Got Allergies or Asthma? Try Taking Photos

Showing your doctor possible triggers in the home can work as well as an environmental assessment.

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Dealing with a diagnosis of asthma or allergies can be tough—and figuring out what is worsening your symptoms isn't easy, either. Might taking photographs of your home—your bedroom, bathroom, basement, and other areas—help your doctor reach conclusions? Perhaps, suggests a new study, which found that arming patients with a disposable camera and a list of areas in the home to take photos of was as useful as a professionally done environmental assessment—and a whole lot cheaper.

Many people struggle with outdoor and indoor allergies to mold, pollen, cockroaches, fur, dust, or feathers. But eliminating the triggers from the home is often easier said than done, says the study's lead author, Rita Mangold, asthma program coordinator at Truman Medical Centers in Kansas City, Mo. For example, people are commonly not aware that what looks like grime in their bathroom or basement is actually mold, Mangold says. And when the doctor looks at a picture of a kitchen with open boxes of cereal or food lying around, he or she may spot a rusty pattern that is actually cockroach droppings. "A lot of [the] time, if you do a thorough history with a patient and ask about exposure to mold [and] dust in the home, they may say no, and it's because they don't recognize what that is," Mangold says.

The study—which involved 50 participants randomly assigned to get either a professional environmental assessment (a $300-to-$400 cost) or to take photos of their homes themselves (a $13 cost)—is being presented today at the American College of Chest Physicians' meeting in Philadelphia. "I think that anything that enhances the patients' participation in their own care and identifies potential triggers in the home environment is beneficial," says LeRoy M. Graham, an Atlanta pediatric pulmonologist in private practice who was not involved with the new study. "Oftentimes it's not very easy for doctors to discern all the triggers."

Below are four tips for doing your own photography project:

• Check with your doctor. Find out if he or she is interested in seeing photographs of your home before you go through the trouble of taking the pictures. Also consider getting the images put onto a CD so that the doctor can view them on a computer and zoom in closely, Mangold suggests.

• Don't clean up your house first. The doctor needs a realistic portrayal of what your home normally looks like, Mangold says.

• Explore the inside of your home—and the outside. Photograph the bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, basement, and dining room, Mangold suggests. "We spend more time in our bedroom than any other single location in our home," Graham says. Also, take pictures of the outside of your home, especially in areas where water tends to pool.

• Get behind closed doors. The inside of cabinets below sinks should be photographed as a check for mold, Graham says.