Arguably, the world’s cleaned up its act over the past several decades: new emissions standards, an ever-increasing awareness about the impact of pollution and chemicals that’s spurred proactivity, and even cutting-edge technology designed to reduce our exposure to all the ickiness out there. And yet, asthma rates keep climbing – the number of people diagnosed with asthma grew by 4.3 million from 2001 to 2009 – despite our collective efforts to the contrary. What gives?
Early on, there was the hygiene hypothesis, which posited that being exposed early in life to things like viruses, bacteria and parasites can actually bolster the immune system, making it rather efficient at naturally eradicating these kinds of threats in the future. The thinking was, over-sanitation weakened the body’s defense to disease.
In addition to genetics, environmental factors could be a big part of the problem, too. Asthma expert Marc Riedl, MD, assistant professor of medicine at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine, explained to EverydayHealth.com: “In much of the world, the environment in which humans live and develop has changed rather rapidly and profoundly since the industrial revolution.” It’s these changes that cause allergic inflammation, which then leads to increasing rates of allergic rhinitis, food allergies, and eczema, as well as increasing rates of asthma.
Other factors, like air quality, pollution and lifestyle can also contribute to growing asthma rates. Children living less than 1/10th of a mile of areas of high traffic congestion are more likely to develop asthma or have asthma events. However, on the flip side of that, our rather recent preoccupation with not just simple cleaning but sanitizing everything possible is part of the problem. Even new homes – which are arguably more energy efficient with lower overhead costs – can be so well-built they actually trap any and all contaminants inside the home…which we then breathe in. Considering we spend 90% of our time indoors, breathing in re-circulated air – especially if it’s filled with toxins, pollutants and chemicals – can wreak havoc on even healthy lungs.
Items like new carpet and furniture can off-gas odors, fumes and chemicals into your home or office environment. Household cleaners often contain synthetic fragrances and countless chemicals which can enter – and stay – in your breathing space. Add this to age-old irritants like pet dander, pollen and dust, and you’ve got a recipe for asthmatic disaster. “If we want to reduce the national or global prevalence of asthma,” said Reidl, “we likely need to tackle large public health issues such as air pollution levels, obesity rates, and perhaps the overuse of antibiotics.”
In the meantime, you can take steps to help improve your indoor air quality.
- Use natural agents to clean when possible: lemon, vinegar, hydrogen peroxide and baking soda are all free of synthetic dyes, fragrances and other irritants that could trigger an asthma attack. They’re also much cheaper!
- Replace the filters in your home with HEPA filters. These are capable of capturing extremely small particles and preventing them from recirculating in your home.
- Opt for a vacuum that has a double sealed HEPA filter, like the Lux Guardian Platinum by Aerus.
- Consider investing in a high-quality air purifier. Some of the best ones can capture particles as small as 0.1 microns – which even most HEPA filters can’t catch – including pollen, smoke, dust mites, mold spores and pet dander.