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Wrong battles in the war on asthma

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August 23, 2004|Daffodil J. Altan | Times Staff Writer

Parents who decide to rip out the carpeting or buy a humidifier to relieve their child's asthmatic symptoms may be doing the wrong thing. Many of the changes parents make at home for their asthmatic kids are ineffective and may even be detrimental to their kids' health, a new survey found. The University of Michigan study, published in the August issue of the Journal of Allergy and Immunology, found that only half of the 1,788 asthma-proofing steps taken by parents were likely to work. The other half were unproven, not likely to treat the child's specific asthma triggers or, in a handful of cases, potentially harmful.

Part of the problem, said principal investigator Dr. Michael Cabana, is that parents seem to be getting mixed messages about the appropriate treatment for their child's specific asthma triggers.

Cabana, a University of Michigan pediatrician, and the researchers found that about half the measures parents undertook didn't match up. Some parents with children whose asthma attacks are triggered by pollen, for example, purchased mattress covers for dust mites instead of shutting the windows to keep pollen out.

What many people don't understand, said Dr. Toby Lewis, a co-investigator and pediatric pulmonologist, is that the environmental factors that trigger asthmatic reactions are different for every child. In three children, for example, the same asthma symptoms could be set off by such varied factors as dust mites, cold weather or heavy perfume. Although cigarette smoke is known to be a major trigger of asthma for children, the survey found that nearly one in four parents reported that someone smoked in the home. To identify possible sources of asthma attacks, "we count on the parents a lot," Cabana said. "They have to be detectives to help us figure out what the triggers are."

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