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by Haldane King

Updated by Molekule staff 10/20/22

Childhood asthma is a severe problem in the US—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that more than six million children suffer from the disease. Asthma can make everyday childhood activities difficult, while severe attacks can require emergency care.

There is currently no cure for asthma. To prevent asthma attacks or make them less severe, health professionals advise parents and caregivers to create an asthma action plan. This plan can include prescribed asthma medication as well as avoiding asthma triggers in your home like pet dander, smoke and air pollution. There are many ways you can help your child avoid asthma triggers, including an air purifier that can help create a clean air environment.

It should be noted that if your child has asthma or symptoms you suspect are asthma, you should consult a doctor and follow medical instructions. Serious asthma may require the use of an inhaler or other medications.

Common asthma triggers for children in a home

The NIH says that asthma is a breathing disorder where the airways are inflamed, and that asthma attacks happen when the airways become irritated. In a condition called “allergic asthma,” substances called allergens, which are harmless substances, are perceived by the body to be harmful and an asthma attack may occur or is more likely to occur in their presence. Examples of allergens include pollen and mold in the air. Allergic asthma is the most common form of asthma, and about 90% of children have allergic asthma, according to the NIH.

As mentioned above, individual asthma attacks could be triggered by atmospheric pollutants in the child’s home. These pollutants include pet dander, dust and dust mites, secondhand smoke, mold and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The key to avoiding these triggers is to understand where they come from and the best ways to reduce or remove them from your home.

The most common asthma triggers for children in a home are:

  • Dust and dust mites. Dust mites are microscopic creatures that live on dust, most often residing in bedding, carpets, upholstered furniture, and even stuffed animals.
  • Secondhand smoke. The toxic compounds in cigarette smoke cause all kinds of problems for children. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, smoke can trigger asthma attacks and make existing asthma symptoms worse.
  • Pet dander. All pets with fur or feathers shed tiny bits of their skin, fur, and feathers. This is called dander, and exposure to it can trigger asthma symptoms.
  • Mold is a fungus that grows in moist areas in your home. All molds give off microscopic spores that may cause asthma attacks when inhaled.
  • Pest droppings. A home that has a problem with mice, rats, or cockroaches is a terrible place to be for a child with asthma. The droppings of these pests are known to cause or worsen asthma symptoms.
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are chemicals given off by some paints, plastics, and cleaning materials. Early exposure to VOCs is linked to the onset of childhood asthma, and can worsen asthma symptoms for children who already suffer from it. For example, formaldehyde is the most well known VOC and is used in a variety of places indoors, from paints and glues to furniture and furnishings.
  • Outdoor allergens. Pollen and pollution from cars and factories are major asthma triggers. The EPA reports that areas with low outdoor air quality, such as neighborhoods next to busy highways, have higher asthma rates.

Conventional air purifiers and asthma allergens

An air purifier that will be used to help defend against asthma should be capable of removing a wide range of allergens from the air. Here is some background on some of the features in conventional types of air purification and why they may or may not work as expected for your child. Keep in mind that most purifiers will have some combination of purification technologies:

  • HEPA filters. A HEPA filter is a filter that has been verified to catch 99.97% of particles that are 0.3 microns in size. Biological contaminants and gaseous particles like VOCs will not be filtered by HEPA alone and require additional technology.
  • Gas phase air filters. These filters use a substance, typically activated carbon, to adsorb gaseous pollutants. They do not filter particles and are often paired with HEPA filters, which do not filter chemicals, for that reason.
  • UVGI air cleaners. Ultraviolet light is used to sterilize air moving through these air purifiers, removing bacteria, viruses and mold. However, the EPA suggests household UVGI air purifiers do not have strong enough UV emitters to effectively kill all biological contaminants. These types of air cleaners are not designed to remove particles, which can include allergens like pollen, from the air.
  • PCO air purifiers. PCO is a technology that combines UV light with a catalyst, creating a reaction that breaks down gaseous contaminants into harmless substances and destroys biological contaminants as well. However, this technology’s efficiency level is low and its slow rate often makes it ineffective in combating asthma triggers such as mold.
  • Molekule PECO air purifier. The PECO technology is our company’s solution for allergens in the home. Unlike conventional air filters that trap pollutants on the filter surface, PECO technology can destroy allergens like pet dander, mold, pollen and VOCs. This keeps allergenic fragments from potentially being reintroduced into the air.

Air purifiers to avoid for children with asthma

There are also air purifiers that will actually make your child’s asthma worse. Ozone generators claim that generating the gas ozone breaks down harmful contaminants, but ozone itself is a serious irritant and unhealthy in high concentrations. The last thing you want to do for a child with asthma is introduce ozone into your house.

Ionic air purifiers, which use an electrostatic charge to draw particles out of the air, may generate ozone as a side effect. Again, additional exposure to irritants are counterproductive for asthmatic children. For more on air ionizer technology, click here.

Other ways of dealing with your child’s asthma triggers

An air purifier can help, but is not the only step you can take to help avoid asthma triggers. There are some other important ways to reduce allergens and other lung irritants in your house, particularly for a household with little ones.

  • Focus on the bedroom. Asthma symptoms tend to be worse in the morning, and asthma attacks at night can interrupt sleep. You will have the most impact on your child’s asthma symptoms by focusing on the bedroom. Luckily, a portable air purifier will allow you to clean the air wherever your child is spending time.
  • Pay attention to the windows. Though the outside air is almost always cleaner than what’s inside, sometimes outside air can contain pollen or other asthma triggers. If your child’s asthma is triggered by pollen, then it’s a good idea to shut the windows and turn on the air-conditioning on days when you know the pollen count is high. Keep an eye on your local report for reliable pollen information. However, airflow is different in different houses, so sometimes it’s better to open the window and let out indoor asthma triggers.
  • Remove the source of the pollutants. Quit smoking (seriously, secondhand smoke is bad for kids in general, but if your child has asthma, you have to quit). Keep furry pets out of your child’s bedroom. Hire an exterminator if your house has a mouse or roach problem.
  • Make the space more green. Many different plants are known to remove pollutants from the air, such as aloe, spider plant, snake plant, and pothos vines. These plants can help to reduce pollutants from any sources you may have missed.
  • Don’t give dust anywhere to hide; dust mites are implicated in 50 to 80% of asthma attacks. Remove rugs and carpets where possible, and try to cut down on stuffed animals in your child’s room.
  • Keep it clean. Dust with a wet cloth, wet mop, and vacuum (using a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter). Wash bedding and stuffed animals in hot water once a week — water that’s at least 130 degrees will kill dust mites. Vacuuming and dusting is very important because, while an air purifier will remove particles from the air, most dust, dust mites, and pet dander settles in a few minutes.
  • Place a dust-proof cover on your child’s mattress and pillows. These special covers mean when you wash the sheets and blankets, the dust mites aren’t just hiding out in the mattress.
  • Keep it dry. Keep the humidity in your house between 30 and 50 percent if possible. Not only does this cut down on mold formation, it actually makes it difficult for dust mites to live. Dust mites live off of moisture in the air, so low humidity makes a big difference for people with asthma.

Asthma is a complex and difficult disease, and it is hard on kids since there is no cure and it can interfere with a lot of common childhood activities. However, proper medical treatment and careful control of allergens and other pollutants in your house can help. An air purifier that is designed to remove the most common asthma triggers from the air in your home can help improve indoor air quality for your child.

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