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Asthma: Control your environment

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Asthma, like many other diseases, is caused by a combination of genes that predispose someone to the condition, and exposure to something that sets it off, an "environmental trigger."

Some ways to reduce the risk of asthma and its symptoms:

*A little dirt may not hurt. Asthma experts say babies who spend time in day care centers or who live on farms with animals or in homes where there are two or more cats or dogs are less likely to have asthma and allergies later in life. Called the "hygiene hypothesis," this theory suggests that a sterile environment prevents maturation of the immune system.

*Don't smoke and don't expose children to cigarette smoke.

*Avoid known triggers. In many people, exposure to the same substances that cause allergies can bring on an asthma attack. Common triggers: dust mites, pollen, mold, pet dander, cockroach droppings.

*Clean up at school. Students living in dorms should cover bedding with dust-mite-proof coverings and keep rugs vacuumed and surfaces dusted. Make sure roommates know what to do in an emergency.

*Limit exposure to inhaled irritants such as tobacco smoke, wood fires, charcoal grills, household sprays, gasoline and perfume. These can aggravate inflamed airways and make asthma worse.

*Get a flu shot and try to avoid other respiratory infections, the major asthma trigger in children.

*Talk to the doctor about medicines that can be taken before working out if exercise triggers attacks.

*Be careful with painkillers. Up to 20% of people with asthma may be sensitive to over-the-counter pain medications such as aspirin or ibuprofen. Talk to your doctor before using pain relievers.

*Take asthma medicines properly and only as prescribed.

Sources: American Lung Association, Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology

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© Copyright 2004 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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