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Asthma and Allergies

Laura B. Booth
Extension Associate,
Environmental Health Education

Alabama Cooperative Extension System

Auburn University
Topics Covered

• What is asthma?
• Who is most at risk to get asthma?
• What does the indoor environment have
to do with asthma?
• How can you reduce exposure to indoor
asthma triggers?
• What can I do to help educate others
about indoor asthma triggers?
What is Asthma?

• A chronic inflammatory disorder of the

• It is treatable, but not yet curable
• It is not the same as allergies, but
allergies MAY cause asthma
• Not contagious
• Can be life-threatening!
Asthma Facts

• About 17 million Americans have asthma,

including about 5 Million children It is the most
common chronic childhood disease.
• Asthma causes more hospital stays than any
other childhood disease
• Cost of lost workdays of parents with asthmatic
children is near $1 billion
• It is a leading cause of school absences
Who is most at risk to
suffer from asthma?

• Children
• Low-income, urban
• Some minorities
• Allergic individuals
• People with
hereditary disposition
for asthma (genetics)
What happens during an
asthma episode?

• Airways narrow,
caused by:
tightening of the
muscles that
surround the
swelling of the
inner lining
increase in mucous
What does an asthma
episode feel like?

• Jog in place for 2 minutes

• Place a straw in your mouth and breathe
only through the straw by pinching your
nose closed
• How do you feel?
Warning Signs of Asthma

• Coughing (especially • Hunched over posture

when it is not a cold) • Restless during sleep
• Wheezing (a squeaking • Fatigue
sound when breathing) • Space between the ribs
• Fast breathing may sink in when
• Poor skin color breathing
• Shortness of breath • Anxiety
• Vomiting
Warning Signs of Asthma

• Strained breathing
• Prominent neck
• Out of breath after
physical activity
symptoms don’t
necessarily mean it is
Asthma can be controlled!

• There are excellent medicines available

now that can control asthma--some must
be taken on a daily basis

• Environmental “triggers” of asthma--which

are different for everyone--can be
controlled to reduce asthma symptoms
What can you do to
manage asthma?

Everyone needs a written Asthma Action

Plan; this includes:
• Medication
• Identification and avoiding of asthma
• Peak flow monitoring (over age 5)
• Emergency plan
What to do if a child has
an asthma episode

• Reassure the child with a calming manner

• Review Action Plan
Use medication if necessary and available
Identify what triggered the symptoms and
remove child from triggers
• Inform parents/emergency contact if
• Call 911 in emergency
Types of medications
2 main types

• Controller or • Rescue or “Quick-

everyday medications Relief” medications
Intal, Singulair Albuterol, Serevent
Pulmocort, Aerobid Xopenex, Ventolin
Azmacort, Serevent • These help to
• These control control
inflammation in broncospasms--
the lungs on an release “squeezing”
everyday basis of the airways
Asthma medicines can be
given in different forms

• Metered-dose inhalers
• Inhalers can be used with “spacers”
• These are especially useful with young
• Nebulizers
• Pills
Inhalers attached to
Peak Flow Meters

• A portable device that can help measure

air flow in and out of the lungs
• May not be useful for children under the
age of 5
• Can be a good indicator of air flow in and
out of the lungs in those over age 5
Treatment is needed
quickly for asthma

• Fever over 100 F

• Wheezing or coughing that does not get
better after giving “quick-relief” medicines
• Peak flow is less than 80% of best
• Difficulty breathing that does not get
better after asthma medicines
• Too weak or tired
Common Asthma Triggers

Allergens Irritants
• Molds • Secondhand smoke
• Dust • Strong odors
• Animals • Ozone
• Pollen • Chemicals/cleaning
• Food compounds
• Pests
Other asthma triggers

Viral respiratory infections

• colds
• flu
• often worse at night after lying down
Changes in weather
• cold air
• wind
• humidity
Indoor Air Pollution: A
Major Health Concern

• Most people spend 90% of their time

• Toxin levels indoors may be higher than
outdoors because of energy tight
• Most of the common asthma triggers are
found indoors
5 Most Common Indoor
Environmental Triggers

Secondhand Smoke
Dust Mites
Other Indoor Triggers:
Household Products

• Vapors from cleaning

solvents (non-water
based), paint, liquid
bleach, mothballs,
• Spray deodorants,
• bleach, pesticides,
oven cleaners, drain
openers, aerosol
spray products
Recognize asthma triggers
to control indoor air

• Not all triggers affect every person

• 3 Basic Strategies to improve indoor air
identify the problem
control the source
mitigation--get rid of the pollutant or
triggering substance

