a field shaped like lungs is flown over by an airplane spewing pesticides

Pesticides As Asthma Triggers

If you have allergic asthma, you already know how important it is to understand your triggers. Managing your exposure to triggers can be an important step in managing your asthma. Pesticides are one potential trigger and are less talked about than other common triggers such a fragrance, animal dander, humidity, and dust. Pesticides are surprisingly common and can be present in your food, in and around your home, and at your work.

What are pesticides?

Pesticides are used to control small critters, bugs, fungi, and molds. They are either chemical or biological agents (meaning it is made from some type of bacterium, virus or parasite), and intended to kill, harm, or repel the intended target.1

Pesticides are separated into different categories depending on what they are meant to target; for example, insecticides are used to control insects, and herbicides are used to control weeds. Pesticides are widely used in agriculture but are also used inside and around homes to control rats, cockroaches, ants, moths, molds, weeds, and fungus.1

How can pesticides affect asthma?

Pesticides do have the potential to damage bronchial mucosa and cause the airways to become more sensitive. However, when you are exposed to pesticides, you typically aren't exposed to high amounts. Therefore, it is not as likely that you will experience immediate or extreme symptoms.2

If you are exposed to high amounts of pesticides or exposed for a long period of time, "Pesticides may increase the risk of developing asthma, exacerbate a previous asthmatic condition or even trigger asthma attacks by increasing bronchial hyper-responsiveness".2

Occupational hazard

One of the more obvious ways to be exposed to pesticides is if you work in the agriculture industry. The relationship between asthma, agriculture, and pesticides has been studied, and it is found that "Most of the evidence suggesting a relationship between high levels of exposure to pesticides and asthma comes from the studies of farmers."1

In these studies, Canadian and French farmers and their prevalence of asthma have been associated with the use of pesticides. Kenyan and US farmers have experienced wheezing due to pesticide use. Additionally, the use of insecticides may contribute to the exacerbation of asthma among those who have allergies.1

Reducing your exposure

In and around your home

One of the best ways to limit your exposure to pesticides is to avoid using them yourself. Herbicides are commonly used on lawns and in gardens to quell weeds and in highly concentrated amounts.3

Instead of using a chemical to control unwanted plants, look into organic gardening methods. It may be tempting to use other pesticides, such as insecticides, to control unwanted critters in and around your home. However, even a small amount of a certain pesticide is enough to trigger an allergic reaction or asthma symptoms.3

On food

Pesticides can also be ingested. Pesticides are used in the process of growing produce and grain, and therefore there can be pesticide residue on your food. Wash your produce well, and keep in mind that organic fruits, veggies, and grain are grown with little to no pesticides. Certain produce products contain higher amounts of pesticides due to their thin skin, so these may be best for you to avoid or buy organic.3 Refer to the list here.

In the environment

In addition to being ingested, pesticides can also be inhaled or absorbed. Pesticides can be sprayed in parks, nature areas, schools, along the side of the road, along sidewalks, and at work. Before entering a nature area or going to a park, check online, or read signs to see if the area is sprayed. Children are at high risk because they a lower to the ground, and typically touch the grass or other things on the ground. 3

Pesticides on human health

Modern technology such as pesticides serves a purpose to advance certain industries. Pesticides have helped industrialize agriculture, but this is not necessarily for the better. As we attempt to push industries forward, it would serve humanity best if we took more time to analyze the effect of technologies such as pesticides on human health.

Pesticides have the potential to exacerbate asthma symptoms, sensitize airways, and cause damage to bronchial mucosa. The best we can do is be aware of where pesticides can be found, and limit our exposure to them.

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