Preventing Asthma Problems through Integrated Pest Management (IPM)

Pest Management In and Around Structures May 19, 2014 Print Friendly and PDF
Asthma is a long-term condition causing inflammation of the lung’s airways. Symptoms of asthma include wheezing, coughing, feeling of tightness in the chest, difficulty breathing, and itching neck, throat and ears. While no one fully understands all of the causes of asthma, experts know that some of the factors include genetic susceptibility and environmental factors. Although we cannot control our genetic make-up, we can help prevent asthma attacks by paying attention to the environmental conditions that irritate lungs and set off an attack.
As of 2009, approximately 20 million Americans have been diagnosed with asthma, and it is the most common chronic childhood disease – afflicting over 6 million children nationally. Each state Department of Health tracks asthma data in schools, since incidences of asthma are linked to absences. In more urban areas, typically the asthma rates among school-aged children are 25 percent higher than they are for the nation as a whole. Asthma is the leading cause of school absences. Parents, in turn, must miss work to stay home with their sick children. African-American and Hispanic/Latino children have asthma rates 2-3 times that of white or Asian children. A bad asthma attack can be fatal.
Asthma Triggers
Asthma attacks are usually started by exposure to certain substances that trigger the attack. Triggers are either allergens or lung irritants. Airborne allergens are substances such as pollen, animal dander, cigarette smoke, aerosols, or mold that cause an allergic reaction. Chemical lung irritants include pesticides, perfumes, air fresheners and household and industrial cleaning products. Repeated exposure to allergens or irritants, such as cockroach and/or mouse allergens, can “sensitize” people - making them more likely to experience allergic reactions. Awareness of asthma triggers can help you take steps to reduce them, and thereby preventing asthma symptoms or attacks.
Pests Trigger Asthma
Pests are unwanted creatures that invade our homes. Once they have gotten inside, some of these pests, notably mice, rats and cockroaches, can contribute to an asthma attack. In fact, scientists are conducting research to determine whether or not these pests can actually cause asthma to develop.
The single major factor contributing to asthma in children living in the urban Northeastern US has been found to be exposure to cockroach allergens. Cockroaches shed skins, leave behind feces, and when cockroaches are dead, their bodies turn into dust – all things that can trigger an asthma attack. To make matters worse, when pesticide sprays or “bug bombs” are used to combat roaches, they can also irritate lungs and potentially cause an attack. Rodents, such as rats and mice, can trigger asthma as well. These rodents shed hair and produce waste products that can trigger attacks if someone with asthma breathes them in.
Pesticides and Human Health Pesticides are substances designed to kill, control or repel pests, including insects, rodents, weeds, and molds. The US Environmental Protection Agency lists pesticides as one of four environmental pollutants that may influence the induction and exacerbation of
asthma symptoms. Pesticides do this by irritating the lungs. In laboratory tests with animals, commonly used pesticides have been linked to cancer, birth defects, reproductive disorders, and neurological, kidney and liver damage. To be safe, it is important to limit children’s exposures to toxins of all kinds, including pesticides.
What Can You Do to Safely Control Pests?
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an approach to pest control that focuses on eliminating the root causes of pest problems and using the safest, most effective methods available to get rid of active infestations. IPM prevents pests by using a combination of physical and chemical methods. Because IPM focuses on prevention, it is more effective than a reactive, spray-based approach to pest control, and it reduces the need to use pesticides.
Pest Prevention
These methods are at the heart of an IPM program:
  • Keeping watch: Certain areas of the house are more susceptible to pests such as the kitchen, basement or bathroom. Small sticky traps or glue boards can be used in these areas as an “early warning” system. The goal is to quickly find any pests and their entry points, before they become a big problem.
  • Prevent pest access: Caulk the cracks and crevices pests may use to move or hide in. For larger holes, use stainless steel or copper mesh to plug the holes, and then use a silicone caulk to seal it. Pay special attention to areas where pipes and wires come in through the wall. Make sure to use window screens and that they are in good repair.
  • Prevent shelter: Reduce clutter – get rid of the things you do not need such as old clothes, newspapers, magazines and cardboard boxes where pests can easily hide.
  • Prevent food sources: Store food in plastic or glass containers with tight-fitting lids to prevent pests from entering. Wash and dry dirty dishes immediately after meals. Clean thoroughly, with particular attention to the floor under the refrigerator, stove/oven and other places where food crumbs and spills may be collecting. Remove and store pet foods in pest-proof containers at night. Use a trash can with a tight-fitting lid and empty regularly.
  • Prevent water sources: Fix any water leaks, wipe up spills and remove pet’s water dishes at night.

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.