How Renting Instead of Owning Can Hurt Your Asthma

Renters Less Likely Than Homeowners to Follow Recommendations

By Salynn Boyles
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by LLouise Chang, MD

Aug. 3, 2012 -- The real estate crash may be having a surprising effect on the health of some Americans with asthma.

A survey of people with allergic asthma found that renters are less likely than homeowners to make changes to minimize exposures to the allergens that trigger their breathing problems.

Allergens such as dust mites, pet dander, pollen, and mold are common asthma triggers. More than half of people with asthma in the U.S. are allergic to something in their environment.

Taking steps to minimize exposure to these environmental triggers in the home is an important component of asthma control, but renters took these steps less often than homeowners.

The study, published in the August issue of Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, found that while 91% of homeowners made recommended changes, just 63% of renters did.

Clean Air in Home Reduces Asthma

Home ownership fell to its lowest level in more than a decade earlier this year, and the bursting of the housing bubble continues to deflate home prices in many parts of the U.S.

Researcher Michael Schatz, MD, of the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in San Diego, Calif., says although some recommendations like removing wall-to-wall carpeting may be impractical for renters, many others, such as washing bedding regularly, are not.

The researchers found that renters and homeowners both were more likely to make recommended changes within the home when they were made aware of the changes that would help them most.

"When people knew what they were allergic to and how to reduce their exposure to the specific allergen, most people took steps to minimize their exposure," he tells WebMD.

Simple Steps Have Big Impact

For example, the study found that most people were willing to wash bedding in hot water to reduce dust mites, clean visible mold, and reduce home humidity to below 60% with an air conditioner or dehumidifier.

Allergist James Sublett, MD, says these and other no-cost or low-cost steps can have a big impact on allergic asthma symptoms.

Sublett is chairman of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Indoor Environment Committee.

"You don't have to spend thousands of dollars to reduce exposure to household allergens," he tells WebMD.

Although he agrees that knowing the specific allergen or allergens that trigger asthma symptoms is important, some general strategies can benefit most people with allergic asthma.

These strategies include:

  • Avoid smoking in the home.
  • Do not use vaporizers or humidifiers.
  • Remove wall-to-wall carpeting from the bedroom, if possible.
  • Wear a dust mask while vacuuming and use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter.
  • Remove all visible mold and use an air purifier.
  • Use high-efficiency filters on central air-conditioning units.

Wash Bedding to Banish Dust Mites

One of the best things people with dust mite allergies can do to minimize their exposure is wash bed linens in hot water every week to 10 days and encase pillows and mattresses in "mite-proof" covers, Sublett says.

And pets should be banned from the bedrooms of owners who are allergic to their dander.

"When environmental changes aren't made indoors, the home becomes a breeding ground for symptoms, rather than a place to escape allergens," Sublett noted in a written press statement.

The study was funded by a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.


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SOURCES: Schatz, M., Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, August 2012.Michael Schatz, MD, Department of Allergy, Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, San Diego, Calif.James Sublett, MD, chair, American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Indoor Environment Committee; managing partner, Family Allergy and Asthma, Louisville, Ky.News release, American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

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