Environmental Factors and Asthma

This paper discusses asthma and the environmental risk factors that can cause or initiate asthma symptoms. Asthma is an airway disease that can arise from a genetic background and common exposures to allergens and airborne irritants. Since major industrialization in Western, European, and Asian countries; there has been a rapid rise in the occurrence of asthma. More adults and children spend the majority of their time indoors. Indoor and outdoor air pollution has had an effect on this increase of asthmatic individuals.

Non-allergic environmental risk factors include, occupational asthma due to chemicals and fumes within the work place. It also includes, exercise induced asthma, especially outdoors in high traffic areas. Allergens are a principal factor in causing asthma symptoms to occur. Allergic asthma is much more common than non-allergic asthma. Allergen triggers include pet dander, pests, dust mites, and mold. Environmental tobacco smoke plays a major role in the exacerbation of asthma attacks. Secondhand smoke is associated with many other health issues, such as lung cancer and respiratory diseases. Many pulmonary disorders are caused by viral and bacterial infections; however, this is not true for asthma. Asthma is a chronic disease of the respiratory system. “Asthma inflames and narrows the airways making it more difficult for the individual to breathe in and out” (Schroeder, 2010). When an asthma patient suffers from asthma, their symptoms include, tightening of the chest, wheezing, coughing and trouble with breathing. The majority of asthma cases are identified during childhood, but a person can suffer from asthma at any age. Asthma affects approximately 16. 4 million adults and 7 million children in the United States” (Schroeder, 2010). Genetics do play a role in the development of asthma. “Approximately 40 percent of children who have asthmatic parents will develop asthma” (Schroeder, 2010). Asthma can be triggered and exacerbated by exposure to many environmental factors. “Asthma and allergies have a strong hereditary and hence genetic component that likely works by modifying responses to ubiquitous environmental exposures. ” (Gilmour, Jaakola, London, Nel, and Rogers, 2006).

Our indoor and outdoor environment has many allergens. Asthma can be categorized as non-allergic or allergic. “Non-allergic asthma can be caused by certain factors such as viruses, anxiety, stress, and exercise, cold or dry air and by smoke” (Schroeder, 2010). Non-allergic asthma can be classified as occupational, which is related to working in an environment with strong fumes or chemicals that can be a trigger for asthma. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease reports, “approximately 15%–25% of adults with asthma may have work-related asthma. Working around or directly with cleaning products such as chlorine and ammonia can trigger asthmatic reactions. Medication-induced asthma is caused by “medications such as aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs for short) can trigger asthma symptoms” (Schroeder, 2010). Exercise-induced asthma can be triggered by exercising or physical exertion. “During exercise there is an increase in ventilation, which leads to a loss of heat and water from the bronchial mucosa in an attempt to warm and humidify the incoming air, and can contribute to airway obstruction” (Schroeder, 2010).

When an individual experiences allergic asthma, the airways become hypersensitive to the allergens that you have become sensitized to. Allergic asthma is triggered by inhaled allergens “such as dust mite allergen, pet dander, pollen or mold” (Schroeder, 2010). Once the allergens are inhaled into the airway, the immune system overreacts. When the immune system overreacts, a bronchospasm occurs, which is when the muscles around the airways tighten. The airways themselves are then inflamed and inundated with thick mucus.

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, the most common form of asthma is allergic asthma, which affects over fifty percent of asthma patients. Clinically the signs and symptoms of both allergic asthma and non-allergic asthma are the same. There are many indoor asthma triggers that can initiate an asthma attack. Indoor air pollution has become a much larger problem in industrialized countries, due to adults and children spending more of their time indoors. The modern home is sealed up and highly insulated to help improve energy efficiency, and results in poorer indoor air quality.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry discuss improperly used or malfunctioning heating devices as a major source of combustion pollutants indoors. The possible sources of contaminants include, gas ranges, improperly vented fireplaces, unvented kerosene or gas space heaters. “The combustion products from these devices include; carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide. Although CO is a major health concern, it is not an irritating gas and is not likely by itself to exacerbate asthma. In combination, these combustion products will often exacerbate asthma symptoms. (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease, 2007). To avoid the problem of indoor air pollution and experiencing an asthma attack, make sure the home is well ventilated by keeping windows open to allow air circulation inside. Also, have heating devices inspected for optimal venting. One of the most common allergies in the indoor home environment are pets. An allergic reaction to pets is caused by the animal’s dead skin, urine, feces, saliva and hair. Dogs, cats, rodents, and other mammals can trigger an asthmatic reaction to those with an allergy to animal dander. According to the U.

S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Proteins in the dander, urine or saliva of warm-blooded animals (e. g. , cats, dogs, mice, rats, gerbils, birds, etc. ) have been reported to sensitize individuals and cause allergic reactions or trigger asthma episodes in individuals sensitive to animal allergens. ” The most effective way to control the exposure to animal allergens is to keep the home pet free. However, that can be difficult to do if a pet is going to be in the home then keep pets outdoors as much as possible; and do not allow animals in sleeping areas or on carpeted surfaces.

Other indoor allergens that can cause asthmatic episodes are dust mites, cockroaches and other pests. Dust mites are tiny, microscopic insects that feed on human skin flakes. Dust mites are found in mattresses, pillows, carpets, bed sheets, stuffed toys and any fabric-covered items. “Body parts and feces from dust mites can trigger asthma in individuals with allergic reactions to dust mites, and exposure to dust mites can cause asthma in children who have not previously exhibited asthma symptoms. ” (U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2010).

