There is conflicting evidence that suggests central heating systems both improve and aggravate asthma. This is obviously confusing, not to mention unsettling, especially for parents who want to ensure their children remain healthy. Should they or shouldn’t they rely on central heating to keep their homes at an even temperature and their kids out of the doctor’s consulting room?
Central heating won’t make your asthma worse
According to an article on Allergy Clean Environments by Jim Rosenthal, CAFS, central heating and air conditioning systems do not aggravate or trigger asthma. At least not directly. Rosenthal rebuts a US study that says that in the 30 years between 1970 and 2000, changes in housing trends, including increased reliance on heating and air conditioning systems have led to an increase in the prevalence of asthma.
According to Rosenthal, this contradicts many other studies on the matter and even flies in the face of what many families with asthmatics are told, which is that central heating and air conditioning systems can actually help with asthma management. Rosenthal says that the study uses conjecture and speculation, rather than actual scientific evidence and fact, and that in many cases, statements are simply not true.
For instance, the study alleges that even with filtration systems in place, these systems can cause resuspension of dust particles. Not true, says Rosenthal, as even partially effective filters will lower indoor dust particle levels. The study also implies that because HVAC systems don’t rely on fresh air, they increase the level of air borne allergens. Not true again, says Rosenthal, as the National Institute of Health (NIH) specifically recommends that people with asthma stay within air conditioned spaces that limit fresh air, so as to reduce their exposure to outdoor allergens and air pollution.
It seems that in this instance, a little information (and a lot of conjecture) can do a lot of damage. As the seemingly unsound study contradicts much of what asthma sufferers are told. People who take what they read at face value and don’t do a little extra research could put themselves (and their children) in harm’s way.
Is there a link between central heating and asthma?
The answer, as it so often is, is complicated. Many people find that the dry heat given off by central heating units alleviates asthma symptoms, especially if they live in cold, damp climates. In fact, in March 2015, the UK government announced that it would provide £3m for a ‘boilers on prescription’ scheme, which would make it possible for doctors throughout the UK to prescribe central heating systems, among other home improvements, to patients suffering from asthma so as to reduce damp conditions that exacerbate the condition. Central heating also helps maintain an even temperature, which is necessary for asthma management.
On the other hand, some people find that their asthma symptoms flare up when they first turn on their central heating systems after the weather changes. This has to do with dust mites that respond well to the comfortable dry heat.
However, according to Asthma.org.uk, dust mites are just one of many things in the home that could exacerbate asthma symptoms, and it’s impossible to get rid of all potential allergens. The best way to cope with asthma triggers, as always, is to manage the asthma effectively with medication and by following advice from your GP. This will put your body in a better position to resist the effects of allergens such as dust mites.
Energy-efficient central heating systems can help with asthma management
You might also want to consider another study conducted by the He Kainga Oranga/Housing and Health Research Programme in New Zealand. The study revealed that replacing unflued gas heaters, open fires or low-kilowatt electric heaters with more efficient central heating systems effectively reduced winter school absences for asthmatic children by 21 per cent.
Electrical heating is considered the best form of heating for people with asthma, though it may be expensive compared to other types. If your central heating system is powered by gas or other fuel, you may want to consider switching to an electrical system in order to reduce the amount of air pollutants emitted. If you have a gas heater but are unable to replace it, making sure it is flued will significantly help reduce air pollutants that trigger asthma symptoms.
Regularly cleaning or replacing the filters in your central heating system can also help with that. It might be a good idea to use a de-humidifier in concert with your central heating system for a couple of weeks, as they have been found to help control certain asthma triggers, like dust mites, fungal spores and mould. The bottom line seems to be that if you take good care of your central heating and air conditioning unit, then it will help take good care of you.