Logo of nihpaAbout Author manuscriptsSubmit a manuscriptNIH Public Access; Author Manuscript; Accepted for publication in peer reviewed journal;
J Allergy Clin Immunol. Author manuscript; available in PMC Dec 8, 2008.
Published in final edited form as:
PMCID: PMC2597586

Allergists’ attitudes toward environmental control

Insights into its current application in clinical practice
Dominique M. Brandt, MA,a Linda Levin, PhD,e Elizabeth Matsui, MD, MHS,b Wanda Phipatanakul, MD, MS,c Alisa M. Smith, PhD,d Jonathan A. Bernstein, MD,a and American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Indoor Allergen Committee

To the Editor

The prevalence of allergic disease has increased over the past few decades, especially in industrialized countries, where modern lifestyle and socioeconomic status are risk factors for atopic sensitization and disease.1 The National Asthma Education and Prevention Program 2007 guidelines for the diagnosis and management of asthma recommends controlling allergen and irritant triggers contributing to asthma severity.2 However, the overall efficacy (defined as whether an intervention can work under ideal conditions [ie, a clinical study trial]) and practicality of environmental control (EC) have been questioned because of conflicting clinical trials.3,4 For example, a study of allergen-impermeable mattress covers involving 1122 adult asthmatic subjects failed to show significant differences between intervention and control populations, whereas a study testing the efficacy of mattress and pillow covers in 60 dust mite—sensitized children showed significant health benefits.4 Single-intervention studies might be less efficacious because most patients are sensitized to more than one allergen.4 This contention is supported by multiple-intervention EC studies in urban asthmatic children demonstrating positive outcomes.3,5,6 Despite overwhelming evidence that directed EC measures can reduce symptoms associated with allergic rhinitis (AR) and asthma, it remains difficult to modify patient attitudes regarding the benefits of this adjunctive treatment. Recently, a survey was distributed to American Academy of Asthma, Allergy & Immunology (AAAAI) members to obtain a clearer understanding of physician attitudes toward EC measures. A complete manuscript can be accessed at www.jaci.org.

The Web-based questionnaire was distributed to 1670 AAAAI members from October 27, 2004, to November 10, 2004, yielding a 28% response rate. One limitation of this survey and surveys in general is nonresponse bias. However, the information obtained from this survey might be a stimulus to generate greater interest among allergists in educating patients about the importance of EC. Sixty percent of survey respondents believed that EC was of similar importance to medications and immunotherapy for treatment of AR and asthma but only played a moderate role in atopic dermatitis. Seventy-five percent of allergists emphasized the importance of EC to patients each office visit, and two thirds provided EC educational material each visit. Only 25% counseled patients on avoiding second-hand smoke. Most allergists (85%) provided EC product catalogues to patients and discussed avoidance measures in the context of allergy testing and environmental history. Table I7 summarizes EC recommendations made by allergists to patients for the most common indoor perennial allergens.

Percentage of respondents recommending specific measures from guidelines for the control of indoor allergen exposure7

Among survey respondents, most believed patients had difficulty complying with recommended avoidance measures (Table II); 72% were somewhat satisfied with patient compliance, whereas 17% were completely unsatisfied. After education, the majority of respondents believed patients implemented at least some EC measures, and rarely were they completely noncompliant. Nonetheless, 82% believed only a few patients implemented all EC recommendations. These findings correlate with a 2003 US Environmental Protection Agency telephone survey designed to determine patient knowledge and compliance with EC recommendations, which found less than 30% of adult asthmatic patients or caregivers of asthmatic children implemented some and 7% complied with all essential EC measures. Individuals who had their triggers characterized by a health care provider and received an asthma management plan were more likely to implement EC measures.8

Respondents’ perception of patient compliance with EC recommendations

EC is not perceived to be cost-effective because beneficial effects are not immediately noticed. Successful multiple-intervention inner-city studies estimated EC costs ranged from $492 to $2000 per child.3,6 Because EC measures have a lasting effect if properly maintained, reductions in direct and indirect health care costs can significantly offset the initial investment for this intervention.

