Asthma management tips for newbs. Difficulty level: someone else's house
July 4, 2021 9:56 PM   Subscribe

YANAD. YANMD. YAPAAS (You are probably an asthma sufferer). I have just had my first asthma attack in 17 years. I am looking after someone else's home until they return. What actions should I and my partner take in this house to let me breathe eas(ier)? Bullet-pointed details inside.

Everything is fine until I go to bed. Within two hours of going to sleep my lungs close up. We are here another 12 days, after which we fly to our home country, so ideally we won't invest thousands of dollars into things we need to leave behind.

- Had respiratory ailment a month ago, have not been quite right since. I tested negative for COVID and I am in Western Australia, where COVID is pretty rare.
- Up until now, the circumstances that triggered an asthma attack were extremely narrow: I only had one if I exercised outdoors in sub-4C/40F temperatures and had consumed wheat in the past 24 hours. The last time I had one was in 2003 or 2004. It is not that cold and I haven't been exercising. I have eliminated wheat as a precaution.
- Am getting asthma attacks after ~1.5 hours of being in bed
- House is older, but our room has carpet/bed/linens that are no more than 6 months old. I have been fine in other rooms.
- Have washed sheets but not mattress cover or blanket
- Room was freshly vacuumed before we arrived
- Removed duvet and feather pillow from room, had asthma attack while doing so (so possibly a trigger)
- Have been using throw pillow from bed, which was unwashed (will get new pillows today)
- Have also removed dried floral arrangement/dust-collector
- Have tried another bed in another room with clean sheets, same reaction
- I am fine in all the living areas; I had nary a sniffle for the first 14 hours (and then I lay down...)
- It is unlikely that cats are the issue; we have been living with a rogue's gallery of cats for the past three years and I've been fine
- Sleeping with the window open is not a great idea - it is winter here, it is raining and temperatures drop to 10C/50F at night
- Meds: 24 hour Allegra at 7am, rescue inhaler (salbutamol) as needed, potential to add hydroxyzine (similar to Zyrtec) at night to resolve breakthrough allergy issues
- Have been to urgent care. Am not in my home city (or even country) so no local GP to see.
- I also have KN95 masks and have considered wearing them to try to more aggressively clean our room. I am also considering wearing one to sleep.

Our last resort will be to send me to a hotel while my partner looks after the home, but we would really like to find some other solution. Person whose home we are looking after is camping and not reachable.

Any ideas or protocols you may have would be welcome.
posted by rednikki to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Asthma sufferer here as well.

I know you don't have access to a GP to get this checked out, but something I'd think about is GERD. Sometimes it causes heartburn, but other times it does not.

GERD can cause asthma symptoms to act up, particularly when laying down. The stomach acid flows into the throat, aerosolizes, and then gets inhaled, irritating the lungs. Which then spasm, causing the asthma attack.

There are some things that you can try, that don't require a doctor's visit: try not eating within 3 hours of going to bed, try to sleep on a wedge or propped up, try to avoid hot/spicy/acidic foods and caffeine. Also see if you can get a hold of OTC Prilosec (omeprazole), if available in your country, and see if taking that relieves your symptoms.
posted by spinifex23 at 10:15 PM on July 4 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I’m a lifelong asthmatic with mostly-dormant symptoms, but occasionally a place will just set me off. Here’s my protocol when that happens in a sleeping space:
1) change all linens including mattress pads. Ideally have partner vacuum carpets and mattress thoroughly while you are ensconced in another room
2)sleep at a 45 degree angle—get a wedge if you can, otherwise just use extra pillows.
2)add an air filter to the room you sleep in, keep it running all day.
3) get a dust mite cover to put on the mattress and/or the pillows, even if you get near pillows
4) take rescue inhaler routinely right at bedtime
Good luck, I know it’s miserable!

I would not suggest sleeping in an N95 mask.
posted by assenav at 10:24 PM on July 4 [5 favorites]

Growing up in my family home, my mum vacuumed my parents' bed each month to clear the ephemera of dust mites and keep my dad's asthma in check. Vacuum-clean that mattress.
posted by k3ninho at 12:23 AM on July 5 [1 favorite]

I agree strongly with spinifex. I am an asthma sufferer and as an adult, most of my attacks are late at night/early in the morning, often after coughing. I am diagnosed with GERD but I very rarely feel the burning associated with acid reflux; the acid apparently goes just high enough to irritate my lungs but not high enough to register as pain.

