Asthma is the most widespread chronic health problem in Australia. It affects one in four children, one in seven teenagers, one in ten adults, hospitalises more children than any other illness and results in 15 deaths a week.
Allergic reactions such as those associated with asthma are caused by a reaction to allergens. Some of the worst allergens for asthma are-.
• dust mites (microscopic creatures which breed in household dust, bedding and carpets)
• cat allergens (microscopic flakes of cat skin)
• mould growth from condensation
Research shows that in homes where allergens are reduced asthma symptoms often improve and the chances of infants becoming allergic and developing asthma are less.
The information in this article is based generally around minimising the effects and impact of allergens in your home. Other factors which can help keep your home healthier include minimising toxins from products like melamine, carpet and paints.
An energy efficient home is a healthier home.. However the most significant area of conflict between healthy and energy efficient homes is the requirement in energy efficient homes to ‘seal the building up’ to prevent warm/heated air from escaping and cold air from entering your home (or vice versa). This can be addressed through a suitable ventilation system.
Beating asthma in your home
Designing and maintaining a low allergen home will help beat asthma. Minimising dust flow and allowing for easy dust removal will help reduce dust mite breeding areas. Four areas that can be addressed immediately in your home to make it a healthier place include:
- Floor finishes
Smooth, hard floor finishes are preferred over carpets. Mites cannot breed on timber, cork or linoleum floors. Hard floors are much easier to keep clear of dust and other allergens.Regular cleaning of your floors is important. The aim is to remove allergen material without putting it into the air. This can be achieved by using a damp cloth to clean surfaces. Steam cleaning of carpets temporarily removes surface allergens. Regular steam cleaning is required, as regular vacuuming removes dust but not the live mites. Make sure your vacuum cleaner has an effective filtration system to keep allergens out of the air. A built-in ducted vacuum system is preferable, since it doesn’t redistribute dust around the room. If carpet is your preferred floor covering then choose a short pile with synthetic fibre and a rubber underlay.
Heating and Cooling
Asthma Tasmania recommends electric heating as the best choice for asthma sufferers. Electric heaters do not need oxygen to operate (even wood and gas heaters, which are filtered, burn oxygen). Electric heaters dont create extra moisture in the air, therefore helping prevent mould growth.
Wood heaters release tiny particles into the air both inside and out, which are known causes of respiratory problems. They are so minute that they can lodge within the respiratory system and remain there for life. If you are sensitive to dry air, choose an electric heating model which does not distribute heat by using a fan.
Fan heaters have a tendency to dry out the air and they can move dust around a room. There are plenty of models and styles to choose which dont blow air around, for example Panel Heaters, Radiant Heaters, Oil Filled Column Heaters, Radiant Ceiling Heating, Under Carper Heating, Off Peak Storage Banks or Under Floor Heating.
Some heat pump models and most ducted electric heating systems are fitted with filters to trap dust. These filters should be changed as recommended by the manufacturer to eliminate dust problems.
Generally radiant, natural convection electric or slab heating is preferred — it doesnt consume room oxygen or generate moist combustion fumes, and doesnt use fans, which can circulate dust and dry the air.
Ventilation and Condensation
Condensation is a surface dampness which will result in black mould growth. All homes have some level of condensation – on bedroom windows on a cold winter morning for example. It is when levels remain high for extended periods that problems can occur. The first thing to check is that a high moisture area is not caused by a leaking roof or by rising damp.
If you have a condensation problem, mould should be removed with detergents, mould removers or vinegar and water. The next step is to reduce the level of moisture. The necessary steps will include minimising the condensation and preventing the mould from spreading around your home. It can be as simple as keeping lids on cooking pans, drying clothes outside not inside, and keeping the bathroom door shut.
If condensation is a serious problem, increased ventilation will help keep your home dry. Extractor fans in your bathroom, kitchen and laundry will remove excess moisture from the rooms. Damp houses have more mites, moulds and bacteria, all of which contribute to respiratory problems.
Large, opening north facing windows maximise light, ventilation and sun. Where possible you should install blinds instead of drapes to minimise the build up of dust and mites.
Air vents should allow one air change per hour to maintain fresh air in your home.
Mites on bed linen can only be killed in very h