Jill Poole, M.D., allergist and professor in the University of Nebraska Medical Center Department of Internal Medicine Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care, Sleep and Allergy. The topics pertain to allergies, asthma and other issues people need to be aware of during flood cleanup.

What do I need to know when going back into my home after the flood?

Well when you go back into your home after the flood, you want to assess the amount of damage. And if you have allergies, asthma or any respiratory disease, you want to be very careful. And what I mean by careful is if your home has had extensive damage and there’s mold and bacteria that have destroyed the drywall or the walls of your home and you can smell or see it, then that’s a danger and you really don’t want to be in the home. You want to have it remediated, constructed or fixed and so what you need to be aware of is things to do to protect yourself. We know that from other studies from hurricanes and flooding, this would be like the N95 mask that you can get but what performs better for protecting respiratory symptoms is these half mask respirator. And if you’re doing any reconstruction like taking down the drywall and redoing the home and fixing it and you have damage that you can see and smell, you really have to take the time to protect yourself first.

What should people with allergies, asthma, or other lung diseases when cleaning their homes from the flood aftermath? When you go back into your home and you want to clean up the damage, you need to know what you’re doing. You don’t want to use any cleaning supplies and mix cleaning supplies because the chemical exposure from mixing chemicals or using too much of a concentrated one, you’re going to have the chemicals be in the air and that can cause irritation and damage to the airways. It’s caused irritant-induced asthma and those who’ve never had asthma can get asthma from an overwhelming chemical exposure. Wearing masks, knowing what you’re doing to protect yourself can protect you from having these chemical exposure-induced breathing problems. So anybody with underlying respiratory disease is at increased risk of having an exposure-induced respiratory symptom but even people without symptoms of asthma or respiratory disease, if they have an overwhelming chemical exposure can get irritant lung disease.

What are the implications on children with allergies as they head back home? So you want to be really particular with vulnerable populations which is your children, and even the elderly when they go back into the home. They need to be protected too if they’re helping cleanup, helping go through boxes, if they’re in the environment that they too are wearing masks and being protected and paying attention to their needs.

What are other unforeseen risks with the flood? Besides the damage, one of the things you need to be aware of is when patients and people will purchase generators to run the homes and so the generators can have the unforeseen risks of having toxins and emitting gasses in the homes that can lead to respiratory disease. It can worsen already existing asthma or respiratory diseases and it can actually be a source of new wheezing and shortness of breath. When you run these generators or other sources in the home, please be aware of that.