Winter Colds Increase Kids' Asthma Symptoms
Doctors see increases in asthma-related emergency visits and hospital admissions in winter, says James W. Stout, M.D., of Seattle Children's Hospital Research Institute. "The number-one reason for hospital asthma admissions is colds, even among those with allergy-mediated asthma," he says.
The onset of winter cold-and-flu season, combined with reduced-quality indoor air, can lead to these increased asthma symptoms for many children. With homes sealed up tight, tobacco smoke, fireplace smoke, and molds can all contribute to poor indoor air quality.
There are things families can do to help children with asthma get through this time of year with fewer health problems. Diligent hand-washing to help prevent colds helps, as does keeping air in the home as clean as possible. It's also important to reduce allergy triggers, says Stout. One study, reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that changes in the home environment can produce a reduction in symptoms comparable to that achieved with asthma medications.
To help "asthma-proof" your home:
• Keep children away from second-hand tobacco smoke. If anyone in your household smokes, make sure they smoke outside or away from children. Do not allow anyone to smoke in the car when children are present.
• Wood stoves or fireplaces must be well vented outside with good draft and well-functioning chimneys. Only light fires when local air quality is good, and only burn wood with enough paper and kindling to start the fire. Never burn other items. Keep as much smoke out of the room as possible by closing fireplace doors.
• Use only clean-burning candles. Plain, unscented natural beeswax candles have a gentle, sweet scent without added perfumes and dyes.
• Avoid any bedding stuffed with down, feathers or foam rubber. Cover pillows, mattresses and box springs with dust-proof, "hypoallergenic," and allergen-impermeable fabric cases.
• Wash bedding once a week in hot water and dry in a hot dryer for at least 30 minutes. This helps to eliminate dust mites.
• Dust and vacuum when your child is out of the room. Dampen a cloth for dusting, and a vacuum that collects and traps dust mites, such as one with a double bag or a HEPA (high energy efficiency particulate air) filter.
• Keep pets off of furniture and out of your child's room.
• Use HEPA filters in key locations in your home, especially in your child's bedroom.
• Rid your home of cockroaches and other pests that may carry allergens.
Keep your child's medicines, including asthma inhalers, on hand and current, Stout recommends. Ask your doctor to check your child's lung function and sensitivities to airborne allergens. Also ask her to write an asthma-management plan for your child.