For EC to be effective (defined as whether an intervention works in routine clinical care situations), patients must understand which interventions are relevant to their needs and the importance of adherence. The majority of recent inner-city clinical trials used trained field health workers to assist in educating subjects. Indoor allergen dust analysis in conjunction with information regarding the child’s atopic status was used to develop personalized plans for EC.3,5,6 Fieldworkers made multiple visits to the subject’s homes to demonstrate proper EC and reinforced compliance by frequent telephone calls.3,5,6 One study in France found using a medical indoor environment counselor (MIEC) was more efficient in reducing indoor allergens in homes of patients with asthma and AR than physician recommendations alone.9

Thirty-two percent (149/461) of respondents provided recommendations regarding various aspects of EC discussed in the full manuscript online. Recommendations directed to the AAAAI included providing more EC information online in the form of research updates, continuing medical education programs, a patient educational Web page, handouts in addition to more plenary sessions at annual meetings, and development of a practice parameter on indoor allergen exposure and remediation.

These survey findings are consistent with the previous AAAAI position statement on allergen avoidance in allergic asthma.7 Effective public health programs to prevent the progression of allergic asthma and rhinitis should consider using trained fieldworkers, such as MIECs, to visit homes of high-risk patients with allergic asthma and assist in proper EC implementation. Counseling patients on EC practices takes time and expertise that should be the primary responsibility of the allergy specialist because studies indicate this element of care improves clinical outcomes and is cost-effective. Whether patient non-compliance is specific for EC or reflective of patient overall non-compliance (eg, medication use and office visits) requires further investigation.


We thank Professor Frederic De Blay and Martine Ott for providing information regarding studies using MIECs.

Supported by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.


Disclosure of potential conflict of interest: W. Phipatanakul has received research support from the National Institutes of Health, Woodstock Company, and Novartis. J. A. Bernstein has received research support from Merck, GlaxoSmithKline, and MedPointe; has served as an expert witness in environmental cases; has served as a member of AFI; and has consulting arrangements with GlaxoSmithKline, MedPointe, AstraZeneca, Teva, and UCB. The rest of the authors have declared that they have no conflict of interest.


1. Pearce N, Ait-Khaled N, Beasley R, Mallol J, Keil U, Mitchell EA, et al. Worldwide trends in the prevalence of asthma symptoms: phase III of the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood (ISAAC) Thorax. 2007;62:758–66. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
2. Expert panel report 3: guidelines for the diagnosis and management of asthma. National Institute of Health, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; Bethesda (MD): 2007.
3. Krieger JW, Takaro TK, Song L, Weaver M. The Seattle-King County Healthy Homes Project: a randomized, controlled trial of a community health worker intervention to decrease exposure to indoor asthma triggers. Am J Public Health. 2005;95:652–9. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
4. Woodcock A, Forster L, Matthews E, Martin J, Letley L, Vickers M, et al. Control of exposure to mite allergen and allergen-impermeable bed covers for adults with asthma. N Engl J Med. 2003;349:225–36. [PubMed]
5. Kercsmar CM, Dearborn DG, Schluchter M, Xue L, Kirchner HL, Sobolewski J, et al. Reduction in asthma morbidity in children as a result of home remediation aimed at moisture sources. Environ Health Perspect. 2006;114:1574–80. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
6. Morgan WJ, Crain WF, Grunchella RS, O’Connor GT, Kattan M, Evans R, 3rd, et al. Results of a home based environmental intervention in urban children with asthma. N Engl J Med. 2004;351:1068–80. [PubMed]
7. Ad Hoc Working Group on Environmental Allergens and Asthma Position statement. Environmental allergen avoidance in allergic asthma. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 1999;103:203–5. [PubMed]
8. Environmental Protection Agency National survey on environmental management of asthma and children’s exposure to environmental tobacco smoke Available at: http://www.epa.gov/asthma/science.html Accessed June 24, 2007.
9. de Blay F, Fourgaut G, Hedelin G, Vervloet D, Michel FB, Godard P, et al. Medical indoor environment counselor (MIEC): role in compliance with advice on mite allergen avoidance and on mite allergen exposure. Allergy. 2003;58:27–33. [PubMed]
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