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Fighting to Breathe: Six Tips to Ensure a Healthy Home Environment

A woman cleans her living room to improve air quality.

Kentucky consistently has had some of the highest rates of lung disease in the U.S., including lung cancer, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), and asthma. The commonwealth ranked seventh among all states in percentage of adults with asthma in 2018 at 11.5%, according to American Lung Association data.

Asthma can be controlled through medication and bronchodilators, but people can also reduce the risk of an attack by making changes to their environment, starting with their home.

If you are suffering from asthma or other respiratory diseases, here are six ways to improve the living space in your home in order to ensure better air quality and cleaner breathing. These are taken from sources including the Healthy Homes initiative at the Department for Housing and Urban Development.

1. Eliminate in-home smoking. More than any other decision, keeping smoking completely out of your living quarters will immediately improve the air quality for all residents. Tell guests to “take it outside” if they absolutely have to smoke while visiting – or better yet, respectfully talk to them about ending their habit. Access state/local resources and watch KET’s documentary Calling It Quits for more information.

2. Get your home tested for radon. Radon, an odorless gas caused from the natural erosion of uranium in the soil, is a known carcinogen and exists at high levels in Kentucky (view your county map). It can get into homes via cracks in the foundation and remain due to poor ventilation. Radon exposure is the second-leading cause of lung cancer deaths in the U.S. Radon testing kits are easy to use and can be obtained for free – visit the state’s Radon Program website to learn how.

3. Keep your home dry. Mold can trigger attacks in persons with asthma and should be removed as soon as it is noticed indoors by following tips 4 and 5. Persons with asthma should stay outside of the home until mold is removed, if possible. Make repairs as soon as mold is spotted.

4. Make sure your home is well-ventilated. Keep your heating and cooling system maintained (change filters regularly) in order to circulate fresh air, and make sure exhaust fans for the kitchen and bathroom are working. Keep vents for appliances such as the clothes dryer clean and passable to the outdoors.

5. Assemble your own “Green Cleaning Kit.” There are thousands of cleaning products on the market that claim to be the best at eliminating allergens, mold, and other contaminants. However, many of these cleaners themselves contain chemicals that are allergy and/or asthma triggers. Fortunately, you can conduct a thorough cleaning job using environmentally safe products, some of which may already be in the cupboard. Baking soda and water make a safe and effective cleaner for stainless steel appliances in the kitchen, and vinegar is a very versatile ingredient for cleaning jobs in the kitchen and bathroom including toilets and windows (mixed with rubbing alcohol). For brand items, check with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Safer Choice list which allows you to search through products and also has a filter for fragrance-free options.

6. Balance your needs and your pets’ needs. First of all, any signs of animal or insect pests in your home need to be addressed immediately; hire a reputable pest removal expert to get them out. Since animal dander is a common asthma trigger, pet owners who have chronic lung conditions can make changes to their indoor living arrangements to help reduce exposure. Consider keeping your pet outside as much as possible or, if that’s not an option, keep the pet restricted to certain areas in your home (such as areas with hardwood floors instead of carpet) and use a HEPA air filter that removes animal dander in those areas.

In this video from 2014, we follow along as workers from the Ashland-Boyd Co. Health Dept. give a Healthy Homes inspection to the Sanderson family, whose four sons have all been diagnosed with asthma.

This article is from a KET initiative funded, in part, by grants from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky and the Kentucky Medical Association through a grant from the Anthem Foundation.