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JOURNAL ARTICLE

Asthma and allergy avoidance knowledge and behavior in postpartum women

D P Joyce, K R Chapman, M Balter, S Kesten
Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology 1997, 79 (1): 35-42
9236497

OBJECTIVE: Based on family history, infants may be classified as "high risk" or "low risk" for the development of allergy or asthma. Failure to breast-feed and early exposure to cigarette smoke or aeroallergens increase the risk of developing asthma or allergy. Since we suspect that physicians seldom educate mothers on reducing environmental exposures in the postnatal period, we sought to determine the level of maternal knowledge as well as actual avoidance behaviors with respect to these risk factors in high risk and low risk families.

DESIGN: Questionnaire administered by a research assistant.

SETTING: Obstetrics unit of two tertiary care general hospitals.

PATIENTS: A sample of 194 postpartum women with uncomplicated pregnancies, interviewed after 24-hours postpartum.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: (1) Parental history of asthma, allergy or eczema; (2) potential for infant exposure to environmental risk factors for asthma and allergy, as indicated by history of avoidance practices in the home; (3) parental knowledge of risk factors for asthma or allergy; and (4) physician advise on avoidance.

RESULTS: Of 194 women interviewed, a history of doctor-diagnosed asthma, allergy/allergic rhinitis or eczema in either parent was reported by 122 (high risk group). The remaining 72 patients had no history of atopy (low risk group). Of those in the high risk group, 10% of mothers smoked during pregnancy, and about 25% were exposed to second hand smoke on a daily basis. Most of the mothers in the high risk group planned to breast feed (89%). A large number of patients in the high risk group reported potential risk factors for allergy/asthma in their home environments. These included animals in the household (36%), dusty environments (10%) carpeting (47%), cigarette smoke (18%), and others. Despite these risks, only 13% of patients reported being educated by their physicians on improving their home environment. Exposures to environmental risk factors were not different between low and high risk groups. Similarly, knowledge of environmental risk factors and avoidance behaviors were not significantly different between low and high risk groups.

CONCLUSIONS: Many mothers whose infants are at high risk of developing asthma or allergies are not aware of and do not practice avoidance of risk factors. Physicians involved in prenatal care of women with a family history of atopy and asthma should offer advice on reducing exposure to potential risk factors and how to modify their environment in ways that can potentially decrease the risk of asthma or allergy prevalence and severity.

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