Living with asthma is tough. Your life, or the life of a loved one, is restricted and you need to control indoor triggers as part of your asthma management plan, which means cleaning your home regularly to remove dust mites, mould spores, pollen and pet fur.
But using harsh chemical-based cleaning products means introducing toxins to your home. And these chemicals can be as irritating to your asthma as the triggers you’ve cleaned away. If it feels like a catch twenty-two situation, this article is here to help. It gives you the low down on the most harmful chemicals in your household cleaning solutions and some alternative cleaning products for asthmatics to help you breathe more freely.
Fighting for Breath
A full-blown asthma attack is obvious and scary. The wheezing, shortness of breath and tight chest are all caused by narrowing airways that leave the sufferer gasping for air. But asthma can be subtle too. Children can often display asthma symptoms such as a recurring night-time cough.
Some individuals’ asthma is caused by pollutants in the home and, as a result, asthma sufferers often can’t have pets. While this reduces the workload in one way, keeping on top of mould, damp, dust mites and pollen takes regular elbow grease. This is why it feels unfair that the very chemicals you use to clean your home, with the aim of controlling asthma, can also have disastrous effects on the condition.
How Chemicals Cause Asthma
Exposure to chemicals triggers asthma in one of two ways. Firstly, you can develop an allergy to a chemical following continued exposure. Your immune system fights off what it perceives to be a chemical threat which triggers an asthma attack. Secondly, if you already have asthma, many chemicals are irritants and will cause symptoms, particularly in those that have hyper-responsive airways.
Source: Asthma UK
The Worst Chemical Offenders for Asthma Sufferers
It’s generally agreed that exposure to common home cleaning chemicals is linked with asthma. However, the worst of the bunch are Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). These Very ‘Orrible Chemicals are a broad substance class that includes acetone, ammonia, benzene and formaldehyde. They can be emitted as gases from solids or liquids when they are being used and also when stored in closed containers. VOCs are also found to be up to ten times higher in concentration indoors than out.
VOCs are particularly bad for asthma sufferers because they cause throat and respiratory irritation. And there are proven links to cancer in humans and animals. The scary thing is just how prevalent these chemicals are. If you use any of the following products, you already spread them around your home when you clean:
- Aerosol spray products, including health, beauty and cleaning products
- Air fresheners
- Chlorine bleach
- Detergent and dishwashing liquid
- Window and glass cleaners
- Bathroom cleaning products
- Rug and upholstery cleaners
- Furniture and floor polish
- Oven cleaners
VOCs enter the body when you breathe in fumes and vapours as well as through the skin. If they come into contact with food or drink, or with small hands that are put into mouths, they are also ingested. Even unborn babies are at risk. VOCs affect the immune system resulting in health conditions later in life like asthma and allergies. Of course, sprays are the worst culprits for asthma sufferers because they get further down the airway and because breathing in chemicals can be more likely to trigger asthma.
Perfectly Perfumed Irritants
Some people also find that the smell of cleaning products and air fresheners triggers their asthma. Research has shown that even natural fragrances in cleaning products may react with outdoor air or high levels of ozone to form formaldehyde, a known human carcinogen. Perfumes also contain dangerous fine particles that are known to worsen asthma and increase the risk of heart attacks and stroke. Unfortunately, people are tricked into believing all the marketing hype generated by the supermarkets that ‘If it doesn’t smell clean then it hasn’t been cleaned’. In other words people now associate a perfume directly with a clean environment.
Perilous Product Mixing
Even if you’re a chemist, mixing cleaning products together is not a good idea. Blend bleach (or any product containing bleach) with any ammonia-containing cleaner is extremely dangerous for asthma sufferers and everyone else as well. The gases created from this blend can lead to chronic breathing problems and death.
Breathe freely again
One way to ensure your home is a safe place for asthma sufferers is to replace traditional cleaners with cleaning products for asthma sufferers. Read the labels on cleaning supplies before you buy them and look out for products, such as the ECO.3 product range, that are:
- VOC free
- Free from scent
- Child and pet safe
By using cleaning products for asthmatics, you’ll keep your home clean and protect your family’s health.