May is Asthma Awareness Month and the Saint Louis County Department of Public Health is using the opportunity to educate residents about the dangers posed by asthma.
WHAT IS ASTHMA?
Asthma is one of the most common lifelong chronic illnesses. Over 25 million Americans are living with asthma – including more than 7 million children (roughly 10% of all school-aged children). St. Louis is no exception. Visits to area emergency rooms for asthma-related issues are one and a half times higher than statewide and a disproportionate share of those visits occurs in Mid- and North County.
Asthma is most often experienced as wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness, and coughing. The actual cause of asthma is not known, although many of its triggers have been identified.There is no known cure, but symptoms can be treated.
COMMON ASTHMA TRIGGERS
The most common household triggers of asthma are secondhand smoke, dust mites, pets, mold, and household pests. If you or someone in your home has asthma, it is important to reduce or eliminate these common triggers. (Please note that not all these triggers are a problem for everyone. It is important for each individual asthmatic to figure out which triggers are dangerous for him or her personally.)
Asthma can be triggered by smoke from a cigarette, pipe, or cigar, and the smoke breathed out by smokers.
- Don't smoke in your home or car and don't allow others to do so either.
Dust mites are too small to be seen, but they are found in every home. Dust mites live in mattresses, pillows, carpets, fabric-covered furniture, bedcovers, clothes, and stuffed toys.
- Wash sheets and blankets once a week in hot water.
- Choose washable stuffed toys, wash them often in hot water, and dry them thoroughly. Keep stuffed toys off of beds.
- Cover mattresses and pillows in dust-proof (allergen-impermeable) zippered covers.
Your pet’s skin flakes, urine, and saliva can be asthma triggers.
- Consider keeping pets outdoors or even finding a new home for them if necessary.
- Keep pets out of bedrooms and other sleeping areas at all times, and keep doors closed.
- Keep pets away from fabric-covered furniture, carpets, and stuffed toys.
Mold grows on damp materials. The key to mold control is moisture control. If mold is a problem in your home, clean up the mold and get rid of excess water or moisture. Lowering the moisture also helps reduce other triggers such as dust mites and cockroaches.
- Wash mold off of hard surfaces and dry completely. Absorbent materials with mold, such as ceiling tiles and carpet, may need to be entirely replaced.
- Fix leaky plumbing or other sources of water.
- Keep the drip pans in your air conditioner, refrigerator, and dehumidifier clean and dry.
- Use exhaust fans or open windows in kitchens and bathrooms when showering, cooking, or using the dishwasher.
- Vent clothes dryers to the outside.
- Maintain low indoor humidity – ideally between 30%-50% relative humidity. Humidity levels can be measured by hygrometers which are available at local hardware stores.
Droppings or body parts of pests such as cockroaches and rodents can be asthma triggers.
- Do not leave food or garbage out.
- Store food in airtight containers.
- Clean up all food crumbs or spilled liquids right away.
- Try using poison baits, boric acid (for cockroaches), or traps first before pesticide sprays.
If pesticide sprays are used:
- Limit the spraying to the infested area.
- Carefully follow the instructions on the label.
- Make sure there is plenty of fresh air when you spray and keep any people with asthma out of the room.
Thankfully, asthma is a condition that can be managed. If you suspect that you or someone you know has asthma, visit a doctor to find out for sure. Milder cases can often be controlled by simply avoiding the common triggers. More severe cases may require medication. However, if you or someone you know is experiencing a severe asthma attack, it is important to seek medical attention right away. Severe attacks can be fatal!
All people with asthma should have an Asthma Action Plan. An Asthma Action Plan (also called a Management Plan) is a written plan that you develop with your doctor to help control your asthma. The Asthma Action Plan shows your daily treatment, such as what kind of medicines to take and when to take them. Your plan describes how to control asthma over the long term and how to handle worsening asthma or attacks. The plan explains when to call the doctor or go to the emergency room. If your child has asthma, all the people who care for him or her should know about the child's Asthma Action Plan. These caregivers should include babysitters and workers at daycare centers, schools, and camps. These caregivers can help your child follow his or her Asthma Action Plan.
HEALTHY HOMES PROGRAM
The Saint Louis County Department of Public Health has been responding to the realities of asthma for years, but Asthma Awareness Month provides the department with an opportunity to remind people of the services it offers. Through the Healthy Homes program, residents can receive free, in-home environmental assessments to identify asthma triggers. The department also offers group training and education sessions for parents and caregivers to teach them how asthma can be managed.
The Healthy Homes Program actually addresses multiple childhood diseases and injuries in the home. Other environmental hazards include mold, lead, allergens, carbon monoxide, home safety, pesticides, and radon. The department takes a holistic approach to these activities by focusing on housing-related hazards in a coordinated fashion. One department's highest priorities is reducing asthma triggers – but the program also focuses on lead poisoning prevention and home safety.
As part of these efforts, the department offers the following:
- Individual family consultation services on asthma management methods help control indoor environmental asthma triggers
- In-home environmental assessments to identify what can be done to reduce asthma triggers and provide other resources to improve the home health environment
- Group training and education for parents and caregivers
For more information about these services or to schedule a home visit, please call 314-615-5323.
Below are some additional resources about asthma that you may find useful: