Headshot: Smith
Headshot: Smith

The Oxford English Dictionary says asthma is “a disease of respiration, marked by intermittent paroxysms of difficulty breathing with a wheezing sound, cough and expectoration”.

That sounds awful. I do wish they would mention that it is treatable and that no one need suffer with such awful symptoms.

One in five children in Bermuda have asthma – one of the highest rates of childhood asthma in the world. In the US, one in 10 has the condition.

The first signs of asthma usually appear in childhood, and about 45 per cent of all children will cough and wheeze and be prescribed an inhaler.

They do not all have asthma but they do have asthma symptoms, because their airways are tiny.

How do we know which children will go on to have asthma? There is no simple test for children and that is why your doctor may keep saying, ‘Let’s wait and see.’

Children at risk

Those more likely to develop asthma are:

n Children with a family history of asthma and allergies.

n Children with other signs of sensitivity such as eczema.

n Children with food allergies.

n Children who cough and wheeze with colds and viruses, and also in between in response to cigarette smoke, pets, cold air, etc. (Known as multiple trigger wheeze).

n Children exposed to cigarette smoke especially before birth and in the first few months of life as their tiny airways develop.

The triggers

There are five groups of triggers:

n Allergens — including mould, dust-mites, pet dander, pollen, etc.

n Irritants — household sprays, aerosols, cleaning products, fresh air sprays and plug-in air fresheners and perfume.

n Infection — colds and flu viruses.

n The weather.

n Emotions/stress.

You can avoid some allergens by stopping the use of perfume, household sprays and chemicals.

Keep seasonal allergens outside by having a ‘shoes-off’ policy to avoid tracking pollen into living spaces.

Making sure that your windows and doors are properly sealed will go a long way to keeping the outside allergens outside. 

Make sure any venting to outdoors from the kitchen, dryer or bathroom vents have a screening cover to keep pests like mice and cockroaches from coming in. Their droppings can cause breathing irritations.

Banish mould and mildew

Most major mould problems start in the basement or crawlspace and are caused by excessive moisture that wicks its way up through the house, feeding mould and mildew along the way. So you will want to take steps to prevent damp areas. 

Cleaning and disinfecting all surfaces regularly and using bath exhaust fans to remove the water vapour that can settle and create a breeding ground for mould and mildew will help.

Also, launder kitchen and bath linens frequently, and be attentive to plumbing leaks that can lead to hidden mould issues.

Closet heaters will help keep leather shoes form growing mould as the humidity rises.

Cut out carpet

For allergy sufferers, carpet is just about the worst choice for floor covering.

Carpeting tends to trap and hold allergens of all kinds, and is especially welcoming to dust mites.

Wherever possible, replace carpet with wood or tile and use washable throw rugs. By doing so, you will banish 90 per cent of dust mites from a space.

For children, keep the stuffed animals to a minimum or throw them in the freezer now and then to kill the mites and then wash them in cold water.

Clean the air

Those soothing springtime breezes also carry allergens, so if you are lucky enough to have central air conditioning, use it.

Keeping windows closed and attic fans off minimizes the amount of pollens that can float into your house.

You can also prevent the development of other indoor allergens like mould by keeping home humidity at about 55 per cent with the help of whole home dehumidifiers and inexpensive at-home humidity monitors.

In Bermuda the cost of keeping air conditioning on all the time can be prohibitive so a good general clean of the house once a week and AC filter cleaning twice a year will keep your allergens down.

Choose dust-free décor

Just like carpet, the presence of upholstered furnishings, fabric-heavy window treatments and ornate, dust-grabbing accents can all contribute to your allergy misery.

Instead of filling your home with those materials, select washable slip-covers and pillow shams, clean-lined décor and a clutter-free design. 

Consider using Sunbrella fabric or an equivalent fabric on upholstered furniture as an alternative.

While trying to eliminate dust and mould in Bermuda homes can seem practically impossible, paying attention to these tips for a cleaner home will be helpful in keeping your family breathing easy.

Michele Smith is the managing director and interior designer of OBM International/Bermuda. Contact 278-3550.