As a parent, we make it our top priority to ensure the health and well-being of our children. From choosing the right foods to creating a safe environment, we go above and beyond to protect our little ones.
Unfortunately, not all dangers are obvious. There may be an often-overlooked danger lurking in your home that can significantly impact your children’s respiratory health: chemical irritants.
In this blog post, we dive into the connection between chemical irritants and asthma, shedding light on a crucial topic that every parent should be aware of.
While many resources warn about chemical-induced asthma through occupational exposures, it’s not common practice to hear about it through exposure to risk factors in our homes.
While outdoor air pollution is also a risk factor for children and adults developing asthma, indoor air pollution plays just as large of a role, if not more so, as we spend more time indoors than out nowadays.
Where are Chemical Irritants Found?
Chemical irritants are still present today in many common household products. Unknowingly, bringing them into your home along with your weekly grocery shopping trips is possible. Below are some examples of where these irritants may be hiding.
Home Cleaning Products
Many cleaning products contain chemical irritants like bleach, ammonia, or strong acids. These substances can cause skin, eye, and respiratory irritation. Examples include bathroom cleaners, oven cleaners, and drain cleaners.
Aerosol sprays like air fresheners, deodorants, and hairsprays may contain volatile chemicals that can cause respiratory irritation, especially in young children with developing lungs and individuals with sensitivities or asthma.
Some household pesticides, such as insect sprays, contain chemical irritants that can cause skin and eye irritation. Handling and using these products cautiously and following the instructions are important.
Paint and Solvents
Paints, varnishes, and solvents may contain volatile chemicals that irritate the eyes, skin, and respiratory system. Proper ventilation is crucial when using these products.
Personal Care Products
Certain personal care products, such as perfumes, colognes, and hair dyes, may contain chemicals that can cause skin irritation or allergic reactions in some individuals.
Some dishwashing detergents may contain harsh chemicals that can cause skin irritation, particularly if used without gloves or if hands are sensitive.
Certain laundry detergents, fabric softeners, and bleach can contain chemical irritants that may cause skin or respiratory irritation, especially for sensitivities.
Indoor air pollutants like tobacco smoke, secondhand smoke, cooking fumes, fumes from wood-burning stoves, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted from furniture, carpets, or cleaning products can act as chemical irritants, causing eye, nose, and throat irritation.
It’s important to read labels, follow usage instructions, and take precautions when handling or using household products that may contain these irritants. Proper ventilation and protective measures, such as wearing gloves and masks, can help minimize exposure and potential irritation.
As a mom, I want to share that these standard precautions are not always enough. In my opinion, the safest method is to avoid exposure altogether. And while some may say that this is not possible, I beg to differ. We may be unable to control everything in our lives and our environment. We can, however, have control over what we choose to bring into our homes.
Before I go deeper into how these chemical irritants can induce asthma symptoms, I would like to share a little more information about what asthma is, what asthma symptoms look like, and who asthma can affect.
Is Asthma A Chronic Disease?
One common question when discussing asthma is whether it is a chronic disease. Chronic disease is a health condition that persists over a prolonged period, typically lasting three months or more.
These conditions often require ongoing medical management and can significantly impact a person’s quality of life.
Therefore, asthma meets the criteria for being classified as a chronic disease due to its long-lasting nature and the need for continuous management. Unlike temporary respiratory conditions such as the common cold or bronchitis, asthma does not completely disappear. People with asthma experience recurring episodes known as asthma attacks or exacerbations, which can trigger various factors, including allergens, respiratory infections, exercise, and stress.
The hallmark feature of asthma is airway inflammation. In individuals with asthma, the airways become swollen and narrowed, leading to increased sensitivity and difficulty breathing. This chronic inflammation, combined with other underlying factors, contributes to the long-term nature of the condition.
Different Types of Asthma
There are several types of asthma, which can be classified based on various factors. Here are some common types:
This is the most common type of asthma, triggered by allergens such as pollen, dust mites, pet dander, mold spores, or certain foods. When exposed to these allergens, the immune system overreacts, causing inflammation and asthma symptoms.
Unlike allergic asthma, non-allergic asthma is not triggered by allergens. It can be caused by respiratory infections, exercise, cold air, irritants (like smoke or strong odors), stress, or medications like aspirin and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Also known as exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB), this type of asthma is triggered by physical exertion or exercise.
This type of asthma is caused by exposure to certain substances or conditions in the workplace, such as chemicals, dust, fumes, gases, or allergens. It may develop in people who previously did not have pre-existing asthma.
As the name suggests, this type begins in childhood. It can be allergic or non-allergic and may persist into adulthood or improve as the child ages. The average age of diagnosis for childhood-onset asthma in the United States today is 5.
Adult-onset asthma develops for the first time in adulthood. Various factors can trigger allergies, respiratory infections, hormonal changes, or irritant exposure.
In some cases, asthma symptoms may not respond well to standard treatment with corticosteroids, commonly used to reduce inflammation. This is known as steroid-resistant asthma and may require alternative treatment approaches.
It’s worth noting that asthma can vary in severity and can change over time. Individuals with asthma must work closely with their healthcare provider to determine their asthma type and develop an appropriate management plan.
Early Symptoms of Asthma
Asthma can develop at any time during childhood. Early detection and management are key to keeping your child happy and healthy. It’s important to spot the early signs of asthma in children so you can get them the right help as soon as possible. Here is a list of early symptoms to look out for.
A persistent, dry cough may be an early asthma symptom, especially at night or after physical activity.
Wheezing is a high-pitched whistling sound when air is forced through narrowed airways. It is often heard during exhalation but can also occur during inhalation.
