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Lying in bed. Feel like I’ve run a world record mile. Can’t…catch…my…breath. I take the deepest breath I can. The noisy air provides little sustenance for my oxygen-starved lungs.


What brought it on this time? Was it a feather pillow? A live Christmas tree? Mold in the crawl space? I wish I could focus enough energy on thinking to worry about that now. But I can’t.


I’m having an asthma attack. Each breath requires immense labor and concentration. Much of that labor seems wasted in making noise rather than bringing in the oxygen I so badly need.


Here’s what it sounds like:

Unfortunately, this is one of those times when I don’t have an inhaler or a pill to take. I’ll suffer through it and hope it will go away soon.


Will this be the time that I die of asphyxiation?


Can I get myself out of this house to find some fresh air?


Will someone please take me to the emergency room?


Who needs Halloween?

Anyone who has ever suffered an asthma attack knows how scary it can be. I’m one of the lucky ones who outgrew it in my teen years, but the memory of those times when I couldn’t breathe is imprinted on my psyche for the rest of my life. I’ll never forget the sound, the feeling, and the fear of wheezing during a bad asthma attack.

In my case, feather pillows and live Christmas trees were indeed two of the big triggers. Tobacco smoke was also a trigger, but doctors weren’t so quick to point that one out back in the 1960s. Dust mites, mold, pets, and other stuff also act as triggers for asthma attacks, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

One of the best things you can do to help someone with asthma is to ensure the air they breathe at home is as good as it can be. Here are a few tips:

  • Control contaminant sources. Keep bad stuff out of the indoor air. That includes tobacco smoke, volatile organic compounds, chemical fumes (paint, gasoline, pesticides…), and more.
  • Control humidity. Dust mites and mold proliferate when the indoor humidity is too high.
  • Air seal the home. A leaky home allows contaminants from basements, crawl spaces, garages, and other spaces to find their way into the home.
  • Ventilate. An airtight home with a good ventilation system improves the indoor air quality.
  • Filter the air. A good filter on your heating and cooling system can help. Make sure it isn’t too restrictive, though, or it can damage your HVAC system.

The CDC says about 24 million people had asthma in 2014. More than 3,600 people died from the disease that year as well.

Who needs Halloween when you have asthma?


Related Articles

Do Energy Efficient Homes Cause Asthma?

Asthma and Poor Indoor Air Quality — The Trouble with Homes

4 Ways a Bad Duct System Can Lead to Poor Indoor Air Quality


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This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. Whoa! I thought this was a “I
    Whoa! I thought this was a “I fell down and I can’t get up!” Moment

    Not to in any way trivialize an asthma attack, but I thought, “What an odd way to reach out for assistance.”

    Allergies are the issue in this home 😟.

  2. I wish there was some clarity
    I wish there was some clarity in the world of IAQ / IEQ. We are a conservative HVAC company executing the basics:

    1) Size it right
    2) Get the air distribution right
    3) Assist with reducing outdoor air infiltration
    4) Emphasize humidity control
    5) Incorporate a decent air filter – typical a cabinet at the airhandler that takes a 4-5 inch deep pleated filter; MERV11 or better.

    Meanwhile an awful lot of competitor HVAC companies hawk UV lights, electrostatic preciptators. At best these are high margin add-ons of dubious value. At worst, they encourage / require user to operate system blower independent of compressor, which in the hot humid south is a humidity disaster – by re-evaporating condensate off the coil back into the airstream

    I really wish the Allergy / Asthma medical practitioners were able to, essentially, “write a prescription” for individual patient’s indoor environment, and then we in the HVAC industry would work to cost-effectively supply what is really needed.

    Meanwhile my wholesale suppliers endlessly darken my door with UV and other supposedly “buy or die” vital additions to HVAC systems.

  3. Allison, doesn’t it make you
    Allison, doesn’t it make you wonder about the IAQ of your childhood home?

    If the general IAQ checks out as good, fragrances, localized triggers (pillows), stress, and foods are the next possible sources to investigate. The National Institute of Health also found a correlation between increased global CO2 levels and the increased incidence of asthma globally.

    While our focus as home performance professionals is on IAQ, lesser known asthma triggers are foods and food additives such as sulfites, bisulfites, dairy and gluten. All we can do is suggest they discuss possible triggers with their health care professional.

  4. I will be able to recognize
    I will be able to recognize the sound of an asthma attack for the rest of my life. Thank you for the powerful post.

  5. I was rushed to the emergency
    I was rushed to the emergency room when I stopped breathing when I was little – they connected it to bringing a smally chrysanthemum plant in a pot into the house – allergy induced asthma (yes it is a thing, actually one of the more common forms of asthma). I have an inhaler but fortunately I am knowledgeable enough now about cause/effect that I can avoid situations. But please don’t leave me stranded in the tall grasses…. But you raise in interesting point. When I was working in tech industry with many people that grew up in small villages on the other side of the world they said they were never sick, but their own children growing up in a nice home in California were sick all the time. They reasoned it was because the environment here was much cleaner and their children had not developed the natural resistance. Of course I know that I grew up in a very air “dirty” house that caused problems for half the people in my family. It does make you wonder about growing up in a super-air-clean house – will our children be less resistant to natural pathogens?

  6. They weren’t around hundreds
    They weren’t around hundreds of strangers every day.

  7. Thanks Allison. I am one of
    Thanks Allison. I am one of those persons and I perform IAQ investigations daily. I can tell everyone that each person is different. Myself, I can have issues on days like Thanksgiving if I eat too much. I do agree, that many of the UV lights, etc. are not the answer. A good indoor environment is. That means promptly dealing with existing issues and trying to prevent them before they enter your home. Understand your triggers and your environment. Those two things are the root of the problem in majority of cases. I think accusing global warming may be a stretch at this point in time. Let’s wait for further studies on that subject.

  8. I am pretty much resigned by
    I am pretty much resigned by now that our house will be an energy hog, and the one element of it I can’t control is from all the air cleaners my wife needs. She doesn’t yet use equipment, and I think my pay is too high, to qualify for lifeline rates. On the plus side, if I ever do manage to get PV installed, it will begin by knocking out a cartload of Tier 3 charges.

  9. Allison,

    Quick question. What’s the deal with the State of Georgia and its refusal to adopt 2012 or 2015 IECC?

    My understanding is that GA only adopted 2009 IECC because Federal/Taxpayer Funds were doled out to states that did so.

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