When you have a child with asthma or allergies, spring can trigger more than the start of summer. As trees begin to bloom and spring cleaning become top-of-mind, you want to eliminate asthma and allergy triggers such as pollen, dust mites, mold and pet dander. Remember, you also need to be aware of how cleaning itself can be a trigger.
“Hidden allergens can be found everywhere in the home,” says Shalini Forbis, MD, general academic pediatrician and Dr. Mom Squad member at Dayton Children’s. “Green cleaning products and practices are not only better for our environment, but they also help reduce the triggers that may worsen asthma and allergy symptoms.”
Dr. Forbis offers these four "green" cleaning tips as you begin your spring cleaning:
- Use your nose. Select cleaning products without strong or harsh scents. Always follow instructions on cleaning products and keep lids and caps tightly sealed when not in use. Ingredients from solids and liquids give off vapors that we inhale and may enter our body tissues irritating the eyes, nose and lungs. Try to use as few cleaning products as possible.
- Read labels. Avoid products marked "Danger" or "Poison." Reduce your use of products marked "Caution" or "Warning." Lessen your use of products containing volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These include aerosol sprays, cleaners, disinfectants, moth repellents and air fresheners.
- Look for "green" products. Some have been certified by an independent institution such as GreenSeal. Just because something has a "natural-sounding" name doesn’t mean it is free of chemicals you want to avoid.
- Make your own. You can make your own cleaning products from simple and inexpensive ingredients such as vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice, salt, soap and water. There are many books and online resources to help you make your own cleaning products.
“Keeping a clean home is a necessity,” says Dr. Forbis. “However, if cleaning odors or scented products trigger your child’s asthma or allergies, move the child to a safe area until the odor is gone.”
In addition to using products that have minimal irritants, there are also many things that you can do in each area of your home to control asthma and allergy triggers.
“It may be helpful to go through each room of your house looking for potential asthma and allergy triggers,” say Dr. Forbis.
Here are some tips to get you started:
Use exhaust fans to reduce strong cooking fumes and smoke and to limit moisture while cooking. Clean and put dishes away after each meal. Keep all food in sealed containers and dispose of expired items. Vacuum and sweep the floor after meals and clean under stoves and refrigerators where crumbs can hide and attract bugs. Surfaces should be cleaned daily. Each week, floors should be mopped and cabinets, backsplashes and appliances should be wiped down. Monthly, wipe down the inside of refrigerators, cabinets and utensil drawers. Block places where roaches or other insects can enter the house. In all of these kitchen areas, baking soda is the best option for an all-purpose cleaner.
Living and Sleeping Areas
Use dust mite-proof covers for pillows, mattresses, and box springs and wash sheets and blankets weekly in 130F water. Vacuum weekly using a closed-canister vacuum with a HEPA filter or double bag. Vacuuming and dusting can stir up and spread dust. Try to clean when children with asthma and allergies are not around. Knick knacks and books may collect dust and should be removed from bookcases and shelves and wiped down thoroughly on a regular basis. Keep windows closed during pollen season. Do not allow smoking in the house or outside near windows and doors.
Having an exhaust fan is an easy way to control the moisture in the bathroom when showering. Avoid using carpeting and choose wood, tile or linoleum floors instead. Avoid use of aerosol sprays such as hairspray or bathroom deodorizers which can quickly irritate allergies or asthma. Make your own natural and effective bathroom cleaner using a 50/50 vinegar and water mix or baking soda and water paste.
Basements can be a breeding ground for indoor molds and mildew. However, if cleaned and maintained properly, problems can be avoided. Regularly check for water damage or leaks and use a dehumidifier to reduce dampness. Promptly repair and seal leaking roofs and pipes. If mold or mildew is visible in the carpeting or wall covering, remove these from your house. If the mold or mildew cannot be removed, spray straight vinegar on the wall, let it dry and do not rinse.
“Finally, animal dander, saliva or urine can be allergy triggers,” says Dr. Forbis. “There is no such thing as hypoallergenic breeds of dogs or cats. If animals are a problem for your child, the most effective solution is to get rid of the pet. Keeping an animal outside is only partially effective. Consider fish, turtles, hermit crabs or snakes because they don’t have fur or feathers.”
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