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Dealing with smoke allergies and asthma when neighbours smoke

Hi there. I need help. I am extremely sensitive to smoke and can smell it a mile away and smoke irritates me. We own a duplex which shares a wall with our neighbors. It only started this year with smoking all the time inside the house. The mother, daughter and son all smoke in there. If the kids have friends over, even more smoking happens. It's so bad that when my husband goes there for a meter reading he comes back smelling like smoke and I go into a coughing fit. I think I am developing a chronic cough from having to inhale the smoke all day long. We have bought an air purifier and changed the filters on our house. Nothing seems to be working and I just break down and cry sometimes from all this coughing. Nothing we can do legally since they own their side and we have already subtly suggested that their smoking is causing me issues and they still continue. Is there anything anyone can suggest that might be able to help? Maybe there's something out there I don't know about. Also, moving is not an option sadly.

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  • Pljohns

    What type of purifier did you buy?  I have one that I bought off Amazon that has a charcoal activated filter specifically for smells(they are a huge trigger for me).  It was about $120 and came with 4 replacement filters.  I used it in a construction area(new clinic) and had no problems.  If something even gets remotely close to it with a smell of any kind, it kicks itself into high and gets rid of the smell.  It was overkill for the size office I had (I think it's rated to clean 1200sq ft and I had a 8×10 office) but it worked.  When I left that job, I brought it with me since I paid for it, and use it in my new job every day.  It got rid of the perfume smell from yesterday pretty fast.  Maybe the one you have isn't rated for a large enough space?  Unfortunately, once the smell gets into the walls and carpet, there may not be much you can do about it.

  • K8sMom2002

    Hugs and welcome, Kupo! That sounds like a very tough situation. Does your unit share an HVAC system with your neighbors? 

    Lynn has a good suggestion about double-checking the air filter. Could you check to see if the filters and the purifier are certified asthma & allergy friendly™?

    I'm quoting here about the asthma & allergy friendly™ Certification program:

    The asthma & allergy friendly™ Certification Program, administered by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) in partnership with the international research organization, Allergy Standards Limited (ASL), is an independent program created to scientifically test and identify consumer products that are more suitable for people with asthma and allergies. You can find certified products and services such as carpet cleaning, flooring, vacuums and more at 

  • Pljohns

    HEPA filters are good, but the charcoal activated ones are better.  My purifier has both-the charcoal ones get out smells so they may help you better than a HEPA one alone.

  • Kupo

    Hello,

    Thank you for all the responses!  We bought a Honeywell  which was made for a medium to large room and the type of filter it uses is a .  I think it has a carbon layer which I think is the same thing as charcoal?  I am not sure if this is allergy and asthma friendly.  I checked the box and it doesn't say anything about it.  I am in Canada.  Do we have the same kind of program here?  I don't think I saw the Honeywell logo on the certification program page.

    I have this air purifier on 24/7 and it is placed right next to me in our basement area.  It does help if I have it on high the entire time, but it doesn't help the rest of the house and I'm usually here, there, and everywhere around the house.  I almost feel like I need this thing strapped to my back.

    As for the furnace filter, we use the red ones like .  I guess when we replace our filters soon we'll get the highest rated one like the one you linked so hopefully that will help.  I don't think we share the same vents with the neighbours, but I cannot be quoted on that because I'm not entirely sure.  We are getting our ducts cleaned this fall so I guess we will find out then!  

    I do wish I knew how the smells were getting in here though.  We keep our windows closed in case we are lucky enough that they smoke outside but to my knowledge, they smoke mainly in the basement and on the main floor.  I suspect the smells are getting through the basement somehow and just rising throughout the house because I have smelled a tinge of the cigarette smoke on the 2nd floor.

