Is your home harming you?

Asthma affects around 339 million people around the world and kills as many as 1000 people every day, according to the Global Asthma Report.

In Australia, one in nine people – around 2.7 million – have been diagnosed with the condition and the estimated cost is $28 billion or about $11,700 per person with asthma.

Is there a game changer on the horizon?

While allergies, pollens and storms are known triggers, researchers at Melbourne University say a common household substance can increase the risk of asthma by 26 per cent.

Dr John Burgess, research fellow at the allergy and lung health unit at Melbourne University, says mould is a key trigger.

Writing in The Conversation, he says: “It’s hard to escape indoor mould. It’s unsightly, but the bigger problem is that it can harm your lungs.”

Detailing his findings, published in the journal Respirology, Dr Burgess says indoor mould can increase the risk of active asthma, even in those who don’t have an allergy to mould.

His research involved participants in the Tasmanian Longitudinal Health Study, the world’s largest and longest-running population-based study of lung health. The study started in 1968 when 8583 seven-year-old Tasmanian children were enrolled by their parents.

Follow-up tests of this study group found the overall risk of active asthma increased by 26 per cent in those who had visible mould in the home.

“We also found that the more rooms in the house affected by mould, the greater the risk of active asthma,” Dr Burgess says. “In other words, there was evidence that the ‘dose’ of mould influenced the risk of active asthma.

“In our study, 35 per cent of participants reported mould in the home in the last 12 months and 13 per cent of those skin tested had mould allergy. Other studies have found mould allergy in up to 24 per cent of the general population and up to 80 per cent among asthmatics.

“One of the problems in trying to decide if mould has a causal role in asthma is that mould allergy often occurs in common with allergies to other asthma-related agents, particularly house dust mites. This co-existence makes it difficult to tease out the role of any single agent.

“In addition, mould and dampness go hand in hand, and excessive indoor dampness in its own right is a known risk factor for asthma. Given the potential for climate change to lead to more extreme weather and increase the risk of flooding, indoor dampness may well become more of a problem in the future.”

The good news, according to health authorities, is that getting rid of mould can reduce the incidence of asthma.

They suggest such treatments as tea tree oil and fermented vinegar solutions, saying it’s best to avoid dry brushes, which can spread mould further, and bleach, which doesn’t kill mould but merely bleaches the colour.

But more importantly, authorities say households need to address the causes of mould. Aim to lessen indoor humidity and dampness by improving home ventilation and heating. Tackle ongoing problems with dampness caused by broken roof tiles, poor cavity wall ventilation and rising damp.

Do you have asthma? Could mould be a trigger? Why not share your experiences in the comments section below?

Written by Janelle Ward