Winter weather means lots of time spent indoors—and lots of exposure to potential asthma triggers. Keep your home free and clear of these airway irritants with a few simple tips.

Your 4-year-old son is one of the nearly 5 million children younger than age 18 with asthma—the most common chronic disease among children in the United States, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Since he doesn’t attend school full time, he’ll be spending most days at home this winter. That means you have some adjustments to make.

“Addressing home-based asthma triggers becomes more important during winter because children spend more time indoors in closer proximity to the things that may cause symptoms,” says Leonard Bacharier, MD, a Washington University pediatric asthma specialist at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “Efforts to reduce these indoor triggers may allow children with asthma to experience fewer attacks and require fewer medications.”

Home Improvements
Preventing an asthma attack will be easier if you know what your child should avoid. That could include irritants, such as smoke or strong cleaning supplies, or allergens, including dust mites, pets and mold.

Once you identify those, it’s time to get busy asthma-proofing your home. Use these tips as a guide:

  • Do change heating and cooling system filters regularly to protect air quality.
  • Don’t smoke in the home or car. Even smoking indoors but away from children can expose kids to smoke, since it can filter throughout a home. Avoid burning incense or candles and using wood-burning stoves or fireplaces.
  • Do run exhaust fans in the bathroom and fix water leaks promptly to prevent mold growth. Address any existing mold with appropriate cleaners or a more thorough mold-remediation program.
  • Don’t use feather dusters. Instead, opt for a damp cloth, which traps dust rather than dispersing it into the air.
  • Do remove carpeting from your child’s room, if possible. Vacuum carpets in the rest of the home at least weekly to capture dust mites, allergens and other airway irritants that can live underfoot.
  • Don’t allow eating throughout the house. Crumbs attract cockroaches and mice, both asthma triggers. Eat only in the kitchen or dining room, store food in airtight containers, and seal cracks around windows and pipes to keep pests outside. Pesticides may irritate lungs, so if pests do enter, use traps or baits instead of chemicals to deal with them.
  • Do place hypoallergenic covers on mattresses and pillows as dust-mite barriers. Wash bedding in hot water and dry on high heat weekly.
  • Do consider using a dehumidifier.

“Humid air in the home is bad for those with asthma,” says Beth Roehm, MSN, RN, CPNP, AE-C, pediatric nurse practitioner with the Healthy Kids Express – Asthma Program at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “Many people think using a humidifier helps children breathe, but dust mites like moist air.”        

Finally, ensure everyone in your family is vaccinated against the flu—viruses are major asthma-attack initiators.

If your child has asthma, a personalized management strategy called an asthma action plan can help. For help finding a physician who can create a plan for your child, call the St. Louis Children’s Hospital Answer Line at 314.454.KIDS (5437) or toll-free at 800.678.KIDS.