Breathing. We do it all day, every day, and we seldom think about it unless something affects our breathing. Here in Western Pennsylvania, some of us are about to enter a season where either breathing itself or what we take in through the breath can cause us problems. Yep, we’re talking about allergies and asthma.
We tend to think of spring and fall as the allergy “seasons,” but did you know that the “spring” allergy season starts as early as late February when the trees begin to bud, which means they start producing pollen? Around the time tree pollen production drops, the grass begins to grow, keeping our pollen counts high. And guess when the spring allergy season ends! Pollen counts in Western PA tend to remain high through mid-July!
Then, we only have about a month until the fall allergies are upon us, giving seasonal allergy sufferers little relief.
According to the dictionary, asthma is “a respiratory condition marked by spasms in the bronchi of the lungs, causing difficulty in breathing. It usually results from an allergic reaction or other forms of hypersensitivity.” In the U.S., there are about 17 million asthma sufferers, according to the American Lung Association. For some individuals with asthma, it might mean merely the occasional or mild shortness of breath. But for others, suffering from asthma can create a potential inability to breathe. Plus, as a condition that has no cure, it’s a serious chronic health concern, especially among children.
Some individuals need to manage their asthma year-round, whereas others who suffer from allergy-induced asthma may only have to manage their symptoms during certain times of the year or under certain conditions.
What We Can Do to Minimize the Impact of Asthma and Allergies
Air pollution is a contributor to both conditions. So, as a society, our ongoing efforts to reduce air pollution will help. On a micro level, there are steps you can take to fight back during allergy season, depending upon your specific conditions and allergies.
Ventilate Your Home
For severe asthma and allergy sufferers, sealing up the house to keep the outdoor allergens and pollution out and running the air conditioner might be the smart solution, even when it’s not terribly hot out. So, this first tip probably seems counter-intuitive! But you’ll recall – as we’ve explained on our blog – our indoor air quality is often just as bad – or even worse – than outdoor air quality.
In spite of the allergens outside, you do want to make sure you are inviting fresh air into your home regularly, particularly in the wintertime. People get tend to get sick in the winter because we’re holed up inside together, which allows germs to concentrate indoors.
Before the pollen count gets too high, throw open a window or two on one of our warmer days to ventilate your home. Once the pollen count starts to climb – or if it’s just too cold – using the ventilation fans in your home is an alternate way to ventilate the air. Turning on the fan over your oven draws the air out of your kitchen for better circulation. You can reap the benefits of this even when you’re not preparing dinner.
The ventilation fan in your bathroom is something you always want to flick on when you’re grabbing a shower. As we’ll get to in a minute, humidity in your home can contribute to allergic reactions and poor indoor air quality in several ways. So, it’s important to vent out the steam from the hot water.
If you’ve recently made any home improvements, including a simple coat of paint, it’s extra important to ventilate the air in your home. Newly manufactured fixtures and paint give off strong odors that can trigger an asthma attack or otherwise irritate your respiratory system.
Use Multiple, High-Quality Filters
For asthma and allergy sufferers and families with young children, having the right filtration can make a world of difference in your indoor air quality. When your HVAC system was installed, it came with a certain, standard amount of air filtration. But those basic filtration systems may not eliminate many of the allergens that trigger allergy and asthma attacks, so an upgrade or two is in order.
The filter in your HVAC system “catches” dust, pollen, germs, and other irritants out of the air as that air moves through the system. This primary filtration system isn’t just important for health reasons, but it also helps to keep your heating and cooling equipment running smoothly. For cleaner air and a more efficient HVAC system, change your filters every one to three months. For better results, start by buying better filters. Look for the filters with the higher numerical ratings. The higher the number, the more pollutants they’ll filter out of the air.
But consider where these filters do their work relative to your living space. It’s a bit removed from where you’re hanging out in the house – and their air you’re actually inhaling. To further improve your indoor air quality, we can add a secondary filtration option to any HVAC system. And for families that include asthma or allergy sufferers, we recommend a third stage of filtration, one that includes an electronic filter to kill mold spores, which are another potential trigger for asthma.
Don’t forget to also keep up with the seasonal maintenance as recommended by your HVAC system’s manufacturer. Your air quality is only going to be as good as the condition of your system and your filters.
Filters for individual rooms are also a potential option, but they only improve the air in the rooms where you place them. For asthma and allergy sufferers, looking at whole-house solutions is likely better for health and for cost-efficiency.
Vacuum Carpeting Frequently (or Get Rid of It!)
Your HVAC system circulates the treated air through your home, which means that dust and other irritants in that air get stirred up and moved throughout your house. Therefore, if you want your HVAC system to push around fewer pollutants, get rid of them before they hit the HVAC for treatment and re-circulation.
Dust, dust mites, and pet dander are known allergens and asthma triggers, as well as mold, pollen, and microscopic insect parts and droppings. These irritants can settle into your carpeting and then get kicked up as you and your family members move about your house.
To prevent your cleaning activities from merely blowing up invisible clouds of allergens, be sure to vacuum at least once a week and install a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter in your vacuum cleaner. If your family has pets, you should also look for a vacuum cleaner that is specifically designed to pick up pet hair.
Further, it’s a great idea to steam clean your carpeting a routinely throughout the year. Ideally, this would be done monthly, but every couple of months is better than nothing. A great alternative – and a potentially better health solution – it to get rid of your carpeting altogether and use area rugs instead. Allergens can be easily removed from rugs by tossing them in the washer on a hot water cycle.
Allergens and other pollutants can also settle into your upholstery, window treatments, and bedding. Deep cleaning any items with soft fabrics can help reduce irritants and prevent allergy and asthma symptoms.
Watch the Humidity
Dust mites are very common and can trigger asthma attacks, and they prefer a cool yet humid environment. Mold and spores also tend to flourish in humid environments. When it’s warm, running your air conditioner tends to keep the humidity down – plus having the air on means you’re not letting seasonal allergens into your home. However, air conditioners don’t always manage the relative humidity. So, if your air is on, you could be making it very inviting for dust mites to come to and hang out in your house!
Talk to us about the best ways to dehumidify your home to keep the mold, spore, and dust mite populations in your home under control!
Finally, make sure your HVAC system is always operating in tip-top shape. you want to make sure your HVAC system is in peak operating condition. Asthmatic triggers can get much worse if you have an underperforming furnace or you’re A/C is leaking.
The things you can do, including deep cleaning and filter changes, go a long way. However, some small issues can only be detected and assessed by a professional HVAC technician. You might think you need not be concerned about “small” issues, but those small details are those that might have a big effect on a family member with asthma or allergies. Plus, keeping your HVAC system in its healthiest shape not only ensures your family’s health, but it can also save you money in terms of both energy efficiency and your system’s lifespan!
Trust Us with Your HVAC Needs
We care about your family’s comfort and health, and our professional, certified experts are available to help you assess your best HVAC options for your family, to provide regular maintenance to keep you running smoothly and efficiently, and to guide you on system and accessory purchases. We can help you make the changes you need to help the asthma sufferer in your home.
If you want our expert assistance in making your home more asthma and allergy-friendly, ask us for our recommendations during your upcoming seasonal maintenance visit. We’d be delighted to come up with healthy and cost-effective solutions for your family’s needs.
If you or someone you love suffers from asthma, visit the America Lung Association’s website. Among other things, they offer free self-paced or in-person training on the basics of asthma and its management!