Asthma and the Home Environment
Children, teens, and adults now spend up to 90% of their time indoors, and at least 50% of that time is spent in their home. Because of the large amount of time spent indoors, the home environment is an important focus for reducing exposures to triggers of asthma. Triggers of asthma found in the home include allergens such as pet dander, mold, or pests as well as irritants such as scented cleaning products and second hand smoke.
Reducing asthma triggers in the home is linked to improvements in asthma outcomes such as reduced hospitalizations and emergency department visits for children who have asthma. Interventions that address as many triggers as possible in the home (multi-trigger) are effective in reducing asthma symptoms in children. Current studies suggest that adults with asthma or other respiratory illnesses, can be helped by reducing triggers of asthma in the home.
An environmental assessment or visual walk-through of a home can help identify triggers of asthma so that steps can be taken to reduce or eliminate those specific triggers. Asthma home-based services (AHBS) includes an environmental assessment for triggers in the home in addition to providing individualized asthma self-management education. Self-management education teaches a person who has asthma how to manage their disease effectively. If you are not eligible for AHBS, you-- the homeowner, renter, or other person -- can do a walkthrough to identify triggers of asthma in your home. Checklists are available in the resource section of this webpage.
Whether you own or rent your home, living in a “healthy” home is important. We know that housing conditions can greatly affect the health of people living in those homes. The scientific evidence on the many links between housing and health continues to grow, and this evidence can be used to guide "primary preventive" measures related to housing construction, renovation, and use and maintenance, which in turn can promote better overall health (Housing and Health, World Health Organization).
While there are many factors that go into creating a healthy home, some factors can impact whether or not a home is “asthma friendly” or contributes to the health of a person living with asthma. A “healthy home” is created by the building itself as well as the behaviors of the people living in that that home.
Healthy homes are –
Moisture in homes can contribute to the growth of mold, mildew, and other micro-organisms. It also can provide water for pests such as cockroaches, mice, and rats. Dust mites thrive in damp, humid environments.
Keeping your home clean can reduce the number and types of irritants and allergens that the person with asthma is exposed to. A clean home can reduce allergens carried on dust. Additional benefits include that you are more likely to notice if you have a pest problem, and air fresheners, which can be an irritant to people with asthma, should not be used.
People can have allergies to pests such as cockroaches, mice and rats. US Environmental Protection Agency provides more information on how to use Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Principles to help keep pests away.
There are many contaminants such as pollutants and chemicals found in our homes. The best way to avoid these unwanted contaminants is to not bring them in the house in the first place. Smoking should not be allowed in your home.
Ventilation means that air can move freely in your home. Good ventilation can help to remove contaminants from your home and help keep moisture levels down to prevent the growth of mold and mildew. Use your bath and kitchen fans when activities that create moisture such as showering or cooking create moisture. If you have furnace filters, use a good quality, pleated filter and change the filter as needed. Additional information on air filters is available from the EPA.
A well-maintained home means that you make sure repairs are made whenever they are needed. By keeping your home well-maintained, you will reduce your risk of having water damage or moisture intrusion problems and it may also help to prevent entry of pests into your home.
See the MDH Healthy Homes website for additional information on keeping a healthy home and reducing the risk of hazards like radon, lead, carbon monoxide and chemicals.
Even if you think that you have a asthma-friendly home, it can be helpful to do a home walk-through to make sure you have reduced or eliminated as many triggers as possible. Because we are used to our own homes, we sometimes don’t think about all the potential asthma triggers that may be present, unless we go through our home with a checklist. To do a walk-through yourself, use a checklist (see options below) and start by looking at places where you spend the majority of time, like your living room and bedroom to identify possible asthma triggers The MDH Asthma Program has developed a model to provide Asthma Home-based Services. In some areas of the State, these services may be available to have a public health nurse or other health professional help you with your home walk-through.
