Asthma-friendly products: Do they help reduce symptoms?

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Asthma-friendly products: Do they help reduce symptoms?

If you have asthma, your doctor probably recommended that you take steps to control asthma triggers in your home. Purchasing so-called asthma-friendly products may seem like a good step. However, you may be wondering if asthma-friendly products will help reduce your symptoms and if they're worth the cost.

Ranging from plush toys to vacuum cleaners, a number of manufacturers claim that their asthma-friendly products reduce asthma triggers better than other products. But often these claims aren't backed up with solid evidence. While there's no sure way to tell how much a particular product might help ease your asthma symptoms, here are some tips to keep in mind before spending your money.

Identify whether a product is likely to reduce your particular triggers

Each person's asthma is set off by certain pollutants or allergy-causing substances (allergens). Common household asthma triggers include:

  • Dust mites, which accumulate in carpet, upholstery and mattresses
  • Dander from pets such as cats, dogs and birds
  • Cockroaches
  • Indoor molds
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) — gasses released by paints, carpets and other household products
  • Wood and tobacco smoke

Even if a product claims to reduce asthma-triggering substances, it will only help you if it limits your exposure to the particular things that trigger your symptoms. For example, if dust mites trigger your asthma, you may benefit from a mattress cover that helps contain or eliminate them. But buying paint that releases lower amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air might not be as important. Some products, such as air cleaners and washing machines, help remove several common asthma triggers.

If you're like most people with asthma, you have multiple triggers. If you're uncertain about which particular triggers affect you, your doctor may recommend allergy skin testing to identify them. This will give you a better idea about what household triggers you need to avoid.

Research before you spend your money

When deciding whether a product is worth purchasing, don't just rely on claims from the manufacturer. Look for objective product reviews. Use your own judgment and consider your doctor's advice about what products are likely to make a difference. Some places to get information before making a purchase include:

  • Your doctor or other health care professional
  • Online product reviews or discussions
  • Consumer Reports, a nonprofit organization that evaluates and rates products and services
  • Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, an industry trade organization that tests and rates room air conditioners, dehumidifiers and room air cleaners

Consider certified products

The Asthma & Allergy Friendly Certification Program conducts tests to determine which products are most suitable for people with asthma. The program is run by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), a nonprofit organization. After testing, the program endorses the products it feels work best. Products that are certified include:

  • Vacuum cleaners
  • Bedding
  • Toys
  • Flooring
  • Paint
  • Washing machines
  • Air cleaners
  • Cleaning products

Examples of how the program certifies products include certifying certain stuffed toys don't contain irritating chemicals and can withstand repeated washing. Also, vacuum cleaners and air cleaners are tested to confirm that they reduce allergens to certain levels.

This type of testing and certification seems like a good idea, but there's some controversy about the program. There aren't outside studies that show that products endorsed by the program are superior to others. Many products that reduce common asthma triggers haven't been tested by the program — and these products may work just as well as certified products. While Asthma & Allergy Friendly Certification lets you know a product has been tested, it isn't a guarantee that it will reduce your asthma symptoms.

Take other steps to eliminate your asthma triggers

Unfortunately, eliminating asthma triggers isn't as easy as buying an air filter or a mattress cover. You'll never completely get rid of all triggers in your home. Using certain products may help, but other steps are just as important:

  • Control trigger sources. Learn what steps to take to limit your exposure to pet dander, rodents, cockroaches, cigarette smoke or other things that trigger your asthma. Use an air filter and consider replacing carpet with hard flooring.
  • Clean on a regular basis. Regular, thorough cleaning is critical to keeping asthma triggers at bay. Wash toys and bedding in hot water and vacuum on a regular basis. Use a vacuum cleaner that has high-efficiency particle air filter (HEPA filter), if possible.
  • Maintain the products you have. Follow instructions on cleaning and maintaining appliances such as vacuum cleaners and air filters.

Have allergies, but not asthma? These tips may still apply

Some household allergens that trigger asthma can also trigger allergic rhinitis (hay fever) symptoms such as itchy, watery eyes, a runny nose and sneezing. Products that claim to be asthma-friendly may also be helpful in reducing your particular allergy triggers. As with asthma, the key to deciding whether a product may help is to determine whether it's likely to reduce your exposure to the triggers that affect you.

When considering whether to buy a product that might help reduce asthma or allergy symptoms, weigh the potential benefits with the cost in light of your specific triggers and environment. Don't rely on manufacturer claims. Get advice from your doctor, and do research on your own to find out which products are worth a try — and which ones aren't.

Last Updated: 2010-11-19
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