A Column of News & Comment by Senator James L. Seward
As we continue to contend with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the many health issues that come along with it, other illnesses and medical conditions require our ongoing attention. Asthma, a chronic disease of the lungs, is among them. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) continues to study the effects COVID-19 has on individuals with various conditions and risk factors and their current guidance is that having moderate-to-severe asthma may increase your risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
Asthma is a serious, sometimes life-threatening respiratory disease that affects the quality of life for millions of Americans. Nationally, nearly one in 13 school-age children suffer from asthma, characterized by an inflammation of the lungs that restricts airways, causing shortness of breath, wheezing, and coughing. Other signs of asthma include rapid or noisy breathing, frequent bronchitis or pneumonia, and recurrent nighttime or early morning coughing. Sometimes the only clue is that a child cannot keep up with friends during physical exertion.
Asthma can be brought on by allergies, exercise, cold temperatures, infections or stress. Asthma is not curable, but it can be managed through medical treatment and by avoiding harmful environmental factors that may trigger an attack. It is very important to minimize the inflammation of asthma since chronic inflammation weakens the lungs and can make them prone to chronic lung disease.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends five important steps that can be taken to help avoid asthma attacks:
- Take it outside. One of the most common asthma triggers in the home is second-hand smoke. Until they can quit, people should smoke outside, not in their homes or cars;
- Play it Safe. Ozone and particle pollution can cause asthma attacks. People should watch for the Air Quality Index (AQI) during their local weather report. When AQI reports unhealthy levels, they should limit outdoor activities;
- Dust mites are also triggers for asthma. For mite control, people should cover mattresses and pillows with allergen-proof covers. They should wash sheets and blankets once a week in hot water;
- Stake your claim. Household pets can trigger asthma. People should keep pets out of the bedroom and off furniture;
- Break the mold. Mold is another asthma trigger. The key to controlling mold is controlling moisture. People should wash and dry hard surfaces to prevent and remove mold and should replace moldy ceiling tiles and carpet.
Although it may prove difficult throughout the sticky months of summer, humidity levels in your house should be kept below 40 percent because the dampness increases the risks of asthma. Asthma sufferers should avoid camping and hiking during times of high pollen counts and refrain from strenuous activity when ozone levels are at their highest. If mold allergies trigger asthma attacks, then one should avoid barns, hay, raking leaves, and mowing grass. Certain drugs, such as aspirin and products containing aspirin, can cause life-threatening asthma attacks in susceptible individuals. Doctors recommend the use of acetaminophen as an alternative to aspirin and aspirin-related products.
In New York, efforts are being made to better understand and track asthma. Under the asthma reporting law, hospitals are required to report the incidence of asthma among emergency room patients. Researchers hope this will help them get a better idea of when and where asthma attacks occur, with the goal of linking the disease to other environmental factors. Ultimately, the law will help find ways to improve treatment and create better prevention strategies.
As with any medical condition, it is vital that you work with your doctor to create an asthma action plan. Whether for a child or adult, this is an important step. The plan should include things like asthma triggers, instructions for asthma medicines, what to do in case of an attack, and emergency telephone numbers. For additional information, visit the New York State Department of Health website at http://www.health.ny.gov/diseases/asthma/ or the Centers for Disease Control website at https://www.cdc.gov/asthma/default.htm.