Shortness of Breath
Children with asthma may experience difficulty breathing or a sensation of breathlessness, especially after physical exertion or exposure to triggers.
Some children with asthma describe a feeling of tightness or discomfort in their chest.
Asthma can cause rapid and shallow breathing in children as they try to compensate for decreased lung function.
Fatigue during physical activity can occur in children with asthma, who may tire more quickly during exercise or physical activities due to difficulty breathing.
Allergies can trigger asthma, so if your child frequently experiences allergy symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, or itchy eyes, it could be an early sign of asthma.
Children with asthma may wake up during the night due to coughing, wheezing, or difficulty breathing. This is so hard on the parents too.
Recurring Respiratory Infections
If your child has frequent infections, such as bronchitis or pneumonia, it may indicate underlying asthma.
Irritability or Restlessness
Some children with asthma may exhibit behavioral changes, such as increased irritability or restlessness, possibly due to discomfort from breathing difficulties.
What are the signs of an Asthma attack?
Asthma attacks can have different levels of severity, but there are some common signs and symptoms to watch, particularly if your children are at risk. Here are a few indicators that might suggest an asthma attack is happening:
Wheezing: One of the most common signs of an asthma attack is wheezing. A high-pitched whistling sound characterizes wheezing during breathing, typically heard when exhaling. It occurs due to the narrowing of the airways, causing air to pass through constricted passages.
Coughing: Persistent or recurrent coughing, particularly at night or after physical activity, can indicate an asthma attack. The cough may be dry and hacking, worsening as the attack progresses.
Shortness of breath: During an asthma attack, children may experience difficulty breathing or a feeling of breathlessness. They may struggle to take in enough air, leading to a sense of suffocation or tightness in the chest. If your child appears to be out of breath, breathing rapidly, or using their chest muscles more prominently than usual to breathe, it may be a sign of an asthma attack.
Chest tightness: A common symptom of an asthma attack in children is chest tightness. It is characterized by a sensation of pressure or discomfort in the chest area, making it challenging for the child to take deep breaths. Children may describe it as feeling like a heavy weight on their chest or having difficulty expanding their lungs fully.
Pale or bluish lips and face: In severe asthma attacks, children may experience a lack of oxygen, leading to a bluish tint on their lips, face, or fingertips. This discoloration, known as cyanosis, occurs due to inadequate oxygenation in the blood. In this case, please get your child to the nearest emergency room. It is a scary sign of oxygen deprivation that can have lasting repercussions or even lead to death.
Increased respiratory rate: Children may exhibit a rapid respiratory rate during an asthma attack. They may breathe faster than usual to compensate for the decreased airflow. Pay attention to any signs of rapid or shallow breathing in your child, as it may indicate an asthma attack.
Retraction of chest and neck muscles: Observe your child’s breathing pattern and look for any visible signs of retractions, particularly in the chest and neck area. Retractions occur when the muscles between the ribs and the neck pull inward with each breath. This visible sign suggests your child is working harder to breathe and may require immediate medical attention.
Asthma & Indoor Air
As parents, we strive to create a safe and healthy environment for our children. When it comes to asthma, a condition that affects 7.5 million children in the United States alone, understanding the relationship between indoor air quality and respiratory health becomes crucial.
The average American spends nearly 90% of their time indoors. That’s a significant amount, especially for kids. Unfortunately, the air inside our homes can be 2-5 times more polluted than outside air. Poor indoor air quality, laden with toxins, air pollutants, and chemical irritants, can aggravate asthma symptoms and increase the frequency of attacks.
Identifying and addressing potential sources of indoor air pollution is crucial to create a healthier space for your family.
As a loving parent, you hold the key to establishing a nurturing environment for your kids. By recognizing the connection between asthma and the air quality inside your home, you can take positive actions to reduce their exposure to harmful substances and airborne irritants. If you want to learn various ways to improve indoor air quality, read more here.
Lifestyle Changes for Asthma Control
Creating a clean and asthma-friendly environment for your children doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Here are some practical steps you can take:
Clean indoor air using high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters to remove allergens and pollutants. Avoid smoking or exposing your child to secondhand smoke. Additionally, ensure proper ventilation in the house to reduce indoor air pollution.
Reduce your child’s exposure to allergens by dusting and vacuuming regularly to minimize dust mites. Additionally, wash bedding and stuffed toys in hot water regularly, remove carpets or use low-pile carpets, keep pets out of your child’s bedroom, or limit their contact if your child is allergic.
Control mold and dampness in your home by promptly fixing water leaks or moisture issues. Use dehumidifiers in damp areas to reduce mold growth, and clean visible mold with water and detergent.
Minimize your child’s exposure to chemical irritants by avoiding strong-smelling household cleaners, perfumes, and air fresheners. Instead, opt for natural or fragrance-free cleaning products, and encourage your child to use fragrance-free personal care products.
Take steps to monitor outdoor air quality by staying updated on air quality reports and limiting outdoor activities on days with poor air quality. Here is a great resource to save to keep tabs on the air quality in your community: IQ Air Quality Map. Close windows and use air conditioning during high-pollution or pollen seasons, and consider having your child wear a mask when pollution levels are high.
Remember, these tips should complement medical treatment and not replace it. Reducing chemical irritants in your home can help reduce the development of asthma in your family members and minimize asthma triggers for your existing asthmatics. Sign up for our monthly newsletter to stay current on our latest articles, tips and tricks, and healthy lifestyle ideas. And share this article with someone you love to help them reduce exposure in their home today too.