How is asthma related to indoor air quality?

Jul 1, 2020

Millions of people suffer from asthma. While there is no cure, those who have it can improve their quality of life by having a better understanding of what triggers asthma attacks. Some of those triggers are related to the indoor environment. This blog post will discuss asthma and indoor air quality.

What is asthma?

Asthma is a chronic and long term respiratory condition where the airways in the lungs are constricted. Inflammation can cause the airways in the lungs to narrow which makes it difficult to breathe. When the airways are inflamed the body may produce more mucus, which makes it even more difficult for a person to breathe. Inflammation and mucus is one way that asthma may manifest and another way is when muscles around the airways tighten. This is also known as a bronchospasm.  

Some symptoms include chest tightness, coughing, shortness of breath, and wheezing.  People can have a mild or severe case. When someone is having severe symptoms they are having an attack or flare-up. What makes asthma unique is that constriction of airways is reversible– after the attack, the airways will return back to normal.

What causes it?

There are multiple factors that contribute to the onset of asthma. Not enough research is available to fully understand all the factors, however, researchers have identified some key associations. For one, genetics may play a role. If you have a family member with asthma, it increases the likelihood that you may develop asthma. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), allergies, obesity, and respiratory infections caused by viruses can be linked to this respiratory problem as well. Occupational exposures from chemical irritants and industrial dust can cause workers to develop what is known as occupational asthma. 

What are some triggers for an asthma attack?

While it is typically not possible to pinpoint a specific cause for one’s asthma onset, researchers have found that there are triggers that can cause exacerbation of asthmatic symptoms. Allergens from animal fur, mold, and dust mites have been connected to causing asthma and they can also trigger an attack. Other environmental contaminants such as second-hand tobacco smoke or poor air quality can also be triggers. Poor outdoor air quality can exacerbate asthmatic symptoms, particularly when exercising. 

Preventing Attacks

Ask your doctor what the best course of action is for you. Generally, it is recommended to find out what is triggering the symptoms. For example, if you notice your symptoms are worse at work, investigate what variables change at work that could potentially be triggering your symptoms. Or if you know you are allergic to dogs, avoid dogs and consider having your new home thoroughly cleaned if the past owner or renter had a dog. 

Since allergens are known triggers for asthma, you may want to consider having an allergen test performed in your home. Indoor Science can perform the testing and give you a report that indicates whether a certain allergen is present in your home and if the level is considered elevated. We commonly look for dust mite, cat, dog, mold, mouse, cockroach and others.

Overall, the best advice to avoid asthma related respiratory problems is to first identify your triggers then avoid them. And some good advice for everyone is to reduce your time in environments that have poor air quality, outdoors and indoors.