Asthma & Allerg
Should You Be Concerned?
More than eight million children in the Warning Signs of an Asthma Attack:
United States have a disease called asthma.
• Tightness in the chest
Asthma is a leading reason that children
• Shortness of breath
miss school or end up in the hospital. Asthma makes it
hard for people to breathe. Sometimes people even die
from asthma. This disease has no cure yet, but it can
People with asthma who learn to spot the early signs
of an attack can take medicine right away. This may
Another 40 to 50 million people have allergies. Allergies
make the attack less severe.
can also make it hard for people to breathe by causing
an asthma attack. An allergy is an unusual reaction
to something, like a food or a plant, that is normally
If someone is having a severe
harmless. Common signs of allergies are a stuffy or
asthma attack, get him or her to a hos-
runny nose, itching, or a rash. This section will help
pital emergency room right away. Some signs
you ask the right questions to find out how to make
of a severe attack:
your home a safer, healthier place for people with
asthma or allergies.
• The person’s asthma rescue or inhaler
medicine doesn’t help within 15 minutes
What Happens During an Asthma Attack?
• The person’s lips or fingernails are blue
Asthma flare-ups are called asthma attacks. During an
The person has
due to shortness C
attack, the breathing tubes in your lungs, called bronchi
alking or talking
and bronchioles, get smaller. During an asthma attack:
• The breathing tubes in your lungs swell up.
• The muscles around these tubes tighten.
• The tubes make large amounts of a thick fluid
The most important thing to know about asthma
is that you can control it. Asthma patients (or their
You cannot catch asthma. It does run in families,
parents) who learn what medicine to take and what
though. If someone in your family has it, you or your
triggers attacks can avoid them most of the time. That
children may too. The number of asthma cases is
means people with asthma can lead normal lives.
growing and more people die from it every year. These
Many types of medicine can treat asthma. Keep in
deaths do not need to happen.
mind that no one medicine works best for everyone.
You and your doctor have to work together to find the
best medicine. Remember, it may take a while to find
just the right kinds. Also, you must take the time to
find out what sets off an attack.
Asthma & Allergies
Other Common Asthma Triggers
No one knows what causes asthma. Lots of things set
off asthma attacks, though. These things are called
triggers. Some people have only one or two triggers.
• Carbon monoxide
Other people have many.
• Cleaning products like furniture polish or
Some triggers are things to which people are often
allergic. Common ones are pollen (from trees and
• Personal care products like hair spray or perfume
dander (skin flakes from cats, dogs, and
other pets). Also, some people are allergic to pests
• Flu, colds
such as roaches, rodents, or dust mites. Dust
mites are tiny insects that you can’t
see. They live everywhere—in
carpets, upholstered fur-
niture, stuffed animals,
and bedding. Cigarette
smoke is another
common trigger of
ing to do with
and strong feel-
There are two main types of
is called rescue medicine. You take this during an
attack to help open up your breathing tubes so you
One kind you (or your child) take
can breathe better.
regularly to make the lungs less sen-
sitive to the things that cause asthma
Some “everyday” asthma medicines are steroids.
attacks. It is important
Some people may worry about them because they
to take this medicine as pre-
have heard stories about athletes who use steroids
scribed, even if you feel okay.
in the wrong way. Asthma steroids are not the same.
It usually takes a couple of
Side effects of asthma steroids are also rare. Asthma
weeks to work. The other type
patients usually breathe these medicines right into
their lungs, so they only need a small dose.
Asthma & Allergies
• Foods: milk and dairy products, citrus fruit like
Common signs of allergies include a runny or stuffy
oranges and lemons, artificial colors and flavors,
nose, coughing, hives, itching, a rash, or puffy eyes.
nuts, and shellfish like shrimp or clams.
Allergies can be deadly for some people. When sensi-
• Medicines: penicillin, some heart medicines, and
tive people come in contact with something they’re
some anti-seizure medicines.
very allergic to, like peanuts, their blood pressure
• Insect stings and bites: most are caused by yellow
drops, their breathing tubes swell up, and they can die
jackets, honeybees, paper wasps, hornets, and fire
from lack of air. The good news is that allergies can
ants. In some people, reactions to stings become
be treated. If you have allergies, it’s important to find
more serious as years go by. Eventually, only one
out what causes them and how to take care of them.
sting may kill. Talk to your doctor if you have had a
A doctor can test you to find out. People with severe
serious reaction to a sting.
allergies may need to carry emergency medicine.
• Contact allergens: cause reactions when things like
plants, cosmetics, jewelry, or latex (a type of rubber)
An allergen is something that causes allergy signs, or an
touch the skin. Rashes are common reactions to
allergic reaction. Many of the asthma triggers listed on
page 12 also cause allergic reactions in people who don’t Look at the questions on the following pages to help
have asthma. There are many other allergens too. Some
you find problems around your home that may make
common ones are listed here. It’s important to talk to
asthma and allergies worse. Pages 14 and 15 will give you
your doctor if you have had a reaction to any of these:
ideas about how to keep your family healthy and safe.
ions to Ask
• Does anyone in your family have asthma or allergies?
stuffed toys, or fleecy materials in bedrooms?