    At this point, I think my throat is irritated enough that even if they stop smoking for a day I'd still be coughing.  It's not sore unless I cough over and over.  It's mainly just itchy but I am trying my best to suppress the coughing because one cough leads to many more.  Do you have any suggestions on how I can relieve it or take care of it during this time?  I've read about people losing their voices, etc.  That kinda scares me! 

    Thank you again for the replies and for trying to help.  It's really appreciated!

  • Shea

    You could try a letter to them… It really is better they smoke outside their home anyways (I do not even think smokers really like smoking indoors after living in the affects of it clinging to everything all the time, staining walls, and secondhand smoke effects on health are even worse than firsthand– maybe if they know it is seeping in to your side, it could be a good impetus for them to convert to outdoor smoking.) You could also suggest the e-cig four their inside-smoking needs. Of they dsay no, maybe you could talk to a hone insurance expert, or someone about getting insulation replaced… I do not know much about either of those things because I rent, but it seems like it could be in their department. 

  • K8sMom2002

    Smoke can find its way through the smallest of cracks. Could you double check on all your weather-stripping and insulation, especially around pipes that are shared between walls? You might contact the architect or builder of the unit to see if you could get the original plans — that would show you what pipes or electrical wiring is shared or run through the walls. I know I'm amazed at how much cold air can get through a small crack,and if cold air can get through, then maybe smoke can, too?

    Since the air purifier helps, maybe you could get one rated for a larger space? Or several small ones to go in each room that you're usually in? 

    You asked about the certification program — here's the . But I'm thinking that if a product on our US pages is listed and is available in Canada, it should be the same.

    As for the coughing … I hear you. What about circling back with your doctor and specifically discussing the situation and the cough? I know that some of our members have taken a medication for coughing that works for them.

  • K8sMom2002

    Reading back over your comments and my last reply, I wanted to add a few suggestions:

    • Can you concentrate on the basement wall and ceiling and caulk/weatherstrip everything in sight?
    • Could you put a big, big air purifier in your basement? That might clean the air down there where it's first getting in. 
  • Jen

    Hi @Kupo,

    Welcome to AAFA's support forums.  Dealing with the neighbors' smoke seems really frustrating.  Do you think any of the above suggestions will work for you?

  • Kupo

    Hello!

    A little update to the situation.  My mom has been aware of my allergies because I complain to her all the time about it and how miserable I am.  She came to visit me the other day to check up on me and without telling me, she went next door to talk to them herself.  Leave it to her to do something so bold.

    Her interaction with them was supposedly friendly and it turns out that the mother also has asthma.  It amazes me that she smokes knowing that, and that she allows her teenaged son and young adult daughter to smoke.  It's their choice obviously and that's why I have been afraid to confront them about my problem.  I didn't want it to seem like I'm trying to tell them what to do and how to do it in their own home.  My mom said that the lady understood her concerns and that they will be switching to vaping so we'll see what happens.

    About vaping, I have never been around someone who does it so I'm not sure what kind of effect vaping is going to have on me or if it will have an effect at all. They switched as of Wednesday supposedly, but yesterday I did smell what appeared to be cigarette smoke from time to time.  Either they are lying about switching (would not be surprised) or vaping isn't helping the situation. Reading about "secondhand vaping"  and , it would seem that there can still potentially be an issue.  If anyone has had any time being around those who use the e-cigs, would you mind sharing your experiences?  The only thing I really do know about them is that it smells better.

    All that being said, I am coughing less than I was and the cigarette smells have lessened. As a result, I notice the smell right away now almost as if I can tell the moment they lit one up.  I know it sounds strange and "out there" but that's really what it feels like to me sometimes!  I guess I would rather have that than the constant smell of it lingering because I can at least get a reprieve from it.  I really just want my coughing and itchy throat to go away now.

    As to the suggestions provided, they have been really helpful and I appreciate all the feedback!  We are going to be changing our furnace filter to one of the higher rated Filtrete ones when it's time to replace it (should be soon!), we are going to look into sealing up every darn nook and cranny in the basement, and when our budget can allow it we will invest in a certified air purifier for the basement of our house and move our current one to the main floor.  To answer @Jen's question, I'm not sure if any of the suggestions will work as only time will tell, but it has definitely led me in the right direction.

