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Asthma and Indoor Air

A new season can bring a whole new collection of asthma triggers. Here are some simple tips to help keep your asthma under control during the winter.

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Over 25 million people are living with asthma in the United States. Though asthma symptoms can be controlled, changes in the weather and your activities can bring new asthma triggers that cause asthma flare-ups. During the winter months, most of us spend more time indoors due to colder weather. Understanding how this may affect your asthma is a key component to better managing your asthma.

Asthma Triggers that Affect the Air You Breathe at Home and Work

Many potential asthma triggers can be found inside your home and at work, but with the proper measures they can be controlled. An asthma trigger is a substance, environmental factor or physical condition that causes asthma symptoms. Many people with asthma can have more than one trigger and asthma triggers can vary from person to person. Some triggers that can be found in the air that you breathe include dust, pet dander, strong odors and chemicals, and smoke, including from cigarettes and fireplaces or even candles. Below are a few tips to help avoid or reduce exposure to triggers that affect your asthma:

  • Dust mites: These microscopic pests live in bedding, upholstered furniture and carpets. Make sure the humidity inside your home stays below 50 percent, as dust mites thrive in higher humidity. Wash your bedding in hot water and damp mop your floors once a week.
  • Pet Dander: Reduce your exposure to pet dander by vacuuming, damp moping and dusting weekly. If weather permits, keep pets outside, but if they must be indoors, at least keep pets out of the bedroom or other rooms where you spend a lot of time.
  • Strong Odors and Chemicals: Scents and certain chemicals in perfumes, deodorants, air fresheners and cleaning supplies can worsen your asthma. Closed windows can make those scents even stronger during the colder months. Choose cleaning and personal care products that are odor and fragrance-free.
  • Smoke from Fireplaces and Candles:  Gathering around the wood-burning fireplace may be part of the winter season, but smoke can trigger an asthma flare-up. Additionally, scented candles have the double-whammy of creating extra smoke in the home as well as strong odors that can cause asthma symptoms. To feel the glow of the season, go faux and enjoy electric fireplaces and candles.

Not only can the triggers described above affect the air you breathe but pests and mold can also impact your asthma. Pests such as cockroaches, rodents, and mold can be found in your home or workplace. To prevent these pest and mold triggers from impacting your asthma, remember to regularly remove garbage and store outside. Instead of using harsh chemicals to remove mold, use mild soap, hot water and a strong brush. Additionally, fix any leaks that might be a source of moisture and make sure that bathrooms are properly ventilated with an exhaust fan. More detailed information can be found at the links above.

Secondhand Smoke and Multi-Unit Housing

Secondhand smoke can be harmful to anyone, but especially people with asthma, and can travel through windows in any home.  For those that live in multi-unit housing, such as an apartment, duplex or condo, secondhand smoke from someone else’s indoor smoking can trigger asthma symptoms. It can migrate from other units and common areas and travel through doorways, cracks in walls, electrical lines, plumbing, and ventilation systems. By advocating on behalf of all tenants, buildings can go smokefree and save landlords time, energy and money in the long-run.

Controlling Your Asthma at Work

Unlike at home, you may have less control at work over your exposure to certain irritants and allergens that can cause asthma symptoms. However, there are ways you can advocate for an asthma-friendly work environment.

  • Secondhand Smoke: Work with your employer to implement a tobacco-free workplace policy and provide access to smoking cessation programs. Not only will there be a reduction of triggers for employees with asthma, but it will also lower health insurance related costs by reducing all employees’ risks for lung diseases including lung cancer and COPD.   
  • Fragrance-free Workplace Policy: Fragrances can and do affect indoor air quality. They also represent potential health hazards for employees with asthma and other chronic lung diseases. Work with your employers to establish fragrance-free policies such as: No perfumes, colognes, aftershave, scented lotions, or scented hairspray while at work. Strong-smelling cleaning products can also be detrimental to your efforts to create a healthy indoor environment.  This sample Letter to Building Management can encourage the use of fragrance-free cleaning products.
  • Mold and Pests: Pests such as dust mites, cockroaches and rodents, and mold can impact those with asthma. Businesses can reduce asthma triggers by implementing cleaning policies that include storing garbage outside, vacuuming and dusting weekly, and clean mold with mild soap, hot water and a strong brush. Additionally, using Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an economical and safe way to avoid exposure to harmful pesticides.


The American Lung Association has many resources to help you manage your asthma at home and at work, as well as guidance on how to advocate for better indoor air quality at work.

Related Topic: Health & Wellness

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