Search Results for: asthma

EPA, Schools and Communities Work Together to Reduce Asthma

By Dr. Teresa Lipsett-Ruiz

Visitors to Puerto Rico often come to bask in the island’s warmth and waves. But, our tropical environment also contributes to the asthma problem that affects about 1 in 10 people here.

In close partnership with EPA, our university-based indoor air quality program builds partnerships with students, schools and the community to improve the environmental conditions in schools and reduce student absences caused by asthma. It has worked! Over the past 6 years, the schools that we’ve worked with have seen significant decreases in the number of missed school days.

Mountainous areas such as the Puerto Rican municipalities of Caguas and Gurabo are surrounded by humid valleys known as “asthma hotspots,” yet asthma education is not always available there. In response, we created a program with EPA that focuses on three key elements: (1) information resources and checklists, (2) school “walkthroughs,” and (3) partnerships with school officials and the community to physically remove indoor environmental asthma triggers.

Our program relies on EPA’s Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Tools for Schools guidance and Spanish-language indoor checklists to educate the community and schools on managing environmental asthma triggers. Working with the Puerto Rico Department of Education, we hold IAQ Workshops on asthma triggers.

During school walkthroughs, we often find pest problems—cockroaches, rats and mice—as well as moldy, wet cardboard boxes overflowing with paper. We then formulate a plan to address these asthma triggers.
At first, some teachers were skeptical. They were worried that this was another burden piled onto their busy schedules. Enthusiasm grew, however, when the students and the community began to help. As the old saying goes, “many hands make light work.” The school community came together for a “mega green cleaning” of the school. To check our effectiveness, we collected mold samples before and after our plans were put in place and mold counts dropped significantly.

With the support of school officials, we implemented our program at 32 schools, which resulted in a 38 percent reduction in student absenteeism due to asthma. Based on these impressive results, we now are expanding the program in partnership with EPA. To learn more, listen to my presentation in EPA’s Back-to-School Webinar: Managing Asthma in Schools. Our communities are proud to have improved both their health and student attendance. We invite you to pursue similar programs in your schools and community.

About the author: Dr. Lipsett-Ruiz is the Dean of the School of Science and Technology in Universidad del Turabo in Puerto Rico. Her partnership with EPA has trained more than 150 teachers in 100 schools on practical steps to asthma management. The program leverages school clubs, blogs, conferences, theater play, and role modeling exercises, along with EPA information resources to reduce student absenteeism due to asthma.

Recognizing Exceptional Asthma Programs

May is Asthma Awareness Month! Did you know that nearly 26 million Americans, including seven million children, are affected by this chronic respiratory disease? And, did you know that low income and minority populations have the highest asthma rates? Each year, EPA takes this opportunity to ramp up our public awareness campaign, strengthen our partnerships with community–based asthma organizations and highlight exceptional asthma programs.

This year we’re recognizing health plans, health providers and community-based programs with our National Environmental Leadership Award in Asthma Management  for their important contributions to close the gap in asthma disparities. It is the only national award program that recognizes organizations for exceptional leadership in developing and delivering environmental asthma management as a key component of asthma care. I am proud to recognize the organizations from Georgia, Massachusetts and Oregon for the impact that they are having on their communities:


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.

Staying Active with Asthma


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. 

Getting the Right Asthma Care to People Who Need it Most: Recognizing Community Asthma Leaders

By Gina McCarthy

We’ve done quite a bit this May to raise awareness on asthma. As this Asthma awareness month comes to a close, I want to remind folks about the important work that’s going on in communities across the country to help families manage asthma.

Nearly 26 million Americans, including seven million children, are affected by asthma, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), minority children living in poor socioeconomic conditions are at greatest risk.  Poor and minority children are more likely to have asthma and their health outcomes are worse. For example, black children are twice as likely to be hospitalized and four times as likely to die from asthma as white children. The annual economic cost of asthma, including direct medical costs from hospital stays and indirect costs such as lost school and work days, amounts to approximately $56 billion.

