10 Tips to Breathing Easier: Air Quality Improvements for Kids with Respiratory Conditions

Children with respiratory conditions are extremely sensitive to the quality of the air around them. How can you make the air in your home as clean and healthy as possible if your child has one of these conditions? This article will provide 10 tips to help families improve the air quality in their homes.

Tip 1: Change Your Furnace Filter

Virtually all furnaces or boilers have a filter on them that filters out dust, allergens, and other particulate matter in the air. These filters vary in size, quality, and location, and may be either reusable or disposable. For children with respiratory conditions, changing or cleaning the filter as recommended is essential. Regular or reusable filters should be changed or cleaned monthly. Larger media filters should be changed every 3-6 months.

In general, the disposable media filters are best at filtering out small particulates, and work far better than reusable ones. Look for disposable filters with a MERV rating that is greater than 8. If your furnace can handle it, try to get a filter with a MERV rating of 11 or 13. Note that some furnaces cannot push air through filters with higher MERV ratings, so make sure to check with your furnace manual or a qualified professional to determine the best option.

It is easy to both purchase and replace filters yourself. Ordering them online or purchasing them at home repair stores will save you considerable amounts of money as compared to having a professional replace them each time.

There are also other tips for your furnace to help keep your air clean. If you have a whole house humidifier, make sure the filter on that is changed at least annually. Keep humidity at roughly 30-60% to make breathing easier while preventing mold and fungus growth. Certain conditions may require greater or lower levels of humidity. Other strategies, such as UV lights to clean air and air duct cleaning, may be helpful as well.

Tip 2: Keep Pests at Bay

One of the worst respiratory irritants found in homes is cockroach debris, and other pests can be equally problematic. If you have any signs of pests in your home, remove them as quickly as possible. These days, many pest control companies offer alternatives to spraying for pests, such as cockroach bait traps. These will quickly rid your house of pests while keeping the air safe. Note that many Medicaid waiver programs will pay for pest control treatments.

Make sure to also seal up cracks and keep food and garbage secured in closed containers to prevent further infestations.

Tip 3: Rip Out The Carpet and Use a Proper Vacuum

Obviously, you will want to keep your home as clean as possible, frequently vacuuming up pet dander and dust mites. Ripping out wall-to-wall carpets and moving to wood or tile floors will dramatically improve your ability to keep dust and allergens at bay. While a few smaller area rugs are fine, especially if they can be removed easily for frequent cleaning, wall-to-wall carpet is a known collector of indoor particulates.

While you are cleaning, make sure to take a look at your vacuum. Some are better than others when it comes to removing particulates and keeping them from recirculating. Choose a vacuum with a HEPA or ULPA filter, a strong motor, and a sealed unit.

Tip 4: Properly Ventilate Your Home

In order for air to stay healthy, it needs to move. Stagnant air is unhealthy air. If you live in an area where the outdoor air quality is good, opening up windows on both sides of the house on each level will create good airflow. You can check the air quality in your area at https://www.airnow.gov/ If the outside air is too hot/cold, of poor quality, or filled with pollen or other allergens, make sure that your indoor system is allowing air to circulate. While proper ducts, including returns, are essential, ceiling and tabletop fans can also be used to circulate air.

Tip 5: Reduce Airborne Toxins in Your Home

We all know that smoking inside the home should never happen. But there are other potential toxins that can also cause respiratory problems. Here are just a few:

  • Cooking Smoke: Fumes and smoke from cooking can trigger problems, so make sure that your stove has a range hood with a strong fan vented to the outside of the home. Look for a fan that is 250 CFM or higher if possible.
  • Bathrooms and Laundry Rooms: Ventilation systems in bathrooms and laundry rooms may also be helpful. Exhaust fans can help remove moisture that otherwise will trigger mold growth. Even opening a window can help. Make sure dryers vent to the outdoors.
  • Car Exhaust: If you have a garage, try not to run the vehicle in the garage if at all possible. Make sure exhaust does not enter into the home through open windows or doors.
  • Smoke and Scent: Candles, incense, and even air fresheners may all trigger respiratory symptoms. They should be avoided. Indoor fireplaces, if used at all, should be gas only and vented to the outside.
  • Low Odor and Low Chemical Materials: When at all possible, choose low odor and low chemical materials, especially paints, carpets, and similar materials. Avoid chemical cleaners and pesticides.

