Did you know that asthma is the most widespread chronic illness in Australia? It affects more than 2.3 million Australians, while allergic rhinitis (more commonly known as hay fever) is suffered by more than 3.7 million Australians.
Asthma is a disease that affects the bronchi that carry air to and from the lungs. Asthma constricts the airways and reduces or blocks the flow of air with swelling and sticky mucus. Asthma can be debilitating, not to mention dangerous; in 2012, asthma caused the deaths of 394 people in Australia. Peak season for asthma attacks and hospitalisations of children are concurrent with ‘hay fever’ season – February and May, while adults suffer more hospitalisations in winter.
Although there are many factors associated with asthma risk and asthma triggers, more than 8 in 10 people with asthma are affected by allergies. Allergies can be triggered by many things, including animal dander, dust, dust mites, mould, pollen and other environmental factors. These potential allergy antagonisers may be lurking underneath your couch, in your carpet, around your shower, in your garden and even in your car!
In fact, your car may be a major breeding ground for allergy inducing spores, dust mites and mould. According to a recent study conducted by National Asthma Council Australia, many popular make and model vehicles in Australia are hotbeds of asthma aggravating allergens. Cars use air from outside the vehicle to ventilate the car interior and keep the engine cool but the air from outside is full of pollen, particulates and other allergens. Sometimes these allergens build up in the air-conditioning system and drastically reduce air quality inside your vehicle. Although the technology exists for in-car air filtration systems, many of Australia’s most popular vehicles don’t include air filtration technology as standard. In addition to mould, dust mites, pollen and particulates, the fabric and plastic components of your car release allergy aggravating chemicals and fumes.
How to Allergy-Proof Your Car
Apart from making sure you have a car with a built in air filtration system, there are a few things you can do to allergy-proof your car and reduce your exposure to asthma aggravating allergens:
- Always keep your car clean – inside and out. Wash your car regularly to remove dust, dirt and particulate build up on the outside of your vehicle. Vacuum your car and have the seats and carpets shampooed; allow your fabrics to dry thoroughly in a well-ventilated area (crack the windows until you are sure the fabrics are dry).
- Invest in rubber floor mats; they will help catch any dirt, dust, mud and water before grinding it into your carpets.
- Don’t eat or drink in your car. Crumbs and small liquid spillages are mould’s best friend.
- Don’t store wet items like sporting gear or umbrellas in your car. Moisture means mould.
- Don’t give your pets free reign; if you use your vehicle to transport your pet(s), consider placing them in a pet crate or kennel to reduce their free movement around the vehicle. Not only will this reduce the spread of fur and dander, it’s also safer for them. If you choose not to crate your pet(s), brush them thoroughly before putting them in the vehicle and cover the seats/carpets with old sheets or towels that can be removed and washed easily.
- Change your car air filter regularly; this can be done by your mechanic when you take your vehicle for its regular service or by following the instructions in your vehicle owner’s manual.
- During allergy season, don’t drive with the windows down. If you need air-flow, use the air-conditioning system but make sure it’s set to ‘recirculate’.
The Final Word
With proper treatment and preventative measures like keeping your car clean and changing the air filter regularly, sufferers can reduce the impact of asthma and allergies on their lives. Asthma Australia offer a free Asthma Assist pack to help those with asthma manage the disease; it includes a newsletter with the latest treatments, technologies and a host of attack prevention tips.