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An article in my Yahoo! newsfeed caught my eye the other day. It listed a host of hidden toxins that can be found in almost any household. Some of the items in the list seemed to me to be no-brainers, such as chemical flame retardants sprayed on furniture and fumes from non-stick cookware that's overheated. But a few, such as plastic soup bowls and nighttime lighting, were a bit of a surprise. What's more, the article said that children today are being born "pre-polluted" with up to 200 synthetic chemicals in their bodies. Scary stuff!
Of course, keeping an eye out for potentially harmful substances in the house is nothing new for a parent of an asthmatic child. When Jett was first diagnosed with asthma, it took me years to settle on the perfect combination of furnishings and household cleaners to create an asthma-friendly household. And since childhood asthma has a way of changing from year-to-year, I always have to be on the lookout for new chemical offenders, especially if Jett's asthma starts to consistently flare up.
Back in those first months after Jett was diagnosed, household cleaners were the first to go. I had to do away with all harsh chemicals like bleach and ammonia, including any products that contain them (no more Windex for the Cota household - windows are now washed with water and vinegar only!) Any cleaner or deodorizer in powder or aerosol form is also off limits.
Personal care products were the next target. Deodorants and perfumes can pose a problem for asthmatic children, as can certain soaps and shampoos. Laundry detergents were especially hard on Jett's asthma, and it took some shopping around before I found a natural detergent that didn't seem to affect him — and to this day, I can't use drier sheets.
When you're searching for asthma-friendly products, beware of potentially misleading labels. You never know what may go into a "natural" cleaner, and the mere scent of it might trigger an asthma attack in your little one. If you want to play it safe, rely on baking soda, vinegar, or lemon juice solutions for the bulk of your cleaning.
Dust management is also a must when there are asthmatic children in the house. Any sort of cloth or fiber can gather dust (not to mention be filled with flame retardant chemicals!), so you either have to be prepared to spend the time to clean it regularly or spend the money to replace it. I swapped out all my upholstered furniture with leather or washable couches (washable slip covers are a cost-friendly alternative.) I also replaced my carpets with hardwood floors, which makes dust cleanup a snap.
If you want to lessen the buildup of dust in the first place, use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter. Better yet, find a reliable HEPA air purifier and keep it running 24/7. We have one installed in our home's central air unit, but you can also buy smaller versions to run in individual rooms for under $50 at any major home appliance retailer.
The best way to keep the chemicals and the dust out of the air is to simply not kick them up to begin with. Try not to do any deep cleaning when asthmatic children are in the house. Save the vacuuming, mopping, and disinfecting for when they're away. This was a challenge for me, because I'm a bit of a self-professed clean freak. But I manage today with routine pick-ups and minor cleaning while Jett's at home, saving the major deep cleaning for those times when Jett will be away for most of the day, when I can open the windows to air the house out before he returns.
Unfortunately, the battle doesn't ever seem to end. Parents of asthmatic children always have to keep an eye out for new triggers. Childhood asthma can change over time, and virtually anything can be the culprit behind an asthma attack. Jett, for example, is extremely allergic to cardboard boxes. If he so much as comes into contact with one, he breaks out in hives and his asthma begins acting up.
In a perfect world, an allergy test at the doctor's would tell you everything you need to know to prevent attacks, but the tests don't account for everything in the environment (like cardboard!) The key is to be constantly aware of your child's respiratory health. If asthma attacks suddenly become a problem, you have to figure out what's causing them. This could mean weeks — sometimes months — of removing and replacing potential offenders from your household until you pinpoint the source and eliminate it.