(BPT) - More than 6 million American children — nearly 9 percent of all kids in the U.S. — have asthma, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Each year, asthma attacks send more than a million people to emergency rooms, including approximately 24,000 children younger than 15, the CDC reports. Yet health experts agree many of those asthma attacks could be avoided through a range of tactics, including by improving air quality inside homes.
“Most people can control their asthma and live symptom-free,” the CDC reports. Knowing how to reduce or eliminate exposure to allergens and irritants inside the home could help people avoid at least some asthma attacks.
Asthma and kids
More than 47 percent of all asthma attacks occur in children, according to CDC data. KidsHealth.org says asthma is the leading cause of chronic absence from school, and the chronic illness that sends kids to the emergency room most often.
Many factors can trigger allergy attacks, including exposure to allergens inside the home. As the weather warms and parents open windows to bring fresh air into their homes, the breeze that enters can be full of pollen, mold spores and other airborne irritants. What’s more, irritants already inside the home such as pet dander, dust mites, smoke, bacteria and viruses can contribute to asthma symptoms.
Improving indoor air quality
Your home’s heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems play a critical role in the air quality inside your home. Following are some tips for ensuring your HVAC system works to clean the air inside your home:
* Have your HVAC system serviced regularly to ensure all components are working efficiently. A well-maintained system can dramatically improve air quality.
* Change air filters regularly, and choose a filter with a higher MERV (minimum efficiency reporting value) rating. The higher the rating, the better the filter will be at capturing airborne particles. Clogged or low-MERV filters may not effectively remove particles from the air, leaving them for your HVAC system to recirculate. In fact, HVAC systems can recirculate contaminants an average of five to seven times per day, according to the National Air Duct Cleaners Association.
* Vent bathrooms and laundry rooms directly outside the home, and ensure vent fans are always working well.
* Any equipment that creates combustion and exhaust, such as fireplaces, heaters, stoves, range tops and furnaces should also vent outside to keep harmful fumes from re-entering your home's HVAC system.
* When you vacuum, turn on your home’s HVAC system. Vacuuming stirs particles into the air, and your running HVAC system can catch those particles and filter them from the air.
* Monitor and control the humidity in your home. Bacteria and viruses, which can contribute to asthma symptoms, thrive in very dry environments. Consider adding a whole-home humidifier to your HVAC system. Through the use of natural evaporation, the humidifiers help maintain optimum humidity throughout the entire house, without the limitations of portable humidifiers that can only affect a single room.
* Air cleaners can support your HVAC system in removing irritants from the air. Like single-room humidifiers, however, portable air cleaners have limited effect. Consider incorporating a whole-home air cleaner that operates as part of your existing HVAC system.
Studies show the number of people with asthma is growing worldwide. Health experts from the CDC to the National Institutes of Health agree that controlling indoor air quality in homes could benefit children with asthma, as well as asthma sufferers of all ages.