The Epidemic of Asthma
If you don’t suffer from a certain disease or know someone who does, it can often evade your concern or thinking. Asthma is one such disease for me, and aside from drug commercials on the internet and TV, I didn’t give much thought to it. “Pandemics” seem to have taken over our health radar, while asthma continually advances in cases every year.
Asthma is a chronic disease that causes airways to become inflamed, making it hard to breathe. Although it is incurable, asthma can be managed so that it doesn’t recur by avoiding triggers, taking medications to prevent symptoms and preparing to treat asthma episodes if they occur. (aafa.org) About 300 million people worldwide have asthma, with projections for it to increase to another 100 million by 2025 (The Global Asthma Report, Auckland, New Zealand, 2018).
According to Oxford Languages, an epidemic is “a widespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a community at a particular time.” Asthma is not an infectious disease, yet it is called an epidemic because of the sharp increase of cases since the 1960s in many developed countries. This sparked a number of studies in the 1990’s, confirming that “asthma is one of the most common chronic diseases across the globe in all age groups and there is substantial variation in asthma prevalence worldwide.” (2019 study on the Epidemiology of Asthma) It is difficult to define, but the research community finds it helpful to define it by observable traits (phenotypes) which are composed of symptoms (such as wheeze or cough) and objective measures (such as lung function and biomarkers in blood, exhaled breath, sputum, and/or urine).
What causes asthma?
Researchers prefer to use the word “trigger” instead of “cause”. However, some of the airborne triggers are House dust mite (HDM), Animal hair and dander, Pollen exposure, Mold (fungal) spores, and Thunderstorm asthma (most prevalent in Australia where high pollen counts are released during a unique type of thunderstorm). Habits like parental or personal smoking tend to increase risk for asthma. Occupational triggers such as cleaning agents, paints, or dust may increase risk (a comprehensive list can be found here), and there seems to be genetic predisposition for it also.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), asthma tends to peak in September in the US due to a confluence of several risk factors. This month peaks in ragweed pollen, a common fall allergy; more falling leaves mean more mold spores in the air, and the return to school causes more respiratory illness in families. In particular, the third week of September is usually the highest in numbers of doctor visits and hospital stays due to asthma attacks, and children are the most affected. (aafa.org)
Asthma is a problem in children because their lungs are still developing, and continue to develop until they become adults. Asthma may impair airway development and reduce their maximum lung function, and these deficits may persist into adulthood. When occurring first in adults, asthma may accelerate lung function decline and increase the risk of fixed airflow obstruction, especially for smokers with asthma. People with asthma are more susceptible to infections and non-communicable additional chronic conditions (comorbidities) such as diabetes, osteoporosis, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular diseases, and issues with mental illness such as anxiety and depression. (2019 study)
Asthma can’t be cured, but it can be controlled. It’s controlled through avoiding triggers, and/or the use of medication. Because avoiding triggers could be potentially be better for your body and your budget, here’s some advice on how to do that (adapted from mayoclinic.org):
Use air conditioning to establish a clean, comfortable environment in your home. Air conditioning allows you to control:
Humidity: most sources set the optimal humidity between 30-50% (if it goes well above that, use a dehumidifier). At this range, dust mites are lower in concentration.
Pollen: with air conditioning, you’re able to close the windows on high-pollen days
Use filtration to keep airborne contaminants low! You can do this by regularly changing your HVAC home filters (and possibly increasing the MERV rating on them), or adding a standalone HEPA filter to one or more rooms in your home. In addition, bi-polar ionizers like our Germ Defender and Whole Home Polar Ionizer will cause larger contaminant particles to clump together and be more easily filtered or vacuumed.
Clean your home regularly, once a week, with a HEPA vacuum cleaner and non-toxic all surface cleaner like TotalClean. If you can’t keep your home clean by yourself, ask someone to help you.
Prevent mold from growing in your home by monitoring wet areas like bathrooms and under sinks. Mold can also intrude if you don’t clean gutters or remove debris from around the house on a regular basis, so try to keep your gutters and the area directly around your home clean too.
Keep pet dander under control by brushing pets outside and bathing them regularly with a moisturizing shampoo.
Remove hard-to-clean surfaces like carpet and deep rugs, and avoid down-filled pillows and furniture.
Consider avoiding perfumes and heavily-scented personal products, candles and cleaning products.
Because cold air can trigger asthma, cover your mouth and nose when you go outside in cold temperatures.
In addition, since asthma can be exacerbated by excess weight and heartburn, it’s important to take care of yourself with moderate exercise (your doctor can help with advice) and medication if acid reflux is an issue.
If you are among those who deal with asthma on a regular basis, remember that surrounding yourself with a clean, comfortable environment can be the best investment in your health and life. Changes like removing fragrances and adding an air purifier can make a big difference in the way you feel. You are definitely your best advocate in minimizing the effects of this disease!