• Transported by wind
• Grass, ragweed, pine,
birch, oak trees
• Can get indoors
during pollen season
• Close windows during
pollen season
• Caulk and weather-
strip doors and
Secondhand Smoke

• Contains more than 4,000 substances (over 40

are carcinogenic)
• Is particularly harmful to young children
• Can trigger asthma attacks
• Causes coughing, excess phlegm, reduced lung
capacity and other lung irritation
Byproducts of Smoke

• Particles such as nitrogen dioxide and

sulfur dioxide may cause decreased lung
• Increased risk of respiratory tract
infections (bronchitis, pneumonia)
• Not only tobacco smoke--also caused by
burning wood, candles, coal, kerosene,
natural gas
Avoiding Secondhand

• Do not allow smoking indoors or in

• Limit use of fireplaces and candles
• Exhaust fan over gas stoves
• Smoke particles stick to clothing--can
affect young child when held in arms
Dust Mites

• Too small to be seen

• Found almost
• Live in soft bedding
• Feed on dead skin cells
• Mites and mite droppings
can be asthma triggers
• Live in warm, humid
Avoiding Dust Mite

• Wash sheets and blankets once a week in

very HOT water (130 F)
• Use air conditioner in summer to lower
humidity levels
• Remove carpets if possible
• Damp clean hard surfaces
• Vacuum often with HEPA vacuum or
microfiltration bags
• Low indoor humidity-between 30-50%
Avoiding Dust Mite

• Cover mattresses and

pillows in dust-proof
zippered covers
• Vacuum mattress,
chairs and carpeting
• Replace pillows every
5 years

• Skin flakes, urine, and saliva of warm blooded

animals can be asthma triggers
• Triggers can remain inside for several months
after an animal is removed, even with cleaning

• A type of fungus
• Grow on damp
• Molds grow by
releasing spores
• Grow on organic
materials: wood,
drywall, wallpaper,
carpet, foods
Avoiding Mold Triggers

• Mold problems are caused by excess

Correct the moisture problem first!
• Maintain low indoor humidity (between
Warm air holds more water than cold air
• Fix leaky plumbing
• Empty and regularly clean refrigerator drip
Avoiding Mold Triggers

• Run a bathroom fan during bathing

• Exhaust the dryer to the outdoors
• Control moisture in the crawlspace
• Replace carpet with hard-surface floors in
• Use air conditioner to lower humidity
More on Mold

• Don’t need to test for mold--if you see it

or smell it--then you have mold
• Clean up small areas with a bleach
1/2 cup of bleach to 1 gallon of water
• Limit houseplants--since soil/leaves
contain mold--at least in bedrooms
• Clean when children are not present
Pests (especially

• Many people are allergic to the body parts and

droppings of cockroaches
• People who have dust allergies frequently have
cockroach allergies
Avoiding Pests

• Avoiding pests like cockroaches is hard

to do in Alabama--we have mild winters,
humidity and lots of rainfall
• 3 steps to avoid pests indoors:
1. Prevention
2. Identification
3. Control
Preventing Pests

Get rid of places for pests to hide and

sources of food and water
• reduce clutter (boxes, stacks of newspapers,
grocery bags)
• do not leave food or garbage out
• clean up food spills and crumbs
• caulk cracks and crevices
Controlling Pests

• Make sure you identify the pest before

using pesticides
• Use less toxic baits, boric acid or traps
first--before using toxic pesticides
• If you use sprays:
Limit spray to infested area
Ventilate room--sprays may be a trigger for
asthma or cause lung irritation
Air Cleaners and Filters

• Use Air Cleaners only

as a last resort
• HEPA filters (High
Efficiency Particle Air)
• Do not use air
cleaning devices that
produce ozone
Filters/Air Cleaners

• Know the size of the room to be treated

before purchasing the unit
• Keep filters changed or cleaned frequently
• Some gases and very small particles are
difficult to remove
Other Asthma Triggers

• People with asthma should be able to participate
in exercise
• Sometimes, taking inhaler medicine before
exercising may help
Colds/Flu/Respiratory infections
• Often these illnesses will trigger asthma
symptoms or make them worse--get a flu shot
Cold weather sometimes triggers asthma
Review of Actions to
Control Asthma

• Make sure everyone with asthma has a

Asthma Action Plan
• Be aware of medicines used to treat
asthma and have emergency contact
numbers in case of asthma episodes
• Control the environment to prevent
triggers: dust, pests, mold, secondhand
smoke, strong odors and cleaning solvents
For More Information
Alabama Cooperative Extension
Asthma Web site:
The U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA)
The American Lung Association

Thanks to the Healthy Indoor Air for

America’s Homes project:

for photos and drawings used and for

background information

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