Asthma’s in the air

Asthma Awareness Month focuses on taking control of disease

By: Cari DeLamielleure-Scott | C&G Newspapers | Published May 7, 2015

METRO DETROIT — May is Asthma Awareness Month, and local doctors and the American Lung Association are urging the approximately 25 million people in the United States who suffer from asthma to learn how to take control of the disease.

The American Lung Association strives to reduce lung disease and promotes lung health. According to Emily Lee, senior director of programs for the American Lung Association of the Midland States, Asthma Awareness Month is particularly important because even if someone doesn’t have asthma, a chronic disease, more than likely they know someone affected by it.

“It’s not something (where asthmatics) take a pill every day. They’re managing it every day,” Lee said.

Asthma is defined as an obstructive airway disease that is reversible, as opposed to chronic obstruction, like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, said Dr. Christian Nageotte, program director for the allergy and immunology fellowship with Henry Ford Health System. While COPD is commonly seen in older individuals, asthma, which affects about one in 12 people, can occur at any stage of life.

“There was a dramatic increase noted from 1977-1994 in the number of asthma-related deaths,” but from 1994-2006, the number of deaths “slightly dropped,” Nageotte said.

Asthma causes a person’s airway to narrow, causing symptoms like coughing, wheezing or shortness of breath, but not all three symptoms have to occur every time, Nageotte said.

“Up to 50 percent of kids can have wheezing episodes and not have asthma. But if it’s occurrences of three or more episodes over a period of time, those kids might be at risk of getting that diagnosis before their fifth birthday,” Nageotte said. If a child has a parent with asthma, or has a diagnosis of eczema or allergies, they are at risk of having an asthma diagnosis, also.

Triggers of asthma can include allergens, cold air, tobacco smoke, volatile compounds — like paint thinners and sealants — cleaning products with citrus oils, gas ranges, smoke from wood combustion, and upper respiratory infections with a viral illness. Several studies have shown that living near high-volume traffic, especially diesel exhaust, can also cause asthma symptoms, Nageotte said.

To take control of the disease, Nageotte said people should be aware of and avoid their triggers, maintain a healthy diet — limit omega 6 fatty acids — and maintain an active lifestyle.

By withdrawing from activities, people with asthma can have worsening lung function. Walking, swimming or other physical activity is important to maintain proper lung function, Nageotte said.

Lee agreed: “There’s nothing  (asthmatics) can’t do that everyone else does.”

The American Lung Association suggests the following tips for taking control of asthma:

• Schedule a checkup.

• Get tested for allergies.

• Reduce exposure to asthma triggers, and have your current rescue inhaler on you at all times.

• Increase your asthma knowledge and awareness.

• Protect your lungs from air pollution.

An asthma action plan is available on the American Lung Association’s website, www.lung.org.

Asthma can be treated with albuterol for short-term and emergency relief, Nageotte said. Depending on how frequently a person is experiencing symptoms, inhaled steroids can be prescribed to prevent scarring from occurring. In the last five to 10 years, Nageotte said, some medications have been developed to specifically target allergic asthmatics, including an injection that is given every two to four weeks, depending on a patient’s size and level of immunoglobulin E, an antibody in the blood.

At press time, Macomb and Oakland counties’ ozone levels were given an “F” grade by the American Lung Association. These unhealthy levels, Nageotte said, are concerning because the counties don’t typically see grades like this until August, when the hot weather is compounded with the “ultraviolet radiation by the sun and the use of internal combustion engines producing a lot of that hot material.”

People who suffer from asthma should stay indoors when the pollution levels are unhealthy.

“It sounds like a bummer, but that’s the reality of it. They should spend as much time in an air-conditioned environment and avoid going outdoors until later in the evening, after sunset,” Nageotte said.

Typically, the unhealthy ozone levels are seen in the summer, but because “the state of the air is worse” now in Michigan, Lee said the American Lung Association is seeing more unhealthy days this time of year, based on weighted averages of pollution taken last year.

“With our changing weather in Michigan and Ohio, this year we have been seeing it at times we normally don’t. We have weather that’s … in the high 70s and then it’s in the 50s and then the 30s. It goes up and down,” Lee said, adding that fluctuating temperatures contribute to the worsened ozone.

Air pollution can be monitored by visiting www.stateoftheair.org. By checking the air quality forecast daily, Lee said, people with asthma can determine if they need to limit their exposure on days with poor air quality.

People can take action to improve the county’s low grade, Lee said. Individually, people should wait to put gasoline in cars until after 7 p.m., avoid idling their cars and cut grass in the evening.

For more information about the American Lung Association or asthma, visit www.lung.org.