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According to First Lady Michelle Obama, in a piece she wrote for the Healthy Child Healthy World book, when her daughter Malia was about three years old, they took a family outing to the circus where Malia’s breathing became more and more strained. The Obamas rushed her to the emergency room where the doctor diagnosed her with asthma.

It’s all too common of a story these days. In fact, asthma is the most common chronic disorder of childhood impacting nine million children under the age of 18 —a more than 200% increase over the last 30 years.

Everyone who's been through it knows that an asthma diagnosis begins a complete shift in lifestyle. For the Obama family, it was no different. How have they coped? "Since then, we've worked to stay ahead of it," writes First Lady Obama. "We take Malia to the pediatrician regularly to ensure she has whatever treatment she requires. We keep our house dust- and dander-free, and don't bring in anything that will disrupt her."

She advocates for the same type of simple prevention for others in the same position. "Parents of children with asthma need to know how to reduce the chances of an attack if it happens, and when to go to the hospital. Irritants and allergens in the air, such as smoke, dust mites, pet dander, cockroaches, mold, and pollen, can make attacks more likely. So parents who have children with asthma should keep houses clean of potential triggers."

In addition to reducing these more commonly recognized allergens, you can also help everyone breathe easier by following these simple steps

1. Open your windows. Chemicals like respiratory irritants build up in your home if there is no ventilation. By opening your windows, you will let fresh air in and allow polluted air a way to exit. Check and for information regarding outdoor air quality in order to make sure you are opening your windows at the best times.

2. Reduce dust and other particles on your floor. Twice a week, use a damp mop or use a vacuum cleaner equipped with a HEPA filter. HEPA filters capture 95 percent of all particles. Consider replacing wall-to-wall carpeting, a pollutant trap, with washable area rugs.

3. Avoid all chemical pesticides. Pesticides are poisons. There are safer alternatives to keep pests under control.

4. Use least-toxic, mild, or non-toxic household cleaners. Conventional cleaners can irritate airways. Instead, use basic kitchen ingredients or buy "green" cleaners that are made with less toxic ingredients.

5. Use natural personal care products. Cosmetics, lotions, shampoos, and perfumes can all contain a multitude of chemicals that can irritate the respiratory system. Look for products with ingredients you can pronounce and use less. Refer to for the safest options

Learn more about the causes and treatments for asthma by reading “A Healthy Child Healthy World Perspective on Asthma” with Contributions from Dr. Martha Herbert, Dr. Harvey Karp and Dr. Phil Landrigan.

Michelle Obama's quotes taken from Healthy Child Healthy World: Creating a Cleaner, Greener, Safer Home. Reprinted by arrangement with Plume, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Copyright (c) 2009 by Healthy Child Healthy World


This article originally appeared on the Healthy Child Healthy World blog.

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