Is Your House Giving You Asthma?

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More than 17 million American adults and 7.5 million children currently have asthma, and the rates are rising. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4.3 million more people were diagnosed with asthma between 2001 and 2009, and eight percent of the population now has the respiratory illness.

That increase includes a 50 percent rise in rates among black children. (Asthma is thought to kick in when environmental triggers hit people who are already genetically sensitive, and rates for non-Hispanic black children are a woeful one in six.)

(MORE: Key findings on kids’ asthma and allergies)

The links between the illness and real estate have not been fully explored, but piecing together a number of new reports indicates that there are housing and homecare decisions that can be made to battle asthma. Among them are these:

  • Try not to live near heavy traffic. A recent European study argued that living near busy roads (defined as roads traveled by more than 10,000 vehicles a day) could be responsible for 15 to 30 percent of new cases of asthma in children. The study, undertaken by Aphekom, a partnership of 60 scientists across 25 different cities, examined cities from Stockholm to Seville, and found effects in cities not traditionally thought of as polluted (such as Valencia) as well as cities somewhat famous for their pollution (such as Rome). Certainly, asthma has many possible causes, but the link being argued here is increased particulate matter, which is a component of auto exhaust. So if you have a choice to be away from congested roads, do it for health reasons.
  • Consider using “green” cleaners. The Bay Area Citizen reported on a debate in San Francisco public schools to add spigots for environmental cleaners to custodial sinks in the hopes that having these products accessible will cut down on the use of asthma-triggering cleaners like bleach. In your own home, vinegar and water make an acidic cleaning solution that can remove mineral deposits and grease from some surfaces, and that can be put in your cleaning rotation alongside more conventional bleach-based cleansers.

(MORE: BPA linked to childhood asthma)

  • Declare war on dust mites. With our busy lives, we don’t always vacuum and dust multiple times a week the way previous generations might have. However, dust mites can be a trigger, so make sure you vacuum under the bed, dust the night-table, and wash your bedding on as hot a setting as it can stand. Also, the EPA notes, in its “home environment checklist,” don’t forget to change your air-conditioner and heating systems filters quarterly.
  • Exterminate pests. Roaches especially have been found to be a co-factor of asthma in children, who develop an allergy to the critters and exacerbates respiratory problems. In public housing, which can be old, deteroriated, and with residents who cannot afford proper pest control, asthma rates are staggering — one study indicated that 56 percent of children in Boston public housing suffer, as do 40 percent of adults. As a result, last month the department of Housing and Urban Development last month announced the first grant to combat asthma in public housing. The $549,000 grant for East Harlem, long considered an asthma epicenter, will provide residents with training and loans of equipment such as vacuum cleaners. If you need to fight pests, consider door sweeps (which eliminate the gap underneath your front door that allows critters to scuttle in) and boric acid (an insecticide) as part of your arsenal, as well as keeping food in sealed containers and clearing out clutter like cardboard and paper bags, which are favored harbors for the ickies.