• Does someone in your family notice burning eyes,
• How often do you wash sheets, blankets, and
coughing, or sneezing that
happens most often
• Do you store food in containers or boxes that don’t
• Does your home have
• Do you keep pets inside?
carpet that is not
• Has it been more than a year since you had your
cleaned well or
furnace, flues, and chimneys inspected and cleaned?
• Does anyone smoke inside your home?
• Do you have
• Is your home damp or musty?
Asthma & Allergies
Pay Attention to Your
Keep Down Dust Mites
Asthma and Allergies
Use zippered plastic mattress and pil-
Know what triggers your or your children’s
low covers beneath sheets and pillow-
asthma or allergies. Talk to a doctor or nurse
cases. You can buy them at your local
about keeping emergency medicine around
department store or through the mail.
if your asthma or allergies are severe. If people
If the mattress cover is uncomfortable,
you love take asthma or allergy medications,
put a mattress pad over it.
make sure they know when to take it.
Wash bedding, including blankets, pillow cov-
ers, and mattress pads in hot water every week.
Clean your home often. Since cleaning puts dust
Temperatures above 130ºF kill dust mites.
into the air, have someone without asthma or
allergies do it. Wear a dust mask if you can’t
Control Other Pests
find somebody else to clean. You can buy one
Roaches and rodents can trigger asthma and
at a drugstore.
allergies. They need food, water, warmth, and
shelter to survive. You can control roaches,
Keep clutter down. Clutter collects dust and
mice, and other pests by making these things
makes it harder to keep a clean home. Store
hard to get. (See the chapter on pesticides on
your belongings in plastic or cardboard boxes
page 42 to learn more about how to handle
instead of keeping them in piles or stacks. You
pests.) Here are some tips to keep pests away:
can move the boxes to make cleaning easier.
When possible, don’t have carpeting or rugs. Hard
floors (vinyl, wood, or tile) are much easier to
keep dust-free. If you do have rugs or carpet,
vacuum often. You may be able to borrow or
buy a vacuum with a special HEPA (High
Efficiency Particle Air) filter to get rid of dust.
Call your local or state health department for
• Store food in tightly sealed containers.
• Clean up crumbs and spills right away.
• Empty your garbage often.
• Wash your dirty dishes right after eating.
• Don’t leave out pet food or water overnight.
• Fix plumbing leaks and drips.
• Seal cracks where roaches and other bugs
hide or get into your home.
Asthma & Allergies
ACTION STEPS, continued
Furry pets like dogs, cats, and gerbils can cause
Cigarette, cigar, and pipe smoke
asthma and allergy attacks because of their
causes health problems, especially for
saliva and skin flakes. It is best to either not
people with asthma. It is best to quit
have pets or keep them outside. If you do have
smoking (contact the American Lung
pets inside, make sure to keep them out of
Association at (800) LUNG-USA
sleeping areas and off fabric-covered furniture.
for help). Otherwise, smoke
outside and away from
Check Your Appliances
children. Don’t light
Make sure your gas appliances, and fireplace,
up in your car because
furnace, or wood-burning stove have yearly
smoke will linger there
checkups to keep down soot (and protect you
and affect children.
from the dangers of carbon monoxide. See
page 26 for more information.)
When people breathe in mold, it can cause
Check the filter on your furnace and air
allergies and asthma to act up. Mold needs
conditioner a couple times each year.
water to grow. Keep your home dry to control
Change when needed. Think about buy-
mold. That will also help with roaches and
ing filters that cost a little more than the
dust mites. See the chapter on mold on page 17
most economical ones. They will clean
for more information.
the air in your home better. They trap
more dust so you will need to change
them more often. You can buy air filters
at a hardware store. Check
Air cleaners may help in the bedrooms
labels and packaging to
of allergy and asthma patients.
find out about
Good air cleaners (with HEPA filters) cost
an air AC
out $100 or so. DO N
cleaner that makes
ozone can cause health
If you rent,
Asthma & Allergies
When In Doubt, Check It Out!
• Your local county Extension Office
• Healthy Indoor Air for America’s Homes
—look in your telephone book
• Your local or state health department
• The Allergy & Asthma Network: Mothers of Asthmatics
—look in your telephone book
• American Lung Association, (800) LUNG-USA
• The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN)
• The Soap and Detergent Association,
• The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Asthma
Cleaning to Control Allergies and Asthma,
and Indoor Environments—www.epa.gov/asthma
The original version of this chapter was authored by Joseph Ponessa, Rutgers University Extension, and updated by HUD.