So, what are the main triggers for asthma in children and how can we avoid them?
1) Dust Mites and Dust Mite Faeces
Yes, you read that last bit correct! Dust mites cause big problems for kids with asthma. So what are they? Dust mites are tiny, microscopic creatures that live on house dust. They hang about in places like mattresses, bed linen, pillows, and carpets. They love a warm humid environment (like your house in winter with the thermostat turned up). And where you have mites, you have mite faeces which is a major childhood asthma trigger. In a recent study, infants with early sensitivity to dust mites before the age of 2 have a higher risk of persistent asthma.
The problem, of course, is not helped when we put the kids to bed, fluff up the pillows and the sheets and then leave them to go to sleep in what is essentially a cloud of dust mites and their secretions.
2) House Dust
With the windows shut and sealed the next thing we do is turn on the heating. In the bedroom, kitchen, TV room, all the heat is on. And the house, like any other house, has dust floating about in the air.
Warm air rises, cool air descends so we now have what’s called convection. This is where tiny microscopic dust particles circulate in the air. Most of us who have kids with asthma have wood floors or tiles but many of us have carpeted rooms. And all those tiny particles get thrown up into the air so the kids can breathe them in. House dust varies in size but a lot of it is below 2.5 microns, what we refer to as PM2.5. To put that in perspective, a human hair is 60 microns wide. So most airborne house dust is actually invisible.
3) Pet Dander
Anybody who suffers from allergies will be aware of the problems caused by pet dander. Itching eyes, runny nose, skin irritation and other symptoms are common. More importantly, it has also been identified as an asthma trigger.
Pet dander is basically made from microscopic flecks of animal skin, some so small they are invisible to the naked eye, meaning they can hang about in the air for hours or days without ever settling to the ground. So as you walk through your house you end up breathing this in. Because they are such small particles they can penetrate
deeper into the lungs and cause serious respiratory problems. So you have a choice – get rid of the pets or get rid of the dander.
We’ve all seen it and particularly in autumn and winter it becomes more prevalent but even in summer, it will persist in poorly ventilated rooms. Mould is a naturally occurring organism and is an important part of the Earth’s ecosystem.
Which is great but do you really want it in your home? Black or blue spotting on ceilings, door jambs, and window panes? And that’s just what’s on the surface. The reality is that if you have surface mould then you have airborne mould spores. And if they have a compromised respiratory system then mould is one of the last things your children need to breathe. In a study published in 2015 by the American Academy of Pediatrics babies exposed to mould in infancy have a greater risk of developing asthma than those not exposed.
One of the simplest ways to reduce airborne mould or prevent it from occurring is to ensure there is adequate ventilation and air circulation. This is difficult to achieve in winter when we shut all windows and doors but installing an approved air cleaner will help prevent mould by recirculating indoor air and by removing any airborne mould spores through the HEPA filters.
5) Vehicle exhaust emissions
Probably the worst offender of all is NO2 nitrogen dioxide from exhaust pipes of vehicles. If you live in an urban area and in Spring or Summer you open the windows of the house, chances are you will have allowed this to enter your home. In a recent study published in the medical magazine The Lancet, 4 million children worldwide get asthma every year from this gas and other emissions.