If you own your home, you can take steps to make changes to make it healthier. If you rent, you may be able to make some changes to improve it, but other changes may require a conversation and additional assistance from your landlord. See the “Resources for Renters” section below to assist you when you need cooperation from a landlord.
Learn More: Home walk-through checklists
- Clear Your Home of Asthma Triggers, Your Children Will Breathe Easier
A brochure published by the Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA). It focuses on secondhand smoke, dust mites, pets, mold and pests and provides guidance on how to reduce these triggers in your home. It is available in English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese.
- MDH Asthma Program - Triggers Information Sheet (PDF) - download info sheet to learn more about triggers that make your asthma worse, and steps you can take to reduce your exposure to triggers.
- Asthma Home Environment Checklist
An 8-page detailed checklist intended to help public health nurses and other people offering asthma home-based services to provide a thorough walk-through of the home. It was developed by EPA and includes some information on outdoor triggers of asthma as well as indoor triggers of asthma.
- Home Characteristics and Asthma Triggers- Checklist for Home Visitors
An updated (2018) 12-page checklist produced by CDC, EPA, and HUD to provide a detailed checklist, especially for home visitors providing asthma home-based services. It contains separate modules for addressing mold and moisture issues as well as a module on dust mites.
- Reducing Environmental Triggers of Asthma in the Home (RETA) Online Training
This free 40-minute online training module was developed by the MDH Asthma Program. It is for health care providers, public health nurses, and certified asthma educators (AE-C), to learn about environmental triggers found in the home. The training builds knowledge surrounding triggers of asthma for those who may already provide asthma home services or asthma education in their community. This training module also has a “resource section” with links to information.
Resources for Homeowners
- Minnesota Department of Health’s Healthy Homes program
Learn more about creating a healthy home. This website contains information on factors that may impact creation of a healthy home including information about asbestos, carbon monoxide, mold and moisture control, pest control, and radon.
- Minnesota Department of Commerce
The Minnesota Department of Commerce has information on assessing your home for energy improvement and has helpful hints to guide you along the way. They also run the cold weather energy assistance program. They have information on your home’s structure, heating and cooling systems, and appliances and lighting.
- Housing and Urban Development
This website has information on making home improvements, including information on HUD’s rehabilitation and repair loan program for emergency repairs.
- Habitat for Humanity of Minnesota
Habitat for Humanity builds and renovates housing to provide decent, affordable housing for people in need. In addition, they operate “Habitat ReStores” where low-cost quality used and surplus building materials may be available.
- Sustainable Resources Center
Sustainable Resources Center located in Minneapolis, Minnesota is dedicated to creating healthy and energy efficient home environments n partnership with families and communities. Their programs include weatehrization, lead hazard education and control, healthy homes education and remediation and training.
Resources for Renters and Landlords
If you currently live in multi-family housing or rent your home and are having issues with repairs, these resources can help:
- Landlords and Tenants: Rights and Responsibilities Handbook This 53-page consumer handbook from the Minnesota Attorney General’s office is free and can be downloaded in English and Spanish. It explains the rights and duties landlords and tenants in Minnesota. It includes information for students who may be moving into their first apartment, what happens if you vacate or leave your apartment, and information on conciliation or small claims court. Tenants in federal housing and other forms of subsidized housing have additional rights under federal law not covered in this handbook. Tenants should check there leases for information.
- HOME Line provides free and low-cost confidential legal and advocacy services to tenants and offers trainings to landlord groups throughout Minnesota. The hotline service is available in English, Spanish, Somali and Hmong where you can receive confidential help from a housing attorney. They have an extensive list of Housing Resources, and form letters that can be used if repairs are not being made in a timely manner. They offer additional resources such as a book titled, “How to be the Smartest Renter on Your Block.”
- Minnesota Multi-Housing
Minnesota Multi-Housing Association (MHA) is a landlord rights trade organization. It represents more than 2,100 landlords throughout Minnesota. It offers education classes and other learning opportunities and events for landlords.
Additional national resources around asthma in the home environment.