Asthma and the Polar Vortex

The polar vortex, a swath of low pressure that has pushed waves of arctic air down into our land, has lowered the boom on North America. Temperatures over this past week have not been so frigid in 20 years in some areas. Experts have even termed them “Mars like.” Forecasts for the week of January 6 were 32 below zero in Fargo, ND, minus 21 in Madison, WI, and 15 below in other places in the Midwest. Here in the Roanoke Valley, Monday started the week off with a grand temperature of close to zero, while it dipped below zero in the New River Valley. This, according to weather guru for the Roanoke Times Kevin Myatt, is “the coldest widespread weather in at least 17 years [over] … much of our region.” And this, kind folks, is where allergies kick in. Why?

We’re all bundled up indoors, in our air-tight, energy-efficient homes. This is a good thing, but bad things are not far behind. Namely, indoors we are eating, sleeping, cooking, playing with pets, and kicking up all sorts of dander, dust, dust mites, and mold. Airtight homes are usually built with this potential problem in mind and come equipped with mechanical ventilation to provide a supply of fresh air while expelling old, bad air. There are other ways to combat this rise in allergies, and for some, increased asthma attacks:  Eliminate the polluting material (I’m not talking about giving away the cat), ventilate, or avoid.

Wash your bed sheets once a week in hot water. Wash your hands and face to reduce allergens you are carrying and spreading. Store wood for the fireplace/woodstove outside, because damp wood is a haven (and heaven, as it turns out) for mold spores. Mop, sweep and dust your house often. And make sure that your lovely, insulated, air-tight home does have a ventilation system in place to exchange the bad for the good.

Justin Boyle, owner and CFO of Green Valley Builders, Inc. in the New River Valley, uses an ERV, or Energy Recovery Ventilator, that works in conjunction with the home’s heating and air system It brings air in and preconditions it through tempering and filtering. “With the standards we build to for energy efficiency, houses are tighter in general, and we do that on purpose,” said Boyle. “One of ways we control these homes is by using a fresh air exchange. Especially in wintertime, houses can get stuffy and allergy problems can occur. In lieu of that, this machine integrates with the home by bringing fresh air in and letting the stale air out.”

A 2005 report by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) stated that 95 to 99% of dust samples taken from 831 housing units in 75 locations showed presence of spores from the fungi Alternaria alternata. A document from the National Institutes of Health states, “Exposure to A alternata in US homes is associated with active asthma symptoms.” During the winter, this fungus is associated with humid conditions, caused many times by overuse of humidifiers. There are easy steps to reducing the number of allergens in the winter months … let’s take them, for our health.


About Sarah Cox

Learning and Writing Center Coordinator
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