This year’s National Environmental Leadership Award in Asthma Management winners  are all taking steps to address these issues, including finding innovative ways to meet the needs of disproportionately impacted populations. This award is the highest recognition a program and its leaders can receive for delivering excellent environmental asthma management as part of their comprehensive asthma care services.

The 2013 award-winning programs are working in communities to get the right care to some of the people that need it the most, and EPA applauds their innovative approaches and dedication:

Greenville Health System, Greenville, South Carolina: a multidisciplinary, multilingual, family-centered program providing asthma care and management support for over 4,000 children and adolescents with asthma, especially those who have limited access to health care. Their program includes a partnership that provides home visits through a parent-to-parent support network which has led to a 71 percent decrease in urgent health care utilization.

North East Independent School District, San Antonio, Texas: an urban, diversified school district whose Asthma Awareness Education Program targets more than 8,000 students in the district with asthma. This district implements interventions that have resulted in a 70 percent reduction in annual emergency transports to hospitals during the school day.

Parkview Health System, Fort Wayne, Indiana: a nonprofit health care provider addressing the growing incidence of asthma-related illnesses in the urban, suburban and rural populations they serve. An important program component includes their Emergency Department (ED) Asthma Call Back Program that reduced repeat ED visits for asthma from almost 22 percent at baseline to 15 percent in the intervention year.

I want to thank these and the thousands of other organizations that are working to make life better for families and communities across the United States and I look forward to continuing our work together.

I also want to thank the team in our Office of Radiation and Indoor Air for their great work in making Asthma Awareness Month a success. Their efforts are helping to raise public awareness, strengthen partnerships and advance comprehensive asthma management.

Please read more about Asthma Awareness.

About the author: Gina McCarthy is the Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation.

Asthma: Public Health Issue for Hispanics

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By Fedora Cagnoli Braverman

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May is not only the month when April flowers bloom, it’s also Asthma Awareness Month.

According to MedlinePlus en español, asthma is a disease that affects your airways. It causes repeated episodes of wheezing, coughing, chest tightness and shortness of breath. It is a condition that could go from being a nuisance to extremely serious. If you don’t suffer from it, you probably know somebody who does.

But, why is asthma a public health concern? There are several reasons. Among them, it’s a chronic disease that can worsen the quality of life for the sufferer. Unfortunately, more and more people are being diagnosed with this condition.

For Latinos, though, asthma is a problem that requires attention because statistics show Hispanics are more vulnerable to it. According to the Office of Minority Health, HHS, we are more likely to visit a hospital because of asthma than non-Hispanics. Asthma is also a big problem for our children. Hispanic children are nearly twice as likely to die from asthma than non-Hispanic children. Asthma is such an important public health issue that the National Library of Medicine published several pages on its bilingual magazine (where you can see the statistics stated before) about this condition.

As a mom of two, these numbers really caught my attention. Is it possible that genetics makes us such a high risk group? There could be other problems besides genes including access (or often, lack thereof) to health information.

But thanks to years of research, there is a growing awareness about detection and management of asthma. According to EPA, it’s important to know what could trigger asthma (allergies, tobacco smoke, pollution, chemicals, upper respiratory infections, etc.) and to avoid these triggers to prevent symptoms from flaring or worsening.

If you have a small child with asthma, it’s important that you learn how to recognize the symptoms and talk to your health care provider. Otherwise, you could experience what happened to me when my son came running to me saying that his chest hurt and he couldn’t breathe. We rushed to the emergency room only to discover that he gulped too many cheese crackers at once.

Be smart: Know the symptoms, know when to get medical attention in case of an attack and, above all, leave cheese crackers out of children’s reach.

About the author: Fedora Cagnoli Braverman is responsible for developing and maintaining MedlinePlus and  MedlinePlus en español, the government web site for consumer health information in Spanish from the National Library of Medicine – NIH.

Addressing Asthma Disparities: Helping Children Breathe Easier

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Blog-Authorby Brenda Doroski, Director, Center for Asthma and Schools

As we approach the one-year anniversary of the release of The Coordinated Federal Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Asthma Disparities, I am excited to be part of this effort to improve the lives of children with asthma

The Action Plan was released on May 31, 2012 by CEQ Chair Nancy Sutley, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.  They were joined by other federal representatives and national leaders who helped to unveil the Action Plan to the 100 participants at the event and the 400 participants joining by live broadcast.

