Life Times Newsletter

March/April 2002

Childhood asthma: 
You can make a difference!

Allergies and asthma are nothing to sneeze at!

Five million children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with asthma. That means one in every 13 children suffers with this disease. Asthma causes more hospital stays than any other childhood disease—about 15,000 hospitalizations per year. It is the leading cause of school absenteeism, forcing children to miss more than 10 million days of school per year.

Since 1980 the number of children with asthma has more than doubled, with the highest impact on children, minorities and low-income groups. It is considered an epidemic. Last year, 5,000 people died fighting asthma, and 2 million more needed immediate care from hospital emergency rooms. Surprisingly, many of these attacks could have been prevented.

Many medical options are available to treat asthma, but it’s important to know there are also lifestyle strategies and cleaning practices that can help keep allergies and asthma under control.

Many things can trigger asthma. Common triggers include secondhand smoke, house dust, dust mites, pets, molds and pests.

If your child suffers from allergies or asthma, consider these home allergy-control techniques. Even small changes can make a big difference to a child with allergies or asthma.

Secondhand smoke

Asthma can be triggered by the smoke from the burning end of a cigarette, pipe or cigar and the smoke breathed out by a smoker.

Choose not to smoke in your home or car, and do not allow others to do so either.

Dust mites

Dust mites are too small to be seen, but are found in every home. They live in mattresses, pillows, carpets, fabric-covered furniture, bedding, clothes and stuffed toys. To control dust mites:

• Wash the child’s sheets and blankets once a week in hot water.

• Wash stuffed toys often; dry thoroughly. Keep stuffed toys off beds.

• Cover mattresses and pillows in dust-proof (allergen-imperme- able) zippered covers.

House dust

Common house dust may contain asthma triggers. Remove dust often with a damp cloth. Use wet cleaning whenever possible on floors.

Vacuum fabric-covered furniture and carpets frequently. Use vacuums with high efficiency or HEPA filters, or a central vacuum system.

Allergic people should leave the area being vacuumed for two hours, if possible.


Your pet’s skin flakes, urine and saliva could all be asthma triggers to your child. (This is especially true of furry and feathered pets.)

• Consider keeping pets outdoors or, if necessary, even finding a new home for your pets.

• Keep pets out of the bedroom and sleeping areas at all times, and keep the door closed.

• Keep pets away from fabric- covered furniture, carpets and stuffed toys.


Molds grow on damp materials. The key to mold control is moisture control. If moisture is a problem in your home, clean up the mold and get rid of the excess moisture. Lowering the moisture also helps reduce other triggers, such as dust mites and cockroaches. To control mold:

• Wash molds from hard surfaces with a detergent and bleach solution. Absorbent materials with mold, such as ceiling tiles and carpet, may need to be replaced.

• Keep drip pans in air conditioner, refrigerator and dehumidifier clean and dry.

• Use exhaust fans or open windows in kitchen and bath rooms when showering, cooking or using the dishwasher. Vent clothes dryers to the outside.


Droppings or body parts of pests, such as cockroaches or rodents, can be asthma triggers. To control pests:

• Store food in airtight containers.

• Clean all food crumbs or spilled liquids right away.

• Try using poison baits, boric acid (for cockroaches) or traps first before using pesticidal sprays.

See your doctor or health care provider for more information on allergies and asthma. Contact your local University of Missouri Extensionoffice for more ways to control moisture in your home and reduce allergy triggers.

Rebecca Blocker
Environmental Design Specialist

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University of Missouri Extension Editor: Roxanne T. Miller