Can You Prevent Asthma?
The rate of asthma in children is increasing in Canada, and many other parts of the world. It makes sense that if the rate of asthma can go up, modifying the environment children live it should be able to make the rate of asthma go down. This is an area of very active scientific research. The page will give some information, based on relatively early research results, on things you can do to prevent your children from developing asthma.
Dust Mites Dust mite allergy apppears to be the most important reason for the increasing rate of asthma in children. As houses become more and more air-tight, amounts of dust mite become higher and higher. Studies from several parts of the world have shown that the larger the amount of dust mite in the home (especially the child's bedroom), the higher the risk of dust mite allergy in children, and the greater the risk of developing asthma.
Things you can do to reduce the amount of dust mites in your home (and especially your child's bedroom) include:
- Plastic-covered mattresses (the kinds used for cribs and toddler's beds) are ideal for reducing dust mite in your child's crib or bed — the most important source of dust mite for small children. You should remove the bedsheets weekly, damp wipe the plastic mattress, and wash the bedsheets. Blankets should be washed monthly.
- When your child moves to a regular mattress, if you can afford it, encase it in dust mite-proof covers from a medical supply store.
- Have a hard wood floor in the child's bedroom.
- Avoid excess clutter (excess toys, books, etc.) in the child's bedroom.
- Keep the household humidity level at 50% or less.
Cigarette Smoke Cigarette smoke is probably the second most important factor for risking asthma rates in children. You should not allow your child to be exposed to cigarette smoke. If you smoke, you should quit — if at all possible — for the sake of your health, your spouse's health, and your children's health. Your doctor can advise you of techniques available to help you quit smoking — including counselling, community support groups, and medications. If someone in your house cannot quit, they should smoke completely outside (not in the basement, bathroom, etc. — smoke re-circulates in air-tight houses!).
Some resources to help people quit smoking which are available in Canada include:
- Get On Track — a guide to help you quit smoking, from The Canadian Lung Association. Call 1-800-668-7682 for your FREE copy.
- Quit 4 Life — a smoking cessation program designed especially for teens, from The Canadian Lung Association. Call 1-800-363-3537 for a FREE quit smoking kit.
Breast Feeding One Canadian study has suggested that breast feeding for at least the first 4 months of age reduces the risk of asthma. However, this is controversial. Some research suggests that by preventing early childhood infections (see "Dirt," below), breastfeeding might actually have the opposite effect. In any case, breastfeeding is still strongly recommended, give the numerous health benefits it has for babies.
Pets Some very early Canadian research suggests that adults regularly exposed to a furry animal are more likely to develop asthma. It is possible that this may also be true for children. In families where allergic diseases (asthma, hay fever, eczema, allergies) are common, it may be prudent to avoid buying pets.
Dirt?Recent research from several countries suggest that if the immune system of infants under 6 months of age is very busy fighting off infections, "it may be too preoccupied" to develop the kinds of cells and chemicals needed to develop allergic reactions. There is some evidence that children who are exposed to more "germs" — such as children with several older siblings, children in day care before 6 months of age, and children who live on farms are less likely to develop allergies, and allergic-type diseases, such as asthma. These children may have more viral infections, possibly leading to more wheezing episodes when they're very small, but they may be less likely to develop more long-lasting asthma associated with allergies.