If you live in a multi-unit building, try to institute a no smoking policy both in and directly around the building. Contact your landlord or condo association to try to develop a plan. See these tools from the American Lung Association for more assistance.

Tip 6: Use an Air Purifier

If you live in an apartment and don’t have control over your home’s furnace, you may want to use an air purifier in your home or your child’s room. Look for one with a HEPA filter that does not produce ozone. Note that air purifiers have filters that must be changed every 1-12 months, depending on the style. While a quality air purifier may help clean the air, they can also be noisy and produce harmful exhaust. Choose your device wisely.

Tip 7: Add a Bunch of Plants!

picture of spider plant

Photo by Joanne Bergenwall Aw

Studies in labs have shown that plants can help to keep air clean. One or more plants in each room will help promote oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange and may remove toxins. Make sure to choose plants that are easy to take care of and unlikely to trigger allergens. Spider plants, aloe vera, and Boston ferns are just a few simple plants that are especially good at cleaning the air.

Tip 8: Keep Your Oxygen Concentrator Maintained

Most Oxygen Concentrators that children use have one or more built-in filters. These are typically made of a type of spongy foam that can be removed, washed, and replaced. It is critical that these filters be washed on a regular basis to keep the oxygen your child is getting as clean as possible. They should be cleaned at least monthly, and weekly if your child is on oxygen all the time.

First of all, make sure you have at least two sets of filters that you can alternate. To clean, remove the filters and replace with the other set. Then wash the filters in water and gentle soap. Thoroughly rinse to remove the soap and allow to air dry for at least 24 hours. Replace the filters when they start to look worn or annually.

In addition, replace nasal cannulas and tubing frequently, making sure there is no mold growth, damage, or debris. If you use humidifier bottles on your concentrator, make sure those are cleaned regularly and replaced frequently as well.

Some units also have more sophisticated intake filters that may need to be cleaned and replaced by a professional.

Concentrators are noisy. You may want to keep the concentrator in a separate, well-ventilated room, running just the tubing into your child’s room. 50 foot tubing is widely available.

Tip 9: Keep Your Ventilator Cleaned and Maintained

Ventilators may also have small spongy, foam filters that need to be cleaned. Just like on an Oxygen Concentrator, make sure you have at least two sets of filters. Clean them weekly. To clean, remove the filters and replace with the other set. Then wash the filters in water and gentle soap. Thoroughly rinse to remove the soap and allow to air dry for at least 24 hours. Replace the filters when they start to look worn or every six months.

Make sure ventilator circuits and humidifier chambers on heated humidifiers are cleaned and replaced regularly. Always use a bacterial filter and replace it when it becomes dirty, wet, or old, preferably weekly.

There are other filtering devices on ventilators that may need to be cleaned or replaced periodically by a professional. Make sure your ventilator is serviced and checked on a regular basis, preferably monthly.

Tip 10: Run Your Air Conditioner

We often think of air conditioners as providing us with cool air. But there is a reason they are called air conditioners. They do actually clean the air, remove humidity, circulate the air, and push it through the filter on your system. Whether you use a whole house system or a window/wall unit, the benefits remain. Make sure your air conditioner is well maintained.

If you have a whole house system, have it cleaned and serviced annually by a professional, and make sure filters are replaced every 1-6 months. Most whole house systems filter air through the furnace system.

Window and wall units usually have removable filters that need to washed, dried, and replaced at least once a month. Also, clean or vacuum the back of the unit annually to keep it free of debris. Make sure any window, wall, or other portable units are ventilated properly to the outdoors.

Author: Susan Agrawal • Date: 4/24/2018
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