If your partner or child has asthma, use these strategies to help keep them safe and healthy.
Roughly 25 million people in the United States are currently managing asthma — and so are the partners and children who live with them. Here are a few ways to make life easier (and safer) for everyone.
1. Familiarize yourself with their latest asthma action plan. An asthma action plan is a written outline that details for you and the person with asthma how to take medications and what to do if certain symptoms appear or an attack seems imminent.
2. Keep an inhaler on hand. “If there is any one drug that most asthmatics should have on board, it would probably be the albuterol inhaler,” says Richard Castriotta, MD, director of the division of pulmonary and sleep medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. The majority of people with asthma can get quick relief from these “rescue” inhalers, he adds.
3. Help your child monitor their asthma with a peak flow meter. Having your child blow into this portable device, which measures peoples’ ability to push air out of their lungs, can help you measure whether your child’s asthma treatment is working.
4. Make some areas of the home pet-free zones. Cat and dog dander are common asthma triggers. Keeping pets out of your house or limiting where they can go in the house, especially in bedrooms, may help relieve some of the symptoms. If nothing works, you may need to give up your pet, although that isn’t always a necessary.
5. Identify environmental triggers. Every person with asthma has different “triggers” — i.e., substances in their environment that can cause asthma symptoms to get worse or bring on an asthma attack. Some of the most common culprits are dust, pet dander (tiny flakes from a pet’s skin), mold, tobacco smoke, and air pollution. Certain foods may trigger asthma in some people as well.
6. Keep your indoor environment clean. Although it is difficult to control all the possible asthma triggers in your home, these cleaning tips can help reduce your symptoms:
Remove carpets and use tile, wood, or laminate flooring if possible. These are easier to keep dust-free.
Mop and vacuum once or twice a week (the person with asthma should wear a mask if they are nearby). Double bag when emptying vacuum cleaner bags, and use a vacuum with a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter. HEPA room filters may also help keep the air clean. "Every week, I vacuum and dust every room, including all the bookshelves, using a vacuum with a HEPA filter," says Dorothy Barnes of Hewitt, New Jersey, whose husband, Tim, has asthma. "I'm careful to dust all around the computer area in the office, too. It's made a big improvement in the way Tim feels."
Change filters, such as those in furnaces and HEPA machines, on a regular schedule. Another tip from McDonald: Schedule an annual duct cleaning, which can sometimes be performed by the people who steam clean carpets.
Practice good pest control if you have roaches or rodents.
Wash bedding and stuffed toys in hot water (over 130 degrees Fahrenheit) every week.
Use dust-mite covers on mattresses and pillows to prevent them from getting into pillows or mattresses. Dust mites are microscopic arthropods, invisible to the naked eye, that are present in dust, triggering an allergic reaction.
Address leaks and water spills immediately, before mold can form in moist areas.
Don’t allow smoking in the home.
7. Help them maintain a healthy weight. People who are obese may experience more asthma symptoms and hospitalizations than those who aren’t obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you're the head chef of the household, encourage healthy eating habits by preparing well-balanced meals.
8. Take precautions when they exercise. If your child has asthma, ask their doctor about whether he or she should use an inhaler before exercising or participating in sports. Adults can also experience exercise-induced asthma, too — especially when the weather is cold and dry.
9. Don’t crank up the humidifier or evaporative cooler. If your loved one is sensitive to dust mites or mold, avoid introducing too much moisture into the home. Instead, keep the indoor humidity levels between 40 and 50 percent.
10. Eat in. Foods like cow’s milk, eggs, and fish can trigger allergic reactions in some people. It can be hard to tell which ingredients are in restaurant dishes, but you can avoid any problematic foods by cooking meals at home, instead.
The more you know about asthma, the better you can help your loved one manage their condition.