoid keeping pets. If you have pets and are unable to rehome them, keep any pets out of the bedroom and do not allow them onto furniture and carpets. You should also vacuum your home often and ensure that the pet is bathed or cleaned regularly.
When your child has asthma, it may often feel like there are too many things to look out for and so much that can endanger your child’s health. We hope that this article has helped to consolidate information on potential triggers to make your decision-making process a little easier. If you have doubts, you should discuss them with a paediatrician and formulate an appropriate asthma action plan for your child. You can reduce your child’s exposure to potential asthma triggers – one step at a time!
American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. Asthma Triggers and Management. 2018. Electronic. 21 December 2018. https://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/library/asthma-library/asthma-triggers-and-management
American Academy of Pediatrics. Asthma Triggers and What to do About Them. 30 April 2018. Electronic. 21 December 2018. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/allergies-asthma/Pages/Asthma-Triggers-and-What-to-do-About-Them.aspx
Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Air Pollution. 2015. Electronic. 21 December 2018. https://www.aafa.org/air-pollution-smog-asthma/
Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Tobacco Smoke and Asthma. 2017. Electronic. 21 December 2018. https://www.aafa.org/secondhand-smoke-environmental-tobacco-asthma/
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Mayo Clinic. Dust mite allergy. 16 May 2018. Electronic. 21 December 2018. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dust-mites/symptoms-causes/syc-20352173