Asthma action plan

The Latino Asthma Conundrum

By Elias Rodriguez

Franklin D. Roosevelt East River Drive

Franklin D. Roosevelt East River Drive

It was a hazy and hot day as I sat in my grade school New York City classroom. Suddenly, everyone’s attention was drawn to my classmate’s wheezing and labored breathing. Àngel was one of the biggest kids in our class, but he was clearly in distress and the memory of his pain is vivid. I now understand that my friend was having an asthma attack. Thankfully, our teacher knew precisely what to do and she had his inhaler inside her desk and ready.

Our Manhattan public school was located adjacent to a major highway known as the FDR Drive, which snakes up Manhattan’s eastside near the Williamsburg Bridge. The combination of high population density, cars, trucks and industrial activity was a recipe for dismal  air quality.

Àngel and many of my inner-city cohort shared a Puerto Rican ancestry. To this day, I remain puzzled by the disproportionately high asthma rate among Latinos. Latinos are 30 percent more likely to go to the hospital for asthma, as compared to non-Hispanic Whites. For reasons that are not fully understood, Puerto Ricans have double the asthma rate as compared to the overall Latino population.

While asthma rates have increased in the general population over the past two decades- what accounts for the alarming disparities? Are the reasons economic? Do groups in the lower income strata demonstrate more adverse health effects as a result of limited resources and less access to quality medical care?  Is the reason pegged to location? Does the propensity of certain groups to seek jobs in metropolitan areas lead to higher incidence in geographic clusters? Could culture be a culprit? Spanish was the first language of my parents and there are links between limited-English proficiency and barriers to quality care. We’d love to hear your theories. Solving this socio-economic-medical mystery is imperative for all of us since it is estimated that medical expenses associated with asthma cost a staggering $50 billion every year.

The explanation for these asthma rates among demographic groups is complex and multidisciplinary. The good news is that we have the power to take proactive steps. May is Asthma Awareness Month and it’s a great opportunity to remind people that having an Asthma Action Plan is one of the key tips EPA offers to people who live with asthma. EPA also encourages people to check local air quality at Air Now. The site uses a color-coded system to display whether pollutants exceed air quality standards and indicates the air’s impact on different populations. Give it a try at airnow.gov. Grab a tool. Get a plan and Adelante.

About the Author: Elias serves as EPA Region 2’s bilingual public information officer. Prior to joining EPA, the proud Nuyorican worked at Time Inc. conducting research for TIME, LIFE, FORTUNE and PEOPLE magazines. He is a graduate of Hunter College, Baruch College and the Theological Institute of the Assembly of Christian Churches in NYC.

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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Did Teddy’s Bear Cause His Asthma Attacks?

By Elias Rodriguez

Furry toys may attract dust and allergens.

Furry toys may attract dust and allergens.

What famous native New Yorker charged through life unimpeded by his frequent bouts with asthma? This person was the only U.S. President born in the Big Apple. He excelled at sports, hunting, ranching and making every day a reason to be active. He was an avid nature lover. Nearly 230 million acres of land and 150 national forests were preserved thanks to him. Have you guessed yet? Here’s a final clue. He is prominently featured in the contemporary classic film, A Night at the Museum. Yes! The answer is Teddy Roosevelt, the gentleman Teddy Bears are named after.

Our 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt, was born at 28 East 20th Street, New York City on October 27, 1858. Despite being born into a wealthy family that had ample access to the best medical experts of his day, Roosevelt’s coughing, wheezing and asthma attacks were frequent. Roosevelt’s vigorous hobbies and adventures prove that you can enjoy an active lifestyle in spite of asthma. May is Asthma Awareness Month and it’s important for parents, caregivers and children to learn more about this disease and its triggers.

Pollutants in the outdoor air, including particulates (soot!) and ozone (smog!) are major asthma triggers. When ozone levels increase, most commonly in the summer months, they can affect people’s health, especially children with asthma. Ozone can irritate the respiratory system, causing coughing, throat irritation and aggravating asthma. When ozone levels are high, more people with asthma have attacks that require a doctor’s attention or medication. Asthma triggers include pets, pesticides, cockroaches, dust mites, mold and cigarette (secondhand) smoke. Ozone makes people more sensitive to allergens, which are common triggers of asthma attacks and lead to increased hospital admissions and emergency room visits.

Having an Asthma Action Plan is one of the key tips EPA offers to people who live with asthma. People can learn to control their symptoms and still be very active. Keep in mind that Roosevelt was famous for his love for the outdoors and his message of living The Strenuous Life.

So, did Teddy’s bear cause his asthma attacks? No. The Teddy Bear was not created until Theodore was a grown-up and already serving as President. Furry toys may attract dust and allergens but a thorough cleaning should keep you and your pals in healthy harmony.

About the Author: Elias serves as EPA Region 2’s bilingual public information officer. Prior to joining EPA, the proud Nuyorican worked at Time Inc. conducting research for TIME, LIFE, FORTUNE and PEOPLE magazines. He is a graduate of Hunter College, Baruch College and the Theological Institute of the Assembly of Christian Churches in NYC.

