Asthma and Cleaning Products: A Complicated Relationship
Sep 16, 2020
Asthma is one of the most common chronic health conditions affecting children and adults. It varies in severity, frequency of symptoms, and triggers. Many people can have well-controlled asthma for months at a time, then suddenly develop difficulty breathing after coming in contact with one of their triggers.
Common asthma symptoms include coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Asthma can become serious quickly and is a leading cause of emergency room visits. People with asthma have underlying inflammation of their lower airways, which is part of their chronic condition and not something that is felt. They also have very sensitive airways, which causes the muscles to squeeze and constrict airflow.
There are many types of asthma triggers, which can vary by person and over time. Some exposures, such as indoor and outdoor allergens and cigarette smoke can cause chronic symptoms, whereas other triggers can cause rapid onset symptoms or asthma attacks.
Viral upper respiratory infections are the most common type of trigger causing asthma flare-ups and are very common in the autumn and winter. Thankfully, COVID-19 is not behaving like other respiratory viruses in regards to asthma and has not been shown to be a trigger similar to colds and influenza.
First and foremost, it is always important to try and maintain good asthma control. Frequent nighttime awakenings, increased need for rescue treatment, or worsening symptoms indicate less than ideal control. When asthma is not well-controlled, it lowers the threshold for triggers to cause more severe symptoms. Individual treatment plans can help determine the need for daily controller medications and indications for using rescue inhalers.
Small particles and aerosol chemicals are another common asthma trigger. This includes air pollution, ozone, perfumes, colognes, essential oil diffusers, scented candles, and smoke. Interestingly, cleaning products and disinfectants fall into this category as well, particularly if they have strong scents or are used as sprays.
While regular cleaning is important to prevent the spread of infection (a common asthma trigger), this process can trigger asthma symptoms for some people. Seems like a no win situation, but some simple steps can hopefully prevent major issues.
When cleaning products and disinfectants are used inside the home, ideally, anyone with asthma should avoid that room until the scent is gone. Aerosol sprays are much riskier compared with detergent-based wipes. If the room cannot be avoided, wearing a face mask may help reduce exposure.
It’s also important to be thoughtful about how and why cleaning is being done. For instance, it is not necessary to spray or wipe down groceries or packages when they’re brought into the home. However, it is helpful to clean items handled frequently such as tablets and mobile phones. Good hand washing with soap and water is important as well.
If you or your child has asthma, now is a great time to discuss your treatment plan with your own doctor and make sure all prescriptions and refills are up to date. It’s also a perfect time to receive the seasonal influenza vaccine, which can help prevent severe illness this winter.
David Stukus, MD, is an associate professor of pediatrics in the Section of Allergy and Immunology at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Dr. Dave, as his patients call him, is passionate about increasing awareness for allergies and asthma.
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