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Leaflet - Asthma Booklet

Housing Services Asthma 'Information and advice on Preventative Measures'

Asthma - What is it?

If you or your child has asthma, you are not alone. Asthma affects more than three million people in the UK, including one in seven school children and one in 25 adults.

Asthma is a condition that affects the airways the small tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs. People with asthma have airways that are almost always red and sensitive (inflamed). These airways can react badly when you have a cold or other viral infection, or when you come into contact with an asthma trigger.

A trigger is anything that irritates the airway and causes the symptoms of asthma to appear. Common triggers include colds or flu, cigarette smoke, exercise and allergies to things like pollen, furry or feathery animals or house dust mites. Everyone's asthma is different and you will probably have several triggers.

Asthma, like its related allergic conditions eczema and hay fever, often runs in the family and may be inherited.

There are probably a number of other environmental, factors that contribute to someone developing asthma many aspects of modern lifestyles, such as housing and diet, might be responsible. We also know that smoking during pregnancy increases the chance of a child developing asthma. There is no evidence that traffic pollution causes it, although poor air quality can be a trigger if you already have asthma.

Asthma cannot be 'cured' but, with the correct action and treatment, it can be controlled.

The best way to control your asthma is to working close partnership with your doctor or asthma nurse. Continue to take your preventative medicine regularly as prescribed by your doctor even if you feel well. Try to avoid the things that trigger your asthma.

What will make asthma worse, or cause attacks?

It can be difficult to identify exactly what triggers a persons asthma. Sometimes a trigger is obvious, such as symptoms starting shortly after coming into contact with a cat or dog. At other times some detective work is needed.

It is important to know that the time for the asthma condition to improve after taking any of the preventive action listed below could be as long as 6 months, so don't expect immediate results.

House dust mites are tiny creatures (about0.3mm long) and transparent you cant see them without a microscope. They live in the dust that builds up around the house, so you can also find them in carpets, bedding, beds, soft furnishings and soft toys. Studies have shown that up to 85 per cent of children with allergic asthma are sensitive to house dust mites or, more specifically, their droppings.

The humidity and temperature requirements of the house dust mite are very specific at 75% Relative Humidity and 25°C. Reducing indoor humidity is a major step towards control of the house dust mite. Increasing the mechanical ventilation of the home can have great effects on the numbers of house dust mite and levels of allergen present and hence have a major impact on the health of asthmatics. Extraction from "wet" rooms, such as toilets, bathrooms and kitchens should be combined with the introduction of fresh air to bedrooms and living rooms.

Use the tips below to help fight the house dust mite in your home. Take the easier and inexpensive steps first to see if it improves the asthma. It is no use spending a lot of time, money and effort controlling dust if you are not allergic to it!

Little or no cost measures include:

Hot washing (at 60°C) sheets, duvet and pillow cases at least once a week.

Pets can be great fun and a wonderful source of companionship. Unfortunately animals are also a common allergic trigger of asthma symptoms. The allergens are found in the pets fur, saliva, minute flakes of skin and urine. Pet allergens will remain on carpets and soft furnishings for many months.

Always keep pets out of areas like the lounge and bedroom. If possible keep pets outside the house at all times.

Tobacco smoke is the main pollutant that affects our health indoors. The increasing discouragement of smoking in public places is good news for people with asthma, many of whom are affected by breathing in other peoples smoke.

Mould Spores can be a trigger for various respiratory problems including asthma, when they occur in high concentrations. The moulds (usually a black stain called "pin mould") grow on cold surfaces such as ceilings, walls and window frames when the indoor air is continually moist.

Since the conditions for mould growth are similar to those which encourage growth of house dust mites (high indoor humidity), it can be difficult to tell which may be a trigger. However, the following measures will reduce the growth of both of them:

Wipe the windows down each morning and dry them, then open them a little for about an hour (keeping the room door shut)

A balance is required between adequate heating and good ventilation of the home in order to achieve energy efficiency and indoor pollution control.

Fumes from appliances have recently been identified as being triggers for asthma. These are most commonly from bottled gas room heaters and gas cookers.

Other Factors which trigger attacks

Colds and viral infections. Recent surveys show chest infections as the top trigger of asthma attacks. They are also almost impossible to avoid! Regular use of a preventer inhaler reduces the risk of asthma attacks due to colds and infections. A healthy diet with lots of fruit and vegetables containing vitamin C may help to fight viruses. Recent research suggests that diets low in fresh fruit may lead to a decrease in lung function.

Exercise. Some people find that exercise triggers asthma symptoms. However, exercise is good for everyone, including people with Asthma. If you use your asthma medicines properly, you should still be able to join in, have fun and keep fit.

Pollen. There are many different types of pollen grains (from grasses, trees and plants) that can trigger asthma symptoms in some people. On hot, dry days avoid spending too much time outdoors. Avoid long grass. Keep car windows closed.

For more information, see the National Asthma Campaign booklet "Hay Fever". If you enjoy gardening, why not get a copy of the free NAC fact sheet "Low Allergen Gardens". It contains more information about avoiding contact with allergens in your garden.

Air Pollution is commonly blamed for causing asthma, but there is no evidence of this. Not all asthma sufferers are sensitive to it either, although heavy pollution episodes are more likely to affect children. Using the Department of Environment Pollution Helpline on 0800556677 can point to when people with asthma should increase their inhaled preventive treatment. Local newspapers and radio stations sometimes carry an air quality forecast which will give you the most up to date information. There is also information on Teletext page 106 and Ceefax page 404.

Broad advice to stay indoors if the air quality is poor is not helpful or necessarily correct, although the most severely affected will feel this is right for them.

Food. Some young children can be allergic to milk and eggs though it is very rare for food to trigger asthma symptoms. Keep a diary of your childs symptoms and note the specific foods suspected of triggering their asthma.

Breast feeding for at least 4 months has been shown to offer significant long term protection against allergic conditions including asthma and other respiratory problems in children.

Further Information

Your own doctor or specialist asthma nurse (contact your local surgery)

National Asthma Campaign,
Providence House,
Providence Place,
London N1 0NT

Tel: 020 7226 2260

This information has been taken from a number of leaflets produced by the National Asthma Campaign and other sources. Swale Borough Council gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Dr. David Thompson of Cambridge Medical Entomology Centre in the compilation of this leaflet.

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