Asthma, a chronic lung disease that inflames and narrows the airways, begins in childhood typically. Around 25 million Americans have asthma, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Just 7 million of them are children, so adults make up the remaining 18 million.
We spend up to 90 percent of our time indoors where various air pollutants can trigger asthma attacks. Most previous studies that examined indoor air pollutants and asthma focused on children and adolescents. But little research has explored the relationship between this exposure and asthma in middle-aged adults — until now.
Everyday Usage of Wet Areas Proves Problematic
John Burgess, a researcher with the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health at the University of Melbourne in Australia, co-led a new longitudinal health study published in Respirology. The research team investigated the effects of indoor air pollutants on adults’ asthma symptoms and response differences between subjects with allergic asthma and those with the non-allergic variety.
They linked recent exposure to visible mold at home to almost four times greater odds of having non-allergic asthma in middle-aged men but not women. The culprit wasn’t whole-house mold infestation that might occur after flooding. Participants attributed their household mold to everyday usage of wet areas including bathrooms, kitchens and laundry facilities.
The research team used data from an ongoing study that began in 1968 when the participants were seven years old. In 2004, 5729 43-year-old subjects answered health questions about asthma, their respiratory symptoms, the amount of visible mold in their homes, the number of smokers in their households and the types of heating and cooking appliances they had. Participants also had skin-prick tests for allergies.
Recent Mold Exposure Increases Asthma Risks
About 11.6 percent of the middle-aged study subjects had asthma when they submitted their questionnaires. Almost half reported having had mold on a home surface. Approximately one-third had seen mold within the previous 12 months. Around 23 percent experienced wheezing during the preceding year. Approximately 17 percent suffered from chest tightness at night. About 30 percent were smokers, and around 15 percent of households included at least one additional regular smoker.
Recent household mold exposure was the key factor — even if mold remediation had already taken place. It increased the odds of having asthma by 26 percent, the chances of chest tightness by 30 percent and the likelihood of wheezing by 34 percent. The severity of asthma symptoms was greater in participants who reported seeing more mold in their homes or mold in more rooms.
Researchers also found a link between second-hand tobacco smoke and increased risks of asthma, chest tightness and wheezing in non-smokers. They didn’t find any evidence that the type of stove the households used for cooking had any effect on asthma. But they correlated using a reverse-cycle air conditioner with a 16-percent reduced asthma risk.
Prescription Asthma Treatment
According to the Asthma Foundation’s Cathy Beswick, too many people are complacent about what triggers asthma and how serious this illness can be. Millions of mold spores become airborne and easy to inhale. Asthma inflammation makes your airways, the large and small tubes that deliver air into your lungs, tighten, become narrower and maybe even close.
Asthma treatments include a variety of inhalers. ProAir HFArelaxes air channels in your lungs and intercostal muscles to relieve asthma symptoms. It includes a convenient counter that indicates how many doses are left.The numbers turn red when you need to refill your prescription.
Detecting Household Mold
Mold is a microscopic fungi that thrives in a damp, dark environment. A combination of moisture, high humidity and some form of nutrient can encourage it to grow on any surface. Burgess noted that residents can find household mold by looking and sniffing. Mold can be black, green, orange, yellow or white. It has a dank, musty odor. Discoloration on a wall, ceiling or other part of your home in an area that had prior water damage indicates mold.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency advises drying any water-damaged areas and fixing plumbing leaks promptly to help prevent mold growth. If mold has contaminated your HVAC system, professional air-duct cleaning becomes your first priority.Absorbent and porous materials such as carpet and ceiling tiles may require replacement.For excessive mold and large areas, you may need to hire a contractor or other professional service provider with mold cleanup experience.
In sections of less than 10 square feet, you can handle most mold cleanup yourself. Protect your lungs, skin and eyes from mold exposure during cleaning. Wear an N95 respirator, rubber or nitrile gloves, airtight goggles and maybe even coveralls. Remove mold from hard surfaces with detergent and water. But don’t use a dry scrubbing brush, or you’ll spread the mold. Vent your clothes dryer, stove and other appliances that generate moisture to the outside of your home whenever possible. Make sure the remediated area is dry and well ventilated, so mold won’t grow there again.
Controlling Your Asthma
Indoor air can be even more polluted and harmful than the air outside. Besides avoiding mold and tobacco smoke, minimize your exposure to other residential asthma triggers like dust mites, cockroach allergen, pet dander, household chemical irritants, gases, fumes and wood smoke. Following your medication regimen can help keep this serious and sometimes life-threatening chronic respiratory disease under control.