The Action Plan outlines strategies to reduce barriers to implementation of guidelines-based asthma care; enhance local capacity to deliver integrated, comprehensive asthma care; improve capacity to identify the children most in need; and accelerate efforts to prevent the onset of asthma.  EPA is leading efforts to equip parents to effectively manage environmental asthma triggers as part of their child’s asthma care.

While the Action Plan is focused on coordinated federal action, this alone is not enough to fully address racial and ethnic disparities in asthma. We are actively engaging non-federal stakeholders to take action at the local community level through interactive webinars, meetings and conferences.

We are creating pathways for community programs and non-governmental organizations to engage with us on this important work.  Headlining this effort is–an online peer to peer network that provides access to valuable tools and resources.  This Network, supported by EPA in collaboration with the Merck Childhood Asthma Network and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Allies Against Asthma at the University of Michigan, serves as the communication hub for stakeholders to explore the Action Plan and share the strategies and best practices they are deploying in the field.  Today, the Network has more than 2,000 members representing and supporting nearly 700 asthma programs across the country.

Asthma Awareness Month provides another excellent opportunity to further engage with our stakeholders to promote and adopt best practices and effective strategies for successfully managing asthma.  To learn more, visit

About the author:  Brenda Doroski serves as the Director of the Center for Asthma and Schools in EPA’s Indoor Environments Division.  She leads efforts to improve indoor air quality in homes and schools.  Brenda has twenty-five years experience developing and leading domestic and international environmental health programs with the EPA and the Peace Corps in Latin America.

Asthma Awareness Month: Tackling Prevention

By Sally Darney 

SoccerplayerwithballWhen my daughter decided to join a soccer team, I was delighted.  Sports would provide healthy exercise, along with a host of other physical and mental benefits.  So we were dismayed when she complained of tightness in her throat and difficulty breathing during the games.

A trip to the doctor revealed “exercise-induced asthma,” but thankfully she was able to manage her symptoms with an inhaler and stay on the team.  I had little awareness of this disease at the time, but now know that childhood asthma is common, affecting nearly one in ten American children.

This month we celebrate Asthma Awareness Month learning about asthma triggers and the latest advances in medical treatment and comprehensive care for our children.

But what causes asthma to begin with?  Asthma is a curious disease that can first appear in toddlers, school-aged children like my daughter, or even in adults. Furthermore, studies have shown ethnic and economic-related disparities of who is most at risk. African American children, children of certain Hispanic groups, and children living in poor communities are more likely to get asthma, and to suffer more severe attacks, than Caucasian children and those in the higher social-economic groups. (For more information, download America’s Children and the Environment.)

This disparity suggests that the causes of asthma involve a complex interplay of environmental and social-economic factors, which in turn interact with a genetic-based predisposition. These factors can  play a role in both causing the disease itself, and in exacerbating the symptoms.

EPA researchers and partners from across the federal government are banding together to address asthma causes and disparities.  I was fortunate to be on the taskforce behind the landmark report: The Federal Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Asthma Disparities.

Working with scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and other agencies, EPA is helping implement the Plan, which emphasizes how research into the causes of asthma can help inform ways to tackle this burdensome disease.

We can’t change our genetics, but we can change the “environmental stressors” that contribute to, and cause, asthma.  To advance that work, researchers in ORD and from across the network of Centers for Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention, co-sponsored by EPA and the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences, are exploring causes of asthma that can be prevented even before a baby is born. For instance, recent research has revealed that women who smoke during pregnancy, or are exposed to high levels of air pollution and/or certain environmental chemicals, are at increased risk of having a baby who develops asthma as a child.

Armed with more knowledge about the causes of asthma, pregnant women, mothers of young children, health care providers and decision makers can take actions to avoid risky exposures and provide healthy, asthma-free environments for women and children—preventing asthma from the start.

I’ll never know why my daughter got asthma, but I am happy to work at a place that is looking to prevent it. I have faith that together our research will do that, and eliminate racial and ethnic asthma disparities. Whether you play soccer or not, it’s a goal we can all shoot for.

