Breath Of Fresh Air Mercy Medical Center Conducts Open House To Mark World Asthma Day

It’s a condition that makes more than 20 million Americans short of breath — often seriously so. But too few people take active steps to control the problem of asthma, even though such steps are often very simple.


That was one of the key messages of an asthma awareness open house conducted at Mercy Medical Center last month to commemorate World Asthma Day.
“Our main goal is to take part in an event that’s recognized all over the world,” said Heidi Milbier, a registered respiratory therapist at Mercy. “We wanted to be a part of that, and also to help educate the community as much as possible in how to control asthma and the correct ways to take medication.”

It’s surprising how many people need that information, she said, considering how many people are affected to some degree by asthma.

“It’s definitely some of the same old drum-beating,” she told The Healthcare News. “You need to decrease the amount of dust in the home, avoid smoking, watch pet dander, and just make your environment as easy to breathe in as possible by controlling what you’re able to control.”

And those controllable factors, Milbier said, are plentiful indeed.

Under Attack

During an asthma attack, several things happen inside the lungs. Cells in the air tubes make more mucus than normal, which clogs up the tubes. The air tubes then tend to swell, and the muscles inside them tighten. These changes cause the air tubes to narrow, making it difficult to breathe. Depending on how sensitive an individual is, asthma attacks range from mild to severe — even life-threatening — and can start suddenly or take many hours to build up.

In any case, asthma attacks are brought on by what the American Lung Assoc. (ALA) calls ‘triggers’ — outside environmental particles carried on the wind and into the home through windows, doors, and heating systems; or home-based irritants such as smoke, pet dander, mold, dust mites, perfume, hair spray, or anything with a strong odor or fumes.

Many of these triggers are common allergens, so it’s not surprising that more than 70{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of people with asthma also suffer from allergies, and 10 million Americans suffer specifically from allergic asthma, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI).

For many patients, doctors suggest keeping an asthma diary or conducting an allergy skin test to pinpoint key triggers, which is the first step in reducing exposure to them.

“Controlling your exposure to triggers outdoors is difficult,” according to the ALA. “You may have to avoid outdoor air pollution, pollen, and mold spores. Any time air pollution and pollen levels are high, it’s a good idea to stay indoors. The air at home is easier to control. Some people with asthma and allergies notice that their symptoms get worse at night. Trigger controls in the bedroom or wherever you sleep need the most care.”

Air conditioning often helps people with asthma, the association notes, because it allows windows and doors to stay closed, keeping some pollen and mold spores outside. It also lowers indoor humidity, which helps to control mold and dust mites.

Indoor triggers can be an even larger problem, especially if they remain unchecked. The ALA details several key asthma triggers:

• Tobacco smoke. Simply put, the ALA insists, smoke should not be allowed in the home of someone with asthma. Wood smoke from stoves and fireplaces can also be a problem.
• Pets. Almost all pets can cause allergies, including dogs, cats, and especially small animals like birds, hamsters, and guinea pigs. If the pet must stay in the home, it should be kept out of the bedroom of anyone with asthma. Weekly pet baths may help cut down the amount of pet saliva and dander in the home.
• Cockroaches. Small pieces of dead roaches and roach droppings settle in house dust and can end up in the air. But roaches need food and water and a place to live, so they can be deterred by storing food in sealable containers and keeping crumbs, dirty dishes, and other sources of food waste cleaned up; fixing leaks and wiping up standing water; and cleaning up clutter where roaches find shelter.
• Indoor Mold. Bathrooms, kitchens, and basements should have good air circulation and be cleaned often. The basement in particular may need a dehumidifier. Molds also form in houseplants, so those may have to be kept outdoors.
• Dust Mites. Several thousand mites can be found in a pinch of dust, and they are one of the major triggers for people with allergies and asthma. They also require the most work to remove. Some steps to take include putting mattresses and pillows in allergen-impermeable covers; avoiding lying down on upholstered furniture; removing bedroom carpeting, stuffed furniture, and stuffed animals; dusting often — but not when someone with asthma is present; or buying a dehumidifier or air-filtration device.

Not Breathing Easier

Asthma is a growing problem in America, having increased in prevalence by more than 75{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} over the past 20 years. There were 465,000 asthma-related hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths from asthma in 2000, the last year for which the AAAAI has statistics, and asthma results in 14.5 million missed work days for adults annually, as well as 14 million missed school days for children. In fact, 6.3 million American children under age 18 suffer from asthma.

Milbier and registered respiratory therapist Nancy McCarthy, along with local representatives from Lincare and Apria Healthcare, spent plenty of time with visitors at Mercy’s open house, talking with them about this condition and handing out information about asthma triggers and medications, as well as demonstrating equipment such as metered-dose inhalers and peak-flow meters.

“We’re just helping to educate the community, going over peak-flow meters and how to keep a diary,” Milbier said, noting that an asthma problem can be detected with that device before it becomes a major concern. “And if you have allergies and it seems to get worse every spring, you might want to mention that to your doctor.”

Judging by the number of visitors to the open house, messages like those were apparently getting across.

“We just want to let people know that this is very serious,” she said, “but if they take their medicine correctly and do what their physicians suggest, they can go about their business and live healthy lives.”

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