To avoid dust mites it is important to cover mattresses and pillows with impermeable covers, wash sheets and stuffed toys often in hot water and dry thoroughly. Keep a low indoor humidity throughout the home. Cockroach allergens are similar to dust mites, in that the feces and body parts can cause an allergic reaction and trigger asthma. “Many studies have demonstrated that exposure and sensitization to pests’ allergens are associated with asthma and acute asthma exacerbations in areas where infestation is common. (Guang-Hui,Yan-Nan, Hai-Long, Ying, and Ya-Dong, 2008). Cockroaches are found in crowded cities and in the southern region of the United States. Cockroach allergens can play a major role in asthma in many inner-cities in the United States. To keep cockroaches and other pests out of the home it is important to store food properly, keep counters, tables, sinks and floors clean and clear of food. Do not keep clutter as it is a hiding area for these pests. Also, seal off any cracks or openings around cabinets. Mold exposure is another trigger for asthma.

Molds are microscopic fungi that can be found almost anywhere and on any substance where moisture is present. Many people have mold allergies, and the exposure to mold, whether indoors or outdoors, seems to play a part in the development or worsening of respiratory problems, to include asthma “Sensitization to fungi, particularly Alternaria alternata, has been linked to the presence, persistence, and severity of asthma. Exposure to atmospheric fungal spores (principally in the outdoor environment) has been related to asthma symptoms in children with asthma. (Bush, Saxon, and Wood, 2006). Mold exposure can also irritate the eyes, skin, nose, throat, and lungs of individuals allergic to molds and non-allergic people. For those that have a mold allergy and asthma it is important to control mold growth in the home to help prevent allergic and asthmatic reactions. While it is impossible to get rid of all molds in the home, as some mold spores are found in the air and dust. However, it is possible to control the moisture that is in the home. Fix any water problems that may be in the home, such as leaking faucets or a leaky air conditioner.

Indoor mold growth can be controlled by controlling the moisture indoors. Exposure to environmental tobacco smoke is exposure of a nonsmoking individual to secondhand smoking or passive smoking. Secondhand smoke contains more than 4,000 substances and includes compounds that are cancer causing carcinogens. Passive smoking is also associated with other health problems to include lung cancer, bronchitis, pneumonia and other chronic respiratory illnesses. “Irritant substances in environmental tobacco smoke may induce chronic inflammation in the airways that could lead to a form of irritant-induced asthma. (Gilmour, 2006). Environmental tobacco smoke can trigger asthma symptoms and increase the severity of an asthma attack. “In the presence of tobacco smoke exposure, hypersensitivity reactions to allergens are stronger. ” (Gilmour, 2006). Many of the health effects of secondhand smoke, namely asthma, are mostly seen in children because they are the most vulnerable to it. “Since the 1980s, numerous large studies have identified significant relations between parental smoking and development of asthma in children. ” (Gilmour, 2006).

Children are more susceptible to the effects of the secondhand smoke because their bodies are still developing. The only way to decrease the risk of environmental tobacco smoke exposure is to stay away from it. Outdoor air pollution is a major environmental culprit in the onset of asthma symptoms. “There is considerable evidence that subjects affected by asthma are at an increased risk of developing obstructive airway exacerbations with exposure to gaseous and particulate components of air pollution. ” (D’Amato and Cecchi, 2008).

Air quality has become an environmental issue due to the increase in emissions of air pollutants because of the industrialization in most areas of the world. “There is evidence that living near roads with high levels of car traffic is associated with impaired respiratory health, since road traffic with its gaseous and particulate emissions is currently, and is likely to remain, the main contributor to air pollution in most urban settings. ” (D’Amato, 2008). The best way to reduce the inhalation of outdoor air pollutants is to remain indoors during high traffic times of the day.

Live outside of large cities to eliminate vehicle exhaust and industrial exposure. In conclusion, there are many environmental factors that can affect asthmatic persons. This includes non-allergic sources such as, exercise, stress, anxiety and occupational triggers. Allergic asthma is triggered by environmental allergens, such as dust mites, pests, mold, pets and pollen which, causes the airways to tighten and become inflamed to the allergens that the individual is sensitized to.

Other environmental factors that exacerbate asthma symptoms are environmental tobacco smoke and outdoor air pollution. There are ways that a person with allergic or non-allergic asthma can change factors of their environment to ease their symptoms. However, some of these factors are difficult to remedy, for instance outdoor air pollution is not easily avoided. Nonetheless, a physician should always be aware of any and all asthma symptoms and determine the causes and medication course for each individual. ? References Bush, R. , Portnoy, J. , Saxon, A. , Terr, A. & Wood, R. (2006). The medical effects of mold exposure. The Journal Of Allergy And Clinical Immunology, 117(2), 326-333. Retrieved from MEDLINE database. D’amato, G. , & Cecchi, L. (2008). Effects of climate change on environmental factors in respiratory allergic. Clinical and Experimental Allergy, 38,, 1264-1274. Gilmour, M. , Jaakkola, M. , London, S. , Nel, A. , & Rogers, C. (2006). How Exposure to Environmental Tobacco Smoke, Outdoor Air Pollutants, and Increased Pollen Burdens Influences the Incidence of Asthma. Environmental Health Perspectives, 114(4), 627-633. oi:10. 1289/ehp. 8380. Guang-Hui, D. , Yan-Nan, M. , Hai-Long, D. , Jing, J. , Ying, C. , Ya-Dong, Z. , et al. (2008). Housing characteristics, home environmental factors and respiratory health in 3945 pre-school children in China. International Journal of Environmental Health Research, 18(4), 267-282. doi:10. 1080/09603120701842864. Schroeder, J. (2010). Asthma. American Fitness, 28(4), 60-63. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database. Wilhelm, M. , Ying-Ying, M. , Rull, R. , English, P. , Balmes, J. , & Ritz, B. (2008).

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