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Protecting Kids from Environmental Asthma

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Duke Health News 919-660-1306

Despite improvements in air quality in the United States, asthma and
allergy attacks in children are on the rise. Some experts suspect this
may be due in part to kids spending more time indoors, where they're
exposed to more allergens, proteins that trigger inflammatory responses.

David
Schwartz, M.D., professor of pulmonary medicine and genetics at Duke
University Medical Center, says a big problem today is the quality of
indoor air, particularly in homes with poor ventilation systems.

"It
actually may be a false impression that air quality has improved,"
explains Schwartz. "Some of the visible pollution has clearly improved,
but what's occurred is that the type of agent we're now exposed to in
the air has dramatically changed. As a result of ventilation systems,
we're being exposed to air that's contaminated with microbial bacteria,
molds, viruses and toxins of these organisms."

Schwartz points to carpeting and pets as two of the primary sources of indoor irritants that can affect children.

"Carpeting
is a problem because of the organisms that live in the carpet. Children
can develop allergic reactions to the mites that live in the carpet.
These mites also produce fecal droppings that contaminate the air with
bacteria and bacterial products that can cause inflammation in the
airways. Pets are another source of many allergic responses, as well as
bacterial contamination. In both contexts, being around pets can result
in responses that cause asthma."

Schwartz says parents can help protect their children by reducing these and other environmental risks in the home.

"Keep
children away from cigarette smoke and gasses, especially cooking
gasses, and recognize when a child develops an allergic response. Early
recognition is the most important thing."

He urges parents to be
watchful for possible early warning signs of asthma, like a chronic
runny nose, sore throat or itchy eyes. "Children who are treated
earlier will have a less aggressive type of asthma," he says. "Once
asthma gets established, it's very difficult to treat. Asthma in its
early phases is much easier to treat and in fact can be reversible."

Schwartz
says the most common treatment for asthma and allergy attacks is the
use of inhalers, which deliver localized treatment to the lungs.
Medications in the inhalers can increase the caliber of the airway and
decrease resistance in the airway. In cases of allergic asthma that
cannot be easily controlled by medications delivered via inhalers,
allergy desensitization shots can also provide help.

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