    Again, thank you for your kind and helpful replies!

  • K8sMom2002

    Oh, wow! That's great that your mom got such good results!

    As for the vaping, I'm not really sure. My old boss vaped and smoked. I don't think the vaping bothered me as much as the cigarette smoke, but some of the "flavors" she vaped had a peculiar smell that bothered me a bit. 

    Yay that some of our suggestions sounded like they may work!

  • Kathy P

    Go mom! I'm glad the neighbors were receptive and are willing to make some changes. 

    I've walked past people vaping and haven't noticed a lot of issues. There is usually a strong odor, but it's different than cigarette smoke. At least for me. 

  • Shea

    E-cigs never bothered me. The neighbors may be doing both, it is hard to switch to just vaping all the time… most people I knew who vaped would still have a smoke occasionally. Luv that your mom helped out, and that the neighbors were receptive in words, and took some actions it sounds like… hopefully it will get better, and the occasional smells will stop too-' and great ideas on the purifier and filter, and caulking to protect yourself.

  • K8sMom2002

    Kupo, have you seen any improvement now that the neighbors have agreed to cut back on their traditional cigarette smoking? Were you able to find an air purifier that worked for you?

  • Kupo

    Hello!  Yes, there's definite improvement with them smoking less, but that also means that it's much more apparent when they light up an actual cigarette.  I am not sure if it is them or friends that are visiting that are smoking cigarettes.  They've approached us about sharing the expense on duct cleaning, so that's also going to help.

    I can smell other types of smells which I am assuming is the e-cig stuff.  It doesn't bother me nearly as much as actual cigarette smoke, so that's a good thing.  I do still cough on occasion, but way less than before.  I think I'm just working the irritation out of my system still.

    I am still using the purifier that we originally got and it's been working well in the area that I spend the most time in.  We don't have to replace our furnace filter right now so I'm not sure how much more it will improve once we do.  I'm sure it can't hurt.

    I would say this situation overall is now livable, so that makes me happy and I can actually breathe a little easier!

  • Pljohns

    That sounds great! I'm so glad they we willing to listen to your Mom and have made some changes.  Every little bit helps!

  • K8sMom2002

    Yay! And that's fabulous that they're willing to help pay for the duct cleaning! 

    What sort of furnace filter do you have now? I could see a big difference when I changed the types of filters in our forced air system. I'd been buying filters that didn't filter out pollen or dander or other allergens, but when I made the switch, I could tell a great deal of difference.

    I also realized that in my house, I need to change filters a bit more frequently than other people who may not have asthma. 

  • Kathy P

    That's great that you were able to work with the neighbors to find a solution that is working for both of you. I'm glad you are better able to breathe more easily at home.

    Since there are still some times when they smoke and some lingering issues, you may want to talk to you doctor about it just to be sure you are doing all you can. 

  • Pljohns

    Kupo-how's the smoke?  I hope better and I'm so glad the neighbors were willing to listen.

  • K8sMom2002

    @Kupo, I hope that things are continuing to go well, and your neighbors are still cooperating. I still think your mom was fabulous for politely and firmly talking to them directly. 

  • Jen

    @Kupo Are you still coughing or have you found that your cough has cleared since the neighbors have made some changes?

  • K8sMom2002

    I thought about this thread the other night when I first saw the stripped down barebones commercial the tobacco companies are now having to put on primetime TV (at least in the US). Has anyone else seen the new smoking warning ads that the cigarette companies are having to put out? 

    AAFA has a new blog about it, which is what made me think of it: . Maybe less people will smoke, which would be less triggers for me!

    @Kupo, how are you doing with your neighbors? Are they still not smoking? Or have they slid back to their old ways?