About the Author: Sally Perreault Darney, Ph.D. is a senior health scientist at EPA working on  coordinating Agency research on children’s environmental health.      

Asthma Disparities: Making an Impact in Chicago’s Public Housing

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By Melissa Gutierrez Kapheim

It’s Asthma Awareness Month! For hundreds of asthma community programs across the country, raising asthma awareness is a year-round reality as we work to improve the lives of people living with asthma every day.

As a 2010 winner of EPA’s National Environmental Leadership Award in Asthma Management, my organization, Sinai Urban Health Institute (SUHI), is always excited to partner with EPA. We strive to share successful strategies that will help programs across the nation deliver environmental asthma management as part of their asthma care services to underserved communities.

Later this month, on May 16th, I will co-present an EPA webinar with Andy Teitelman from the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) on our collaboration efforts for a program called Helping Children Breathe and Thrive in Chicago Public Housing (HCBT).

With funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, SUHI partners with the CHA to implement HCBT in a community where asthma affects 25–30 percent of children, a rate twice the national average. Through community engagement and partnerships, we provide asthma education, assistance navigating the healthcare system, and environmental home assessments.

HCBT uses a Community Health Worker (CHW) model to deliver its services. We hire and train people who live in the same building to educate residents about asthma management. This approach is effective in accelerating honest communications in which people with asthma and their families feel comfortable discussing their home environment.

The visits include a home assessment to identify asthma triggers. HCBT refers triggers to CHA’s case management service, which works with property management to resolve the issue. This referral system was developed so participants can report their housing concerns to CHWs, who shepherd them through the process of getting the problem fixed.  As a result, a variety of housing issues that exacerbate asthma, such as mold, roaches, carpet, and mice, are referred to property management. To date, 80 percent of those referrals have been resolved.

Through our partnerships with CHA and residents of the housing developments, we have achieved results indicative of improved asthma symptoms and control. Specifically, preliminary six-month outcomes of the HCBT program indicate a 56 percent reduction in asthma symptoms, significant reductions in health resource utilization, and statistically significant and clinically associated improvements in quality of life. The project is slated to end in the fall of 2013.

Please join us for our webinar on May 16th. For more information and to register, visit

About the author: Melissa Gutierrez Kapheim, MS, is an epidemiologist at the Sinai Urban Health Institute (SUHI) in Chicago, IL. She has worked in the field of health disparities and community-based health interventions for more than eight years. Since joining SUHI in 2006, she has worked on three consecutive asthma interventions that utilize the community health worker model to improve the health and well-being of children and adults with asthma living in Chicago’s most vulnerable communities.

Asthma Awareness Month

Asthma Awareness Month banner

Now that spring has arrived, it’s time to raise awareness about asthma!  Asthma is a serious, sometimes life threatening chronic respiratory disease that affects the lives of almost 25 million Americans, including an estimated 7 million kids.  The U.S. EPA is celebrating Asthma Awareness Month by spreading the word about how serious asthma can be and how important it is to manage environmental asthma triggers like secondhand smoke, dust mites, pet dander, mold and many others.  Please join the EPA in raising awareness of this condition by teaching others what asthma is and how the environment can affect people with asthma.

Although I have never suffered from asthma, I understand how it can affect someone’s day to day activities.  My childhood best friend, Katherine, suffers from asthma. My pet cats and dog would make it difficult for her to breathe when she would come over to play. With her inhaler in tow, Katherine was always aware of how pets could affect a play date with friends.

The EPA makes it easy for students to learn how to manage the environmental triggers of asthma.  You and a parent or guardian can visit to learn more about asthma triggers and Asthma Awareness Month.  What is even cooler are all of the interesting materials the EPA offers to raise awareness about asthma.  Tell your parent or teacher they can visit the EPA’s website to get a free copy of Clearing the Air of Asthma Triggers.  You and your friends can also read Why is Coco Orange? to learn about asthma and air quality. During Asthma Awareness Month this May, help spread the word about asthma!

Shelby Egan is a student volunteer in the EPA’s Air and Radiation Division in Region 5, and 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.