allergies

Children’s Health: A link between Allergies, Asthma and School Attendance

By Marcia Anderson

 Cockroach allergens are linked to children’s asthma

Cockroach allergens are linked to children’s asthma

Many schools have shown a high incidence of students missing valuable school days due to asthma and allergies. In many of the same schools that report a high incidence of absenteeism, we have also found cockroach infestations in cafeterias, storage closets and teacher break rooms.

Is there a relationship between cockroach exposure, allergies and asthma?

Most people with asthma have allergic responses in their bronchial tubes when they breathe in particles of the right size and shape and composed of materials recognized by their immune system. Exposure to things like mold, cat dander, ragweed, pollen, and rodent and cockroach droppings can elicit an allergic reaction.

The proteins in cockroach feces and their decomposing bodies are of just the right size to be lifted into the air, inhaled and recognized by the immune system as a signal to make an allergic reaction in some people. This is asthma. Airborne cockroach allergens will stick to particles, like dust, that quickly settle onto dust-trapping fabrics found on upholstered furniture, carpets and curtains. Activities like vacuuming, or even walking may stir up these allergens.

An asthma attack can happen when a student is exposed to “asthma triggers.” One child’s triggers can be very different from those of another child or an adult with asthma.

What Causes the Allergic Reaction? The job of the immune system is to find foreign substances, such as viruses and bacteria, and get rid of them. This protects us from dangerous diseases. People with allergies have supersensitive immune systems that react when they inhale, swallow or touch certain substances such as pollen or dust that contain the allergens. Some people are born with allergies. Others seem to acquire these allergic sensitivities as they grow older.

Asthma Studies: A 2014 study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology showed marked geographic differences in allergen exposure and sensitivity in inner city children. Early exposure to cockroach allergens can actually cause asthma to develop in preschool aged children. Inhaling particles from cockroaches can cause coughing and wheezing in babies less than 12 months of age. A lack of understanding about asthma and its treatment may cause further risk of severe, undertreated asthma. In many low income communities, coughing and wheezing are accepted as part of normal growing up and medical care may not be sought because it isn’t considered necessary, or it is too difficult to access.

A National Institutes of Health research project demonstrated a definitive connection between income and the severity of asthma in the population (http://www.nih.gov/news/pr/sept98/niaid-21.htm). The study compared people hospitalized for asthma in six major U.S. cities. It found that the lower the average income, the more frequent the need for hospitalization for severe asthmatic attacks.

Exposure to the things that stimulate asthma like cockroaches, second hand smoke, mold, and air pollution are often greater in poor households. In dwellings where the amount of cockroach allergens are high, exposure is high and the rate of hospitalization for asthma goes up.

Keeping your home and family safe: The EPA recommends that you use Integrated Pest Management (IPM), a smart, sensible and sustainable approach to pest control. Smart because IPM creates a safer and healthier environment by managing pests and reducing children’s exposure to pests and pesticides. Sensible since practical strategies are used to reduce sources of food, water and shelter for pests in buildings. Sustainable because the emphasis is on prevention that makes it an economically advantageous approach.

Actions you can take: From cracks to drain traps to groceries, cockroaches can find a way into your home in the oddest of places. Focus on sanitation to eliminate food sources, moisture sources, and harborage for the insects. At least every two to three days, vacuum or sweep areas that might attract cockroaches.

Allergen concentrations are generally highest in kitchens where there is plenty of food and water for cockroaches. Keep counters, sinks, tables and floors clean, dry and free of clutter. Clean dishes, crumbs and spills right away. Store food in airtight containers. Seal cracks or openings around or inside cabinets to keep cockroaches out.

Next are bedrooms where people inhale the allergens that have settled into bedding. Wash bedding regularly in hot water and remove any unnecessary fabrics like curtains and upholstered furniture. Replace carpeting with smooth flooring that can be damp-mopped.

Controlling Cockroaches. To prevent and treat cockroach infestations in your home use IPM methods first – sanitation followed by low-impact pesticides such as baits, or gels.

EPA offers more information about cockroaches and asthma along with a Citizen’s Guide to Pest Control and Pesticide Safety. We also recommend reviewing EPA’s Asthma Checklist and exploring the EPA-sponsored Asthma Community Network website.

