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Talking Asthma for the Science Notebook

2010 May 12

When I sat down at the microphone I took a deep breath and was immediately thankful I don’t suffer from asthma: that I could take a deep breath. Sometimes being a science communicator means lending your vocal talents to the cause, even when you don’t think your vocal chords sound all that pleasing to the ear.

But this is for science and getting the word out. Okay, I’m in.

I was hosting the “EPA’s Coordinated Approach” podcast for the Science Notebook: Asthma. So there I was, sitting in the EPA studio’s recording booth next to Alisa Smith of the Office of Air and Radiation. Joining us via the phone from EPA’s campus in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, were Susan Stone, also from the Office of Air and Radiation, and Dan Costa, EPA’s National Program Director for Clean Air Research.

After a quick sound check from each of us we went straight into the discussion: what asthma is, how EPA research is offering promising insights into the disease, the connection between air pollution and tools such as the Air Quality Index (AQI) and how they can help you understand what local air quality means to your health and asthma management. We jammed a lot of info into 11 minutes!

Explore the additional podcasts on the Science Notebook including those with:

  • Martha Sue Carraway, an EPA medical officer and scientist discusses her investigations into the respiratory and cardiovascular effects of air pollution exposure in older adults with asthma.
  • EPA health scientist Lucas Neas talks about his work on the Inner City Asthma Study, which evaluated the health benefits of feasible changes in the home environment of inner city children with moderate to severe asthma.
  • Marsha Ward, an EPA scientist, talks about the role of mold in asthma incidence alongside a slide show.

Check out the wealth of science information in the Notebook, scientific posters on EPA asthma research, videos and PSAs – information that can help you or someone you care about ward off an asthma attack. Be sure to take the quizzes “What Triggers Asthma Attacks?” and “Who’s Got Asthma?” and “It Takes A Village” — use the comments section below to let us know how you did and what you learned!

About the Author: Melissa-Anley Mills is the news director for EPA’s Office of Research and Development. She joined the Agency in 1998 as a National Urban Fellow.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Science Wednesday are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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18 Responses leave one →
  1. paul permalink
    May 12, 2010


  2. armansyahardanis permalink
    May 12, 2010

    After repeated to read about many asthma, maybe we need to redesign urban city will become hospitalized city for the future…

  3. Jerry Thomas permalink
    May 12, 2010

    Very interesting components to discuss.Great point and prospective.


    Jerry Thomas

  4. Mark Martin permalink
    May 12, 2010

    Hi, loved your article. Thanks for all the great work you and the EPA are doing. One question, how does the volcano in iceland impact people’s asthma? What is the EPA doing to stop this?

  5. Tom Midgley permalink
    May 12, 2010

    Three asthma articles so far this month. Is someone trying to change the ozone NAAQS or something? 80, 75, 65, 60 ppb. No, the standard must be zero!

    Wait, didn’t EPA ban chlorofluorocarbons because they destroy ozone?

    First ozone is good, then ozone is bad. First the earth is cooling, then the earth is warming. Now, the climate is just changing. We don’t know how exactly, but it’s your fault and you need EPA to protect you. (Thank us.)

  6. Verdi permalink
    May 12, 2010

    Hey, wait a minute. What is a National Urban Fellow? Is this article just another way to use the public’s concern for the environment to redistribute wealth?


    But what is social justice?


    At first we were all created equally. We benefited as a result of our contributions. Now we all have the right to benefit equally, regardless of our contributions?

  7. Jack permalink
    May 13, 2010

    Thanks to the information given on this blog about asthama,

  8. Robin Jackman permalink
    May 13, 2010

    Thanks for sharing such a useful information about Asthma for the Science Notebook.

  9. melissaEPA permalink
    May 13, 2010

    Hi Tom,
    May is Asthma Awareness Month and World Asthma Day was May 4.

  10. melissaEPA permalink
    May 13, 2010

    Thanks all! The scientists and experts who contributed their knowledge and created the Asthma Science Notebook did a wonderful job and i’m glad to have had a little role in pointing you to it all via this blog :-)

  11. melissaEPA permalink
    May 13, 2010

    Hi Mark, you’re absolutely right volcanic dust would also be a trigger for asthmatics. Here’s some feedback from our air research expert:

    Asthmatics have airways that are “twitchy” and often are sensitive to specific airborne materials like allergens from cats, dust mites, or plant fragments. Often these folks also are hyper-responsive to nonspecific materials including all sorts of dusts that may trigger “mechanical” receptors in the airways – responding just to the the presence or deposition of a dust particle(s) on the receptor(s) in the throat. The reaction of the airways (asthma reaction) is very much like that from an inhaled irritant like those found in urban air pollution. So with volcanic dust, even small amounts that you may not even see except as a vague haze may be enough to trigger these mechanical receptors and cause airway narrowing and breathing discomfort. How do we minimize an asthma attack in these instances – staying indoors, wearing a dust mask (found in hardware stores) – even if only a surgical mask is available to stop the largest particles – can help those with asthma. Physical exertion such as running when the air is affected would not be wise. If you have an inhaler prescribed to you,keep it handy.

    More information on asthma can be found here

  12. Tom permalink
    May 13, 2010

    Oh, silly me. I thought it had something to do with this:

  13. permalink
    May 14, 2010

    Gracias a la EPA por difundir informacion acerca de los problemas mas importantes que nos preocupan a todos,unsaludo desde ESPAÑA-MADRID.ciao

  14. Michael E. Bailey permalink
    May 17, 2010

    I have seen a study by California Air Resources Board that points to diesel particulates as the main health problem today in air pollution. More cases of breathing and heart problems can be found in people who live near busy freeways, rail yards, truck terminals, and ports. Many of these persons are disabled and lower income and have to live in these areas because the cost of housing is less there. We should work toward cleaner fuels. Move a way from diesel like we did lead in gasoline and move toward hydrogen powered or all-electric powered vehicles with solar power used to manufacture the hydrogen and to recharge the batteries of all-electric powered vehicles. Best wishes, Michael E. Bailey.

  15. Jim permalink
    May 18, 2010

    The children of the world will be facing the global problem of finding fresh water. I suspect my great grandchildren will not be able to shower, wash cloths, dishes, and swim as our generation was able too.

  16. Richard Friedel permalink
    December 19, 2010

    A relevant but strangely ignored or not generally known fact about asthma is that the change between weak (asthmatic) and strong (healthy) breathing is dependent on abdominal muscle tension. Slackening the muscles here causes abysmally weak and asthmatic breathing. Training the muscles, for example by “abdominal hollowing” (see Web articles) produces an antiasthmatic effect. Abdominal muscle tension plays a prominent part in Asian martial arts. I tend to breathe asthmatically after an evening meal or in pollen-laden air.
    So it is fair to assume that there is a natural breathing spectrum with an asthmatic tendency at one end and Ku Fu or Karate breathing at the other end. For a few words on the Japanese version of Asian breathing see
    Breathing powerfully into my lower abdomen with tensed muscles provides an effective cure for me. But then I’ve always been sceptical about medical wisdom on asthma: such a paradoxical and doctor-baffling increase in the last 40 years with modern inhalers. Respectfully, Richard Friedel

  17. Bollywood Music Reviews permalink
    December 29, 2010

    really amazing information sharing and i just like your blog because of informative content.

  18. Ronin Athletics permalink
    February 27, 2013

    I practice martial arts and I suffer from Asthma. I pay attention to the air quality details and I take my medication, and I am fortunate to have the ability to maintain my cardiovascular health through this type of regimen.

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