Researchers from the University of Exeter in South West England have shown that residents living in energy efficient homes may have a higher risk of developing asthma. A failure to heat and ventilate these properties was cited as the main risk factor. If mould was present in the home, the risk of asthma was 50% greater.
Working alongside a leading UK social housing provider, the team of researchers evaluated data from 700 homes in Cornwall. They wanted to evaluate the impact of reduced ventilation resulting from increased energy efficiency measures in social housing.
In this one of a kind study, researchers linked housing data with information about the behaviour of residents. Richard Sharpe, lead author, noted: “Modern efficiency measures are vital to help curb energy use, and typically prevent heat loss through improved insulation and crack sealing. Yet some people, particularly those living in fuel poverty, are unlikely to heat a building enough – or ventilate it sufficiently – to prevent the presence of damp and mould factors that we know can contribute to asthma.”
As previous studies have recognised, mould and dampness can heighten the risk of developing respiratory illnesses. For example, a recent study was carried out by researchers from Oregon State University revealing that children experience more breathing difficulties in houses where a gas stove is used without ventilation. In the same study, the prevalence of asthmatic symptoms in children was a lot lower in properties with ventilation.
The government has recently provided £30 million of funding toward improving energy efficiency. To benefit from such schemes, the researchers want residents to adjust their behaviour and learn how to heat their homes properly. If residents do not sufficiently ventilate their properties, like Sharpe has noted, they can also become exposed to various other chemical and physical contaminants.
However, occupant behaviours vary from home to home, depending on the type of property. Some people are known to dry their washed clothes indoors, especially during winter while others rely on old electric heaters. There actions may heighten indoor humidity levels, an issue which is often made worse by energy efficient attempts to seal gaps and cracks.
Residents should ideally be using modern heating systems to ventilate their homes. This would help reduce the risk of asthma linked with older homes retrofitted for energy efficiency. Those living in other types of properties should also be aware of things at home that can trigger asthma symptoms.
Common asthma triggers at home
These triggers range from damp to dust mites, carpets to particular furnishings. Triggers like these can also be present at places of work, especially in older buildings. Here is a list of the most commonly known indoor triggers:
– Cigarette smoke
– Cleaning fluids
– Building repairs and work
Over 90% of asthmatic patients say dust mites from home and work trigger their asthma. Dust mites are commonly found in carpets and soft furnishings. Though research reveals there’s not much people can do to make a significant difference to the level of dust in their homes, they can trial out the following ideas:
– Consider wooden or marble flooring rather than carpets
– Washing sheets, duvet covers and pillowcases with a hot 60 degrees wash
– Using a de-humidifier to dry the air, making it difficult for dust mites to survive
In reality, it is almost impossible for most people to avoid asthma triggers. However, if patients know what their individual triggers are, they can equip themselves with the appropriate asthma medication after speaking with a healthcare professional. Having an effective asthma management plan is extremely important for patients.