About the author: Brenda Reyes Tomassini joined EPA in 2002. She is a public affairs specialist in the San Juan, Puerto Rico office and also handles community relations for the Caribbean Environmental Protection Division.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, my husband and I took the kids kite flying to El Morro Fort in San Juan. Our three year-old marveled at the hundreds of kites in the sky and flew his with our help. But what caught his attention and gave him the most thrills throughout the sunny afternoon was rolling down the hills that surround the El Morro’s esplanade. Soon he forgot about his colorful kite and left his father and sister to enjoy the afternoon while I watched him roll in the grass. By Sunday morning all fun had disappeared from his face as he had developed a full blown asthma attack. While trying to pinpoint what had been the trigger and reviewing our daily routine, only one thing stood out: rolling on the grass. I know that mold, strong odors, second hand smoke and Sahara dust particles can trigger an asthma attack in my son, but I was dumbfounded this time. After some research I found out that nearly 80% of adults and children with asthma are allergic to trees, pollen and grass. While browsing for information I stumbled upon EPA’s Asthma Research Strategy where scientists study and develop an understanding of exposure, health effects, risk assessment, and risk management of indoor and outdoor environmental pollutants linked to asthma. This site was very helpful since it provides additional resources and publications related to projects supported by EPA. Among the studies that caught my attention were those that linked susceptibility and genetic factors with environmental exposures.
Even though I have identified most indoor triggers, and EPA provides a great wealth of information in that area, I was working on identifying outdoor environmental stressors. My search yielded the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences of the National Institutes of Health site. One interesting, but simple thing I learned on its website was to avoid outdoor activities on windy days. That made perfect sense since February through April is the windy or “kite” season in Puerto Rico. I also learned that most common grasses can trigger an allergic reaction in asthma patients. Now armed with this new information I can work better on identifying other outdoor environmental asthma stressors for my child.