I would suggest famotidine rather than Prilosec, though. It works much faster (1 hour vs. 1-4 days). While it's fine to adjust your diet, sleeping angle, etc. those things don't always work, and you need your sleep.
posted by Flock of Cynthiabirds at 1:01 AM on July 5 [2 favorites]

Life-long asthma here. If you had an actual attack* inspite of using meds, I'd move to a hotel if you can. It could get very serious very quickly - as chronic sufferers who have survived so far, not being able to breathe can be a bit normal for us when actually we should maybe be more scared.

If you really can't move away: in your place I wouldn't sleep in the bedroom but in one of the living rooms where you don't get symptoms; sleep sitting up; use the new pillows and have new bedding as well. But as I said if you had an actual attack I think you shouldn't sleep there.

Also, in my experience having air circulating through the room was the worst thing I could have done. There was something in the room that held a lot of dust which we didn't realise. Slept with the fan on, woke up struggling, drugs didn't help, rushed to hospital.

* with the wheezing, the shoulders going up and down, the difficulty speaking etc
posted by glasseyes at 1:04 AM on July 5 [2 favorites]

Is there a couch you could sleep on in a room that doesn’t bother you?

I might also just go out and buy a HEPA filter. In the US that would be cheaper than a single night in a hotel.
posted by jamjam at 3:42 AM on July 5 [1 favorite]

I've had this happen to me twice because of a rug in the room I was sleeping in (and both times the only way to fix it was to get rid of the rug). In your case, even though the bed is relatively new, I would suspect the bedding. I would consider getting an air mattress and a new duvet as well as pillows, and sleeping in a room where you haven't had a reaction.

An air purifier running overnight in my bedroom has stopped me waking up with a stuffy nose every morning, and I'd certainly expect it to help with allergy-triggered asthma, but I'd replace the bedding first. (I have this one by Philips, which has a quiet mode for nighttime, but I don't know about availability in Australia.)
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 4:34 AM on July 5

I wouldn't rule out the cats as part of the problem. I've lived with cats for years as well, but they're my cats and I'm used to their dander. When I go to a friend's house, I will react to their cats because it's unfamiliar dander to my immune system.
posted by cooker girl at 9:17 AM on July 5 [1 favorite]

Can the urgent care prescribe you a maintenance inhaler? You’ll take it twice a day, and it takes a few days to take full effect, but it can help. My asthma is really similar to yours until last year, at which point my GP said the rescue inhaler wasn’t enough. I use a neti pot twice a day too, and Flonase.

Other things to try would be showering at night (both of you) and trying an air purifier just in the bedroom, keeping the door shut at all times.
posted by umwhat at 9:49 AM on July 5 [1 favorite]

Seconding the anti-allergy mattress and pillow covers (and maybe for the duvet/quilt?). I've also had good luck with Singulair (montelukast sodium).
posted by ropeladder at 4:02 PM on July 5

Carpets, curtains, stuffing all hold reams of dust and can also off-gas all sorts of chemicals, especially in newer houses without leaks. I don't get asthma, but I do get severe allergies in these circumstances, which I think (?) may be one step below.

The key things I do when I'm away from home and miserable is take whatever decongestant works for me (12 hour, not 24 which weakens at the wrong time, and not anything short which won't take you through the morning when you can take another). Take an aspirin to decrease swelling in the nasal passages. Keep taking both regularly. Yes to all the dust-mite stuff, but wool/cotton blankets are better than comforters (with stuffing). A clean towel is also key; I think toweling must be too dense for easy mite passage because I've found towels to be hugely helpful in both hotels and homes. Anyway, cover the entire pillow with it/them. If you sit up in bed before sleeping, cover the pillows with two towels for good measure. When you sleep at night be sure to keep your nose/mouth as far away as possible from the blankets or anything other than the towel(s). Crack all the windows, and try to point yourself in that direction.
posted by Violet Blue at 7:59 PM on July 5

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! Progress report:
- Assenav's protocol was EXTREMELY helpful. I hope never to be in this situation again, but if I am I will once again implement it.
- I was able to sleep about 6.5 hours last night without an asthma attack and got a 3-hour nap in on the couch.
- Thanks to everyone who suggested reflux/GERD. It doesn't seem to be that as I was able to sleep flat on the couch with no issues. However, I will also keep that in mind if this ever happens again as I've had that issue before. (Famotidine is unfortunately only accessible with a doctor's appointment here.)
- JamJam's comment led me to look up HEPA filters, and the first thing that came up was...the Dyson space heater in the corner of the living room, which is also a HEPA filter! So we're using that now.

Thanks everyone! You have been a huge help.
posted by rednikki at 3:03 AM on July 6 [3 favorites]

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