About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Children’s Health: A link between Allergies, Asthma and School Attendance

By Marcia Anderson

 Cockroach allergens are linked to children’s asthma

Cockroach allergens are linked to children’s asthma

Many schools have shown a high incidence of students missing valuable school days due to asthma and allergies. In many of the same schools that report a high incidence of absenteeism, we have also found cockroach infestations in cafeterias, storage closets and teacher break rooms.

Is there a relationship between cockroach exposure, allergies and asthma?

Most people with asthma have allergic responses in their bronchial tubes when they breathe in particles of the right size and shape and composed of materials recognized by their immune system. Exposure to things like mold, cat dander, ragweed, pollen, and rodent and cockroach droppings can elicit an allergic reaction.

The proteins in cockroach feces and their decomposing bodies are of just the right size to be lifted into the air, inhaled and recognized by the immune system as a signal to make an allergic reaction in some people. This is asthma. Airborne cockroach allergens will stick to particles, like dust, that quickly settle onto dust-trapping fabrics found on upholstered furniture, carpets and curtains. Activities like vacuuming, or even walking may stir up these allergens.

An asthma attack can happen when a student is exposed to “asthma triggers.” One child’s triggers can be very different from those of another child or an adult with asthma.

What Causes the Allergic Reaction? The job of the immune system is to find foreign substances, such as viruses and bacteria, and get rid of them. This protects us from dangerous diseases. People with allergies have supersensitive immune systems that react when they inhale, swallow or touch certain substances such as pollen or dust that contain the allergens. Some people are born with allergies. Others seem to acquire these allergic sensitivities as they grow older.

Asthma Studies: A 2014 study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology showed marked geographic differences in allergen exposure and sensitivity in inner city children. Early exposure to cockroach allergens can actually cause asthma to develop in preschool aged children. Inhaling particles from cockroaches can cause coughing and wheezing in babies less than 12 months of age. A lack of understanding about asthma and its treatment may cause further risk of severe, undertreated asthma. In many low income communities, coughing and wheezing are accepted as part of normal growing up and medical care may not be sought because it isn’t considered necessary, or it is too difficult to access.

A National Institutes of Health research project demonstrated a definitive connection between income and the severity of asthma in the population (http://www.nih.gov/news/pr/sept98/niaid-21.htm). The study compared people hospitalized for asthma in six major U.S. cities. It found that the lower the average income, the more frequent the need for hospitalization for severe asthmatic attacks.

Exposure to the things that stimulate asthma like cockroaches, second hand smoke, mold, and air pollution are often greater in poor households. In dwellings where the amount of cockroach allergens are high, exposure is high and the rate of hospitalization for asthma goes up.

Keeping your home and family safe: The EPA recommends that you use Integrated Pest Management (IPM), a smart, sensible and sustainable approach to pest control. Smart because IPM creates a safer and healthier environment by managing pests and reducing children’s exposure to pests and pesticides. Sensible since practical strategies are used to reduce sources of food, water and shelter for pests in buildings. Sustainable because the emphasis is on prevention that makes it an economically advantageous approach.

Actions you can take: From cracks to drain traps to groceries, cockroaches can find a way into your home in the oddest of places. Focus on sanitation to eliminate food sources, moisture sources, and harborage for the insects. At least every two to three days, vacuum or sweep areas that might attract cockroaches.

Allergen concentrations are generally highest in kitchens where there is plenty of food and water for cockroaches. Keep counters, sinks, tables and floors clean, dry and free of clutter. Clean dishes, crumbs and spills right away. Store food in airtight containers. Seal cracks or openings around or inside cabinets to keep cockroaches out.

Next are bedrooms where people inhale the allergens that have settled into bedding. Wash bedding regularly in hot water and remove any unnecessary fabrics like curtains and upholstered furniture. Replace carpeting with smooth flooring that can be damp-mopped.

Controlling Cockroaches. To prevent and treat cockroach infestations in your home use IPM methods first – sanitation followed by low-impact pesticides such as baits, or gels.

EPA offers more information about cockroaches and asthma along with a Citizen’s Guide to Pest Control and Pesticide Safety. We also recommend reviewing EPA’s Asthma Checklist and exploring the EPA-sponsored Asthma Community Network website.

About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

It’s Not Getting Any Easier for People with Ragweed Pollen Allergies

By Erin Birgfeld

“Close the windows!” my father’s voice boomed through the house. “Are you trying to kill me? I have hay fever, you know!”

