Keeping your home as free from allergens as possible may help reduce symptoms of allergies and asthma. But for people with allergic asthma, many cleaning activities could actually stir up allergens and trigger an attack. So, how can you clean your home without causing a medical emergency?
First of all, remember to always clean with caution. If you experience asthma symptoms while cleaning, stop right away. Take your rescue inhaler and get medical help if your symptoms don’t resolve.
But it’s possible to spruce up your home while ensuring that your risk of an asthma attack is low. It simply means taking a few extra precautions. If you’re ready to tackle your home cleaning, stay safe and healthy by taking the following steps.
If you have allergic asthma, common allergens may trigger your symptoms. These include dust and dust mites, mold, pet dander, tobacco smoke, pollen, and cockroaches. Temperature changes may also lead to symptoms.
Some people with asthma may also be sensitive to cleaning products, particularly combinations of bleach and other disinfectants. Research suggests that cleaning products may be especially aggravating in spray form.
Everyone has different triggers, and it’s best to avoid any substance that increases your symptoms if possible. That could make it trickier to do some chores, but you can also take steps to minimize your exposure.
Avoiding dust mites all together is ideal if they trigger asthma symptoms. But doing so is easier said than done, depending on where you live and if you have carpet or furniture with upholstered material.
A review article in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice includes practical guidance for avoiding dust mites. You’ll be exposed to fewer dust mites when cleaning if you take proactive steps to limit the dust and dust mites that accumulate in your home year-round.
To do this, you can:
- Wash your bedding in hot water weekly.
- Use plastic or fine woven mattress covers, sheets, blankets, and pillowcases.
- Control the humidity in your home. Keep it to 50 percent or less.
- Keep the temperature at 70°F (21°C) throughout your house.
- Use an air purifier, also called an air cleaner, that contains a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter. It’s best to place the cleaner on polished floor so that the airflow from the device doesn’t disturb any existing dust in the room.
Vacuuming is an activity that stirs up a lot of dust, so it’s best to ask someone to vacuum for you if possible. If you must vacuum, you may reduce your exposure to dust mites if you:
- Use a vacuum with double thickness paper bags and a HEPA filter. Keep in mind though that vacuum cleaners don’t have industry standards for air filtration.
- Talk to your doctor about whether you should wear a mask while vacuuming. Depending on your condition and triggers, they may recommend that you wear an N95 mask or a similar type of mask.
- Leave the room for at least 20 minutes immediately after vacuuming.
Allergen immunotherapy, such as shots or sublingual drops and tablets, are available for people with asthma that’s triggered by dust mites. Consider asking your doctor about treatment options that may help reduce your allergic response to dust mites.
Indoor mold typically lives in any moist, dark place in your home. Basements are a common haven, as are baths and kitchens.
The American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) says you should always wear a mask when cleaning up mold. You may find it requires more effort to breathe while wearing a mask, which could trigger asthma symptoms. That’s why it’s best to talk to your doctor to weigh the risk of wearing a mask versus the risk of the cleaning activity.
Your doctor may advise you to avoid cleaning mold altogether. If it’s safe for you to wear a mask, your doctor will likely suggest that you choose a type of mask that filters fine particles, such as an N95 mask.
When cleaning mold or cleaning to prevent mold growth, use detergent and water on surfaces such as countertops, bathtubs, showers, faucets, and dish racks. If you remove any mold, spray the former spot with a vinegar solution to help keep it from returning.
If you have a furry friend, regular baths and grooming may reduce the amount of pet dander in your home. Keep pets out of your bedroom and store their food in sealed containers. This will also help prevent mold from growing, the AAAAI says.
Using air purifiers with HEPA filters also helps reduce dog and cat allergen concentrations.
You may come across suggestions to use chemical treatments or a sodium hypochlorite solution to reduce pet allergens. But a 2017 review found doing so didn’t improve overall respiratory health and may irritate your lungs if used frequently.
Though it may come as a surprise, a 2010 survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that about
You may want a fresh breath of air, but your best bet for keeping pollen out is to keep your windows closed.
Instead, use air conditioning to keep your home cool. Doing so will reduce the amount of pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds. It also doubles in reducing your dust mite exposure.
The best way to avoid cockroaches is to get them out of your home. Baited traps and certain insecticides can help. If you don’t want to do it yourself, hire a professional exterminator.
Be sure to seal any cracks or other entryways to keep the critters from returning. It may help to keep your kitchen as clean as possible by washing dishes, storing foods in sealed containers, frequently throwing the garbage out, and not leaving food out.
The AAAAI also suggests mopping the floor and wiping cabinets, backsplashes, and appliances once a week.
Cleaning out your refrigerator, utensil drawers, range hood, and cupboard exteriors each season may also help.
Both the Mayo Clinic and the AAAAI recommend wearing a mask if you’re likely to stir up dust or encounter mold while you clean. Particle respirators, such as N95 masks, may keep even the tiniest of these allergens out of your airways, according to the
But masks aren’t for everyone. Speak with your doctor to figure out whether the risk of exposure to allergens outweighs the risk of difficulty breathing while wearing a mask.
If your doctor suggests that you wear a mask while cleaning, it’s important to wear the mask correctly. The mask should fit snuggly to your face, with no air spaces around the edges. Read the manufacturer’s directions to ensure you fit the mask properly to your face.
It may be easy to grab a bottle of commercialized cleaner at your nearest store, but the AAAAI recommends mixing your own instead.
Harsh chemicals found in the store-bought products may trigger your symptoms. If you decide to buy, look for products with the Green Seal of Approval because these come from plants or other natural sources. If you want to mix your own, common household ingredients such as lemon, vinegar, and baking soda can be great cleaning agents.
Cleaning when you have allergic asthma has its challenges. But there are ways to achieve a spotless home without spurring an attack.
Consult with your healthcare provider before plunging into scrubbing, or consider hiring a professional to do your deep cleaning for you. Maintaining your health is most important, and no amount of cleaning is worth aggravating your symptoms.