Your Survival Guide for Allergic Asthma

You can live a full and active life even when you have allergic asthma.

Joanna Thomas has had severe allergic asthma since she was 2 years old. Her asthma is triggered, she says, by "just about everything." Now in her 70s, she travels, volunteers, exercises, and generally enjoys life.

You can, too.

Clear the Air

There's only so much you can do about outdoor air quality, but you can control the air quality inside your home. For starters, keep your windows shut.

Thomas finds that a HEPA filter keeps the air in her house clean by filtering out dust mites, pet dander, and other allergens.

Plan for Exercise

You can and should exercise. It helps your lungs and heart work better, and it builds your strength and endurance. If you choose an outdoor activity, try to limit the pollen and irritants you bring inside with you. As soon as you come in, take off your clothes and shower. Make sure to wash or rinse your hair.

On some days, when the pollen count is high, that might not be enough. Exercise inside on those days. Thomas has a folding, rollable treadmill that she uses in her home. She even takes it with her on vacations in her RV. Other people with allergic asthma find that yoga is a good inside alternative.

Rethink Your Home Decor

The surfaces in your home are as important as the air. Wash your curtains or, even better, replace them with blinds or other non-fabric window dressings. Vacuum upholstered furniture. Dust items that are leather, plastic, vinyl, or wood with a damp cloth.

Thomas replaced all the carpet in her home with hard-surfaced flooring. Carpets can harbor allergens including dust mites, cockroach droppings, pollen, and mold spores.

Clean With Care

If you can't get rid of your carpet, the American Lung Association recommends vacuuming at least three times a week using a HEPA filter and while wearing a mask.

In fact, you should wear a mask for any type of cleaning. "I wear an ear-loop face mask," Thomas says.

What else can you do? Take out the garbage every day. Only empty the vacuum bag outside.

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Protect Your Bed

Use mattress and pillow covers. "They basically seal your mattress and your pillowcase so you don't have a reaction," says Kim Franklin, a nurse in Omaha, NE. She was diagnosed with allergic asthma in 2002.

Thomas says you can also vacuum your mattress or use an upholstery tool to keep dust mites and other allergens at bay.

The American Lung Association recommends washing sheets, other bedding, and pajamas at least once a week in very hot water.

Beware of Dog (and Cat)

About a third of people with allergic asthma are triggered by cat dander. But if you're one of them, you may not have to give up a home with cats and other pets.

While there are no truly allergy-free dogs or cats, some breeds can be easier to live with. "Low-allergen" dogs include the poodle, bichon frise, and Maltese. Some people have good luck with Devon Rex cats.

And know your limits. Tom Miller, a marketing executive in Indianapolis, developed allergic asthma 7 years ago. While two cats are too many for him, he says one cat in the house is no problem.

Watch What You Eat

Avoiding certain foods might help you breathe easier. Miller says his symptoms "dramatically decreased" within 2 days when he gave up gluten 2 months ago. "I can sleep through the night now," he says.

Thomas' quality of life improved when she figured out which foods wouldn't trigger her allergies. For her, safe foods include potatoes and frozen orange juice (supplemented with calcium).

"I clean house, tend my flower garden, help with Christmas projects, and other things," she says. "I have a great life. I love it."

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on January 29, 2019

Sources

Joanna Thomas, secretary, Better Breathing Club, Midland, TX.

American Lung Association: "More About Asthma Triggers," "Carpets," "Dust Mites and Dust."

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology: "Cleaning Tips for Allergy and Asthma Sufferers."

Arbes, S.J. The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, November 2007.

Tom Miller, Indianapolis.

Kim Franklin, nurse, Omaha, NE.

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