Back from college for the summer, I had opened all the windows to enjoy a mild summer day, so rare in the Washington, DC, area. What I had forgotten was that my father has allergies to all types of pollen. So while I enjoyed the fresh breeze, the open windows also let in those tiny pollen grains that tortured him every year. Sure, my dad could be a little overdramatic— hay fever (the common term for allergies to ragweed and other types of pollen) wasn’t going to kill him. But it does cause his seasonal sneezing, watery eyes, and aggravates his asthma.

My father isn’t the only one avoiding the sweet spring and summer breezes. More than half of Americans have at least one allergy, with hay fever accounting for more than 13 million visits to physicians’ offices and other medical facilities every year. One of the most common environmental allergens is ragweed, which can cause hay fever and trigger asthma attacks, especially in children and the elderly.

And unfortunately, the news for those suffering from ragweed allergies isn’t good. It turns out that climate change can have an effect on pollen and allergy season. Warmer spring temperatures cause some plants to produce pollen earlier and to keep producing later into the fall season. Plus, increased carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations allow ragweed and other plants to produce more pollen overall. That means more pollen for longer periods of the year! Yikes!

EPA’s Indicators of Climate Change Report features data from the National Allergy Bureau that shows that the length of ragweed pollen season has already expanded by 12-26 days in 8 of the 10 cities where data was collected between 1995 and 2011. Interestingly, ragweed pollen season length increased the most in northern latitudes and less in the south. If this trend continues, people allergic to ragweed pollen will have to deal with bothersome symptoms for longer. That’s nothing to sneeze at.

Dad, what does this mean for you? Since climate change could prolong allergy season for millions of Americans, it’s probably a good thing you moved to Florida…at least for the sake of your hay fever. The climate change impacts on sea level rise and hurricanes is another story, though.

About the author: Erin Birgfeld is the Communications Director for the Climate Change Division within the Office of Air and Radiation. When she’s not working to protect the environment, Erin enjoys hanging out with her two young children, and doing a bit of swimming and biking when she can find the time.

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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Staying Active with Asthma

runner

In celebration of Asthma Awareness Month, I thought it would be fun to talk with a student who has asthma herself.  I interviewed Shannyn, an energetic 10 year-old who taught me all about what it is like to have asthma.  Shannyn let me know that she doesn’t let asthma get in the way of her active lifestyle and love of playing outdoors with her sisters and friends. At around age 3, Shannyn experienced her first asthma attack.  She explained to me that an asthma attack is an episode, accompanied by wheezing and coughing, which makes it very difficult to breathe.  Triggers, such as dust, chemicals and seasonal allergies, are things that can provoke the event of an asthma attack.  Lucky enough for this smart girl, she knows to avoid these triggers by staying away from heavy bathroom cleaners and helping her mom to clean the house of dust.  

Asthma doesn’t get in the way of Shannyn’s busy lifestyle.  Her love of running club, tumbling, soccer, kickball and playing in the pool are what keep Shannyn going.  By taking a daily preventative inhaler, she is able to participate in these sports and after school activities.  Shannyn is careful to also carry her rescue inhaler with her when going for runs, in case this physical activity makes her asthma worse.  She let me know that although her asthma can sometimes make it hard to keep up with others when running, that she has a few good friends that will run at a steady pace with her.  I am impressed with all the fun, physical activities this girl does!  When telling me about how she is teaching one of her friends how to do a kart wheel, I asked if she could teach me.  At age 22, I still haven’t picked up how to do a kart-wheel. 

It’s no secret that Shannyn doesn’t let her asthma define how she spends her time and what kinds of activities she does.  By knowing which triggers to avoid, taking the proper medication, and doing routine activities like running club to control her asthma, Shannyn is able to live a very spirited life.  She is looking forward to the summer, where she is planning to spend lots of time swimming in the pool with her two sisters.  She has even started to plan her next birthday party, where she and friends will have a spa day.  Shannyn let me know that asthma doesn’t get in the way of staying active and having fun with friends and family.  She is a role model to people of all ages who have asthma.

Shelby Egan was an extern in the EPA’s Air and Radiation Division in Region 5. She is currently obtaining her Master’s degree in Urban Planning and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  She has a passion for protecting natural resources, cities she’s never been to and cooking any recipe by The Pioneer Woman. 

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.