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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Have a Question About Asthma?

By Jessica Orquina

Asthma is a serious, chronic disease that is aggravated by environmental triggers, like pollution, mold, and smoke. Here are some basics:

  • Americans with asthma: over 25 million people, including about 7 million kids.
  •  School days missed because of asthma: 10.5 million annually.

The good news is that with medical treatment, and management of environmental triggers, it can be controlled.  That means people with asthma can lead healthy, active lives. However, it’s important to have an asthma action plan and pay attention to the Air Quality Index. Air Quality Awareness Week is April 28 through May 2 and May is Asthma Awareness Month is, so this is a great time to talk about and learn about asthma.

On Thursday, May 1, at 2:00 pm EDT, we’re hosting a Twitter chat about asthma and outdoor air quality. Our experts will be joined by experts from CDC to answer your questions about asthma, air quality, and how to create an asthma action plan. Join the conversation: follow the #asthma hashtag, @EPAlive, and @CDCenvironment. If you don’t have a Twitter account, you can post your questions in the comments below and follow the #asthma hashtag during the chat. We look forward to talking with you!

About the author: Jessica Orquina works in the Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education as the social media lead for the agency. Prior to joining EPA, she served as a military and commercial airline pilot. She lives, works, and writes in Washington, DC.

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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Asthma Awareness Month: Part III

By Elias Rodriguez

On a rainy, Friday the 13th the last in a long line of seven children was born to a Puerto Rican immigrant in Manhattan’s Beth Israel Hospital. Yep! The Big Apple welcomed me as a native New Yorker once upon a time, but no one gave me a “heads-up” about New York City’s poor air quality. Sometime around grade school I recall seeing my classmate suffer a wheezing, intense, asthma attack. Thankfully, the teacher knew what to do and she had his inhaler handy. Having an Asthma Action Plan is one of the key tips EPA offers to people who suffer from asthma. Folks can learn to control their symptoms and still maintain active lifestyles.

Here are some simple steps:

Know your Asthma Triggers and Avoid Them: Air pollution, dust mites, mold, secondhand smoke and even cockroaches can trigger asthma attacks. Learn your triggers and avoid them in your home and neighborhood.

Create an Asthma Action Plan: You can help avoid the emergency room by managing your asthma daily. With a doctor’s help, you should create an asthma action plan to help you effectively manage your asthma and reduce exposure to triggers.

Get Active: Even if you have asthma, by taking the appropriate medications and avoiding your triggers, you can still participate in sports and activities.

Be ‘Air Aware': Check local air quality conditions at airnow.gov and make informed decisions about participating in outdoor activities.

Effective execution of clean air laws has improved air quality in New York City significantly, yet it still remains important for people to manage their asthma by knowing the warning signs of attacks, avoiding things that can trigger asthma attacks, and following the advice of their healthcare providers. Children are especially vulnerable, but can learn to manage their asthma at an early age with the help of their doctors, teachers, friends, and families. So, keep up the good fight and learn to breathe easy!

About the Author: Elias serves as EPA Region 2’s bilingual public information officer. Prior to joining EPA, the proud Nuyorican worked at Time Inc. conducting research for TIME, LIFE, FORTUNE and PEOPLE magazines. He is a graduate of Hunter College, Baruch College and the Theological Institute of the Assembly of Christian Churches in NYC.

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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Create a Healthier Learning Environment with an Asthma Management Program

by Lani Wheeler

Are you interested in helping your community improve the academic performance of students?  Whether you’re involved in a parent-teacher’s organization, school sports, or you just want to be a positive influence on the schools in your community, you’ll want to take a look at your school-based asthma management program.  Working with schools in your community to integrate asthma management programs can help improve academic performance and can even lead to increases in school funding.

Without a strong school-based asthma management program, students with asthma can miss significantly more school and perform worse than students without asthma.  This can also impact the community, as parents miss work to stay home with their children. But, when students’ asthma is under good control, they can attend school and perform equally well.  Along with that, better attendance rates increase school funding for most school districts.

EPA has several resources to assist schools in their efforts to create healthier school environments and improve the lives of students and staff with asthma.  In particular, check out EPA’s Managing Asthma in the School Environment publication to learn helpful tips for putting a school-based asthma management program in place.

You can help.  These programs are guided by school health councils or wellness teams and reflect a partnership between school staff, student, parents, and asthma care clinicians. They are usually part of a school’s larger plan to assist students with any type of chronic condition, but take extra steps such as encouraging all students with asthma to have an Asthma Action Plan on file with the school.  Asthma prevention activities and education for staff, students and families are important components, too.

Reach out to the schools in your community to see if their school-based asthma management programs are providing the best support available to students with asthma. More information on managing asthma at school is available at: http://www.epa.gov/iaq/schools/managingasthma.html

About the Author: Dr. Lani Wheeler, MD, FAAP, FASHA is a public health pediatrician and consultant in environmental health. She recently co-chaired the NHLBI National Asthma Education and Prevention Program’s (NAEPP) School Education Subcommittee where she represented the American School Health Association (ASHA).

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.