World Asthma Month looks at what leaves people breathless

By: Sherri Kolade | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published May 24, 2017

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WEST BLOOMFIELD  — World Asthma Month may almost be over, but breathing properly is certainly important for a lifetime.

It might not be common knowledge that keeping asthma symptoms at bay and breathing easier can be based on what people with asthma eat.

Kathleen Slonager, executive director of the West Bloomfield-based Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, Michigan Chapter, said asthma can be exacerbated by unhealthy foods, including excess carbs. It can be better regulated, however, by a proper diet including leafy greens and other healthy foods.

Slonager said World Asthma Month is celebrated nationally and worldwide in May.

“It is all about bringing awareness to asthma,” she said, adding that in a lot of cases, people don’t treat asthma with the seriousness it needs. 

“A lot of times, folks, consumers, feel that asthma is kind of a come-and-go disease.”

She added that some people might think it is not that urgent, just a little problem with coughing. 

“So what we want to impart is it is a chronic disease that needs excellent care and management, and that it can be fatal,” she said.

Slonager said too many in Michigan, especially Detroit, die from asthma.

“Our asthma mortality is high, and Detroit is the epicenter of deaths in Michigan,” Slonager said, adding that over 90 percent of those deaths should not be happening. 

Slonager said the nonprofit organization’s Facebook page has daily posts of asthma facts, information on making sure schools are safe for people with asthma, and tips on what triggers asthma — smoke, pollen, animals, dust, etc.

Slonager said that sometimes people can get a good handle on their asthma without taking more medicine by learning what their triggers are, understanding those triggers, and trying to remove or reduce their exposure to them.

“It goes very far,” she said, adding that sometimes people think there is not much they can do about triggers. “But truly reducing or removing the triggers in your environment go a long way toward good asthma control.”

Slonager added that many times it’s discovered that people are dying from asthma attacks because they are not on the right kind of medication or are only taking short-acting or rescue medication, instead of a daily controller.

It doesn’t matter if asthma is mild or severe — it can still kill, she said.

Slonager said some common mistakes people with asthma make are not taking their medication, or taking it only for a few weeks and stopping when they feel better. 

“There are so many variables there, but people can die from asthma when they have any level of severity,” she said.

In 2015 in Michigan, 110 people died due to asthma. That is down from about 300 people five years ago and over 500 people 10 years ago.

“We’re doing something right,” she said, adding that hospitalizations and emergency visits are still high and can negatively impact people’s quality of life. 

“They’ve improved a little bit, but not as dramatically as what we see with the deaths there were.”

There were 13,000 asthma-related hospital stays in 2013.

The takeaway is that asthma is a chronic disease with no cure, but it is very manageable by reducing or removing trigger exposure and taking the right kinds of medicine, she said.

“The right way at the right time,” Slonager said.

Dr. Elliott Attisha, a pediatrician with Henry Ford Health System’s School-Based and Community Health Program, said in an emailed statement that low-income and minority students are at increased risk for health problems. Recent numbers show that over 25,000 Detroit children suffer from asthma.

“Those are just the ones that we know about,” he said. “Yet due to existing barriers, transportation included, many of these children lack an ongoing relationship with a health provider and are left without the necessary medications to keep their asthma under control.”

He added that the most common chronic disease of childhood, asthma, is also a leading health contributor to missed school days, with 13.8 million days missed annually in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “That doesn’t account for all those days that a child makes it to school but was up coughing all night and is now either distracted, acting out or falling asleep in class.”

Attisha said that Henry Ford is one of the many organizations that is doing great work to address childhood asthma in Detroit. 

Through its school-based and community health program, the hospital is able to bring asthma and other health services directly to Detroit’s children. 

“We even started a medication delivery program to ensure that children receive their medication,” he said, adding that the hope is to soon launch a Breathmobile program — a state-of-the-art asthma clinic on wheels — that will visit Detroit schools and allow doctors to take asthma work to the “next level.”

“Most importantly, it will provide Detroit’s children who suffer from asthma the tools and resources they need to create a healthy learning environment, while also allowing them to perform day-to-day activities without their asthma getting in the way,” he said.

For more information or to donate to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, Michigan Chapter, go to