Researchers from Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School have jointly concluded that a major contributing factor to asthma in school-age children could be exposure to bacteria and allergens from rodents like mice. Many public schools, they say, are teeming with high levels of mouse allergens, which asthmatic children susceptible to irritation are encountering on a daily basis throughout the school year.
Some 284 children from 37 inner-city public schools located throughout the Northeastern United States were evaluated as part of the research. Those contributing tested the students’ homes and classrooms for potential offenders, eventually identifying mouse allergens as the most common type of allergenic dust in both locations – and to a significantly greater degree in schools.
Based on the analysis, no other airborne allergen was as problematic as the mouse dust, which the researchers identified as causing the worst asthma outcomes in children. And while dust levels in general were found to be quite low in both the schools and the homes, the researchers involved claim that mouse allergens are still to blame, and that school administrators need to do more to protect their students.
“These findings suggest that exposure reduction strategies in the school setting may effectively and efficiently benefit all children with asthma,” wrote Dr. Wanda Phipatanakul, one of the study’s co-authors, along with her colleagues in their study, which was published in the peer-reviewed journal Jama Medicine.
“Future school-based environmental intervention studies may be warranted,” she and her team added in their conclusion.
Indoor allergens, pollution a major contributor to asthma symptoms
The paper comes on the heels of another recently published by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which found that indoor allergens in general are a serious problem for asthma sufferers. Such allergens include things like pet dander and residue from cockroaches and rats, the latter two of which were surprisingly absent from the schools evaluated as part of the JAMA Medicine study.
With asthma rates as high as 25 percent in some American communities, paying attention to potential allergens is a top priority for public health. Indoor irritants can function as acute triggers of asthma symptoms, resulting in sufferers having to use more medication to treat it than they otherwise would if indoor environments were kept cleaner.
It is estimated that somewhere between 30 and 62 percent of children with persistent asthma are allergic to dust mites, which are microscopic members of the spider family, while about half are particularly sensitive to mold. Both of these things are more are common features of indoor environments, especially in climates that learn more towards humidity rather than dry.
“Exposure to indoor allergens such as furry pet allergens, mice and cockroaches, and mold are linked to more severe asthma,” says Dr. Elizabeth Matsui of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. Dr. Matsui led the earlier AAP study that precipitated this latest research on mouse allergens, which is the first of its kind.
“Once these exposures are removed, children typically have a marked improvement in their asthma.”
As far as mouse allergens, as many as 80 percent of U.S. homes contain detectable amounts of it, stressing the need for better anti-rodent measures in these spaces. And the problem is even more pronounced in homes located in urban enclaves, particularly those with high poverty rates – mouse allergens are as many as 1,000 times higher here than in suburban homes and neighborhoods.
Another major concern for asthma sufferers is the chemicals used in many household cleaning products and air fresheners, many of which are known respiratory irritants. Removing these from the home and replacing them with natural, essential oil-based alternatives is strongly advised.