Published on 04/15/09

Learn to control asthma attacks

By Pamela Turner
University of Georgia

Do you or a family member suffer from asthma? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 23 million people, including 6.8 million children, have been diagnosed with asthma.

People with asthma experience shortness of breath or difficulty breathing that may be accompanied by coughing, wheezing or tightness in the chest. A severe attack can be life-threatening.

Asthma can limit a child’s ability to play, learn or sleep, and result in large financial costs to the family. Each year more than 17 million visits to the doctor’s office or hospital and nearly 2 million emergency room visits are related to asthma. It is the third-ranking cause of hospitalization among children under 15.

But, asthma can be controlled by learning to manage or avoid things that trigger an attack.

If you are an asthma sufferer, it will take some detective work to figure out your asthma triggers. Once you know what is causing your asthma attacks, you can create a plan and control your exposure.

Asthma can be triggered by indoor and outdoor environmental factors. Common asthma triggers are tobacco smoke, dust mites, cockroaches and pets.

Tobacco smoke is one of the easiest asthma triggers to control. Simply reduce your exposure and make sure no one smokes in your home or vehicle.

Sufficient evidence links dust mites to the development of asthma among sensitive persons. Dust mite control should be part of your asthma plan. Dust mites are microscopic creatures that like to live in humid environments, like your mattress. They can also be found in upholstered furniture and stuffed animals.

To discourage dust mites, keep the indoor humidity below 60 percent. Control your exposure to dust mites by covering mattresses and pillows with dust-proof covers and washing blankets and sheets weekly in hot soapy water. This will kill dust mites and their eggs. If your stuffed animals can’t be washed, place them in a large plastic bag and put the bag in the freezer for a few hours.

To further remove dust mites, vacuum your carpet and upholstered furniture weekly with a high performance vacuum.

Research shows that cockroaches and their droppings can also lead to the development of asthma. So, stop feeding them. Cockroaches need food and water to survive.

To discourage cockroaches, don’t drop snacks in the sofa and don’t leave food in bedrooms or on the kitchen counter. Also remove pet food at night.

Every two to three days, vacuum or sweep areas that may attract cockroaches. Rather than spraying pesticides inside, use roach traps or gel baits to control cockroaches.

Furry pets, like cats and dogs, can also trigger asthma attacks. Keep pets off beds and carpeted areas and bathe them weekly.

Other things may trigger asthma attacks. It’s important to create an individual plan to control your asthma triggers. Remember, with a little effort, you can control asthma.

(Pamela Turner is a University of Georgia Cooperative Extension housing specialist with the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences.)

April R. Sorrow is a science writer with the University of Georgia Public Affairs Office.