Sneaky Reasons Your Asthma Is Acting up During Quarantine

From hidden dust bunnies to backyard grilling, here’s why your wheezing symptoms might seem worse…at home.

by Sarah Ellis Health Writer

For most of us, this quarantine summer has involved a lot more indoor time than usual. Asthma sufferers might see this as a blessing in disguise, since many of the common triggers for asthma attacks are found outdoors: air pollution, pollen, and tobacco smoke, to name a few. But if all this time at home is making your asthma symptoms worse, it could be due to irritants inside your home, explains Cedric Rutland, M.D., medical director at West Coast Lung in Newport Beach, CA and a national spokesperson for the American Lung Association. Then you’re stuck in a lose-lose situation where there’s no escape—your symptoms are bad outside and inside your home.

The good news? It’s a lot easier to identify what’s exacerbating your asthma if it’s indoors rather than out. “If someone’s asthma is worse when they’re in their house, it’s really easy to go through the things that live in the house,” Dr. Rutland says, to identify the culprit and start feeling better.

Indoor Asthma Triggers

“Whenever you take a deep breath in, you’re basically taking the environment around you and allowing it to enter into your lungs,” Dr. Rutland says. Check to see if your house might contain any of these indoor pathogens.

  • Mold or mildew. Moisture inside your home can lead to a buildup of mold, which can trigger an allergic asthma reaction. If you’ve got a mold problem, you’ll typically be able to smell it in any damp rooms or areas of your home. The smell has been likened to wet socks, wood or paper.

  • Dust particles or bugs. Dust mites, cockroach particles, and other bug debris can float around in the air after being stirred up from under the couch or behind the bed table. (Gross, we know!) Another likely culprit? Your carpet. “If you have carpet, you’re going to collect particles in your carpet,” Dr. Rutland says. Make sure you’re vacuuming.

  • Pet hair. They say dogs are man’s best friend, but they can also be a foe for an asthma sufferer. Melanie Carver, chief mission officer at the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) in Washington, D.C., notes that dog, cat, and rodent hair can all make asthma symptoms worse, especially in enclosed spaces.

  • Smoke. If you or someone in your household smokes, it’s best to address that ASAP. Smoke from fireplaces or grills can also be hard on your lungs.

  • Scented products. We all love a great-smelling home environment, but you might want to avoid strongly scented products like cleaners, air fresheners, and perfumes, especially if they contain a bunch of chemical ingredients.

  • Outdoor irritants. Yes, we’re talking about indoor triggers here, but that doesn’t mean that the great outdoors can’t also intrude on your home. “If you keep your doors open, and you live in a green area in the springtime, pollen’s going to enter your house as well,” Dr. Rutland says. Seasonally, you may notice changes in how you feel in outdoor weather, which could also affect you indoors if you ventilate your house with an open breeze. PS: Indoor plants make super chic décor, but they’re not always ideal for your asthma. Ask your doctor which indoor plants are okay to keep, and which ones need to go.

While some of these triggers are seasonal, others (like pet hair and scented products) can be a year-round challenge for people. “If you haven’t had a chance to address the triggers in your home, this could lead to an increase in asthma symptoms,” Carver explains. “Better indoor air quality can reduce asthma and allergy triggers.”

Take Care of Your Air

With all this extra time in your house during quarantine, you’ve got the perfect excuse to start your next DIY project: asthma-proofing your home. Here are some ideas on how to do that.

  • Install an air filter. Dr. Rutland keeps two air filters in his house: one upstairs and one downstairs. AAFA has a list of products (including air filters and purifiers) certified with their “Asthma & Allergy Friendly” seal, all of which have been tested by an independent medical panel. The research is mixed on whether air purifiers significantly reduce asthma symptoms, but some people still feel better when using them.

  • Avoid smoking. This applies to more than just cigarettes. “People should avoid smoking anything, including vapes and marijuana,” Dr. Rutland advises. Enact a strict no-smoking policy in and around your home environment and apply that to everyone who visits.

  • Clean and vacuum often. Like, a lot – every day if necessary. “Develop habits of cleaning up after their pets and vacuuming their carpets, probably daily if they have asthma,” Dr. Rutland suggests.

  • Buy scent-free products. Switching up your cleaning and self-care products can help more than you might think, Carver explains. Again, you can consult the list of asthma-friendly products at AAFA for guidance on what to buy.

  • Remove shoes at the door. “People who have severe asthma should also have their children or grandchildren avoid wearing shoes in their house,” Dr. Rutland says, to avoid tracking any outdoor pathogens inside.

It takes diligence, but you’d be surprised how much you can minimize asthma symptoms just by paying attention to your indoor environment. “The more time spent inside of environments where indoor allergens are poorly controlled can indeed exacerbate asthma symptoms triggered by allergy,” Carver explains.

If your living room is now serving as an office, social environment, and relaxation space all at once, you’ve got even more reason to keep it spick-and-span. Your lungs (and your sanity) will thank you.

Sarah Ellis
Meet Our Writer
Sarah Ellis

Sarah Ellis is a wellness and culture writer who covers everything from contraceptive access to chronic health conditions to fitness trends. She is originally from Nashville, Tennessee and currently resides in NYC. She has written for Elite Daily, Greatist, mindbodygreen and others. When she’s not writing, Sarah loves distance running, vegan food, and getting the most out of her library card.