Asthma is a common chronic lung disease that can make it hard to breathe. This happens because airways become inflamed or swollen, fill with mucus, and tighten. Asthma symptoms include wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and coughing (an “asthma attack”).
Your child may not have these symptoms all of the time; however, it’s still important to take the prescribed asthma control medicines to prevent having an attack.
Everyone’s asthma can look different, so you and your health care provider will come up with a personalized asthma action plan for you to follow each day.
There is no cure for asthma; however, you can control your asthma if you take your medicine exactly as your doctor tells you and stay away from things that can trigger an asthma attack.
The main ways to treat asthma are:
- Using medication
- Avoiding your asthma triggers – things that can worsen asthma or cause asthma attacks.
Be sure to make an asthma action plan with your doctor, and keep a copy of it with your child. It will include a list of your child’s asthma triggers, instructions for using medication, and ways to better control your asthma.
There are many different medications to treat asthma. Some medicines are(“inhaler”) and others are pills or liquid that you swallow. It is important that you take the medications that your doctor prescribed, and that you are using your inhaler the right way. Talk to your doctor if you have any questions about your medication.
The American Lung Association has information for parents of children with asthma, including diagnosis, treatment, and lots of resources.
Avoiding Asthma Triggers
It is important to identify and reduce your child’s exposure to “triggers”- things that can worsen their asthma or cause asthma attacks.
Triggers can come from a variety of sources, including irritants, allergens, viral infections, temperature, exercise, and stress. Tracking when and why your child gets asthma attacks can help you identify triggers and avoid them.
|Pollen: Plants produce tiny grains of pollen that can be carried by the wind.
Check local pollen counts and limit your time outdoors when the pollen count is high. While indoors and high pollen counts, run the air conditioner on “recirculate” if possible.
|Mold: Mold is a fungus that can grow outdoors or indoors in damp or water damaged areas.
Quickly address water leaks, dampness, and humidity in your home! Safely remove mold from hard surfaces with detergent and water, and discard items with mold that cannot be cleaned. Large areas of mold may require a licensed contractor.
|Dust mites: Dust mites are tiny insects that thrive in humid conditions and can be found in bedding, carpet, and stuffed toys.
Wash bedding weekly in hot water, cover mattresses and pillows in dust-proof zippered covers, and vacuum regularly. Choose stuffed toys that are washable and wash them every other week in hot water.
|Pets and Animal dander: Pet dander is composed of tiny flakes of skin shed from animals with fur or feathers.
Keep pets with fur or feather off the furniture, carpet, and out of the bedrooms. Keep your pet outside whenever you can. Clean your home often- wet mop and use a vacuum with a HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filter to trap tiny particles that may make asthma worse.
|Pests: Saliva, droppings, and shed skin and body parts from rats, mice, and cockroaches can make asthma worse.
Use safer pest control methods (called “ integrated pest management”): eliminate sources of food and water, places to hide, and portals of entry in your home. Use bait stations or traps instead of sprays, bug bombs, and other products that have harmful chemicals.
|Secondhand (and Thirdhand) Smoke: Smoke from the end of a burning cigarette, cigar, or pipe contains a mixture of chemicals that can make your asthma worse. These chemicals can persist in the environment and remain on surfaces, clothing, and skin.|
|Vaping: Vapor consists of chemicals and particulate matter that may worsen asthma symptoms, increase the frequency of asthma attacks, and damage your lungs.|
|Particulate Matter (PM): soot pollution from smoking, stoves, and fireplaces.
Ensure proper ventilation, open windows, and use a stove hood (or open windows) while cooking. Regularly dust with a wet mop and vacuum. Do not allow smoking indoors.
|Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs): gas and vapor pollution from sources such as burning fuel, cigarettes, pesticides, paint, and cleaners.
Ensure proper ventilation in your home. Do not allow cigarette smoking indoors. Use integrated pest management rather than pesticide sprays. Choose “green cleaning products”. When possible, purchase low-VOC or no-VOC paints, cleaners, and other household products.
|Nitrogen Oxides (NO2): gas pollution from furnaces, stoves, and fireplaces.
Ensure proper ventilation and use an exhaust fan vented to the outdoors with gas stoves (open windows if you do not have an exhaust fan).
|Outdoor air pollutants: From sources such as traffic, factories, agriculture, and power plants.
Check local air quality alerts, especially before outdoor exercise and if you have an underlying condition like asthma or heart disease.
Some pollutants to consider:
Ozone– made in the summer (hot, sunny weather) from traffic pollution. It can trigger asthma attacks.
Particulate Matter– from traffic pollution, factories, building heating oil systems, among others. It can trigger asthma attacks and increase the risk of heart disease.
|Smells/Fragrances/Perfumes: Strong smells and fragrances from perfumes, bleach-based cleaning supplies, scented soaps, and air fresheners are irritants that can make asthma worse.
Keep strong smells out of your home. Open windows or doors if odors are making your asthma worse. Choose fragrance-free products when possible.
How does climate change impact asthma?
Climate change is affecting the air we breathe. Warmer temperatures will decrease air quality by increasing air pollution and creating longer allergy seasons. Exposure to poor air quality can irritate the lungs, increase the risk and severity of asthma attacks, and worsen allergies.
Protect your health by monitoring outdoor air quality and staying inside when the air quality reaches unhealthy levels.
Green cleaning recipes: check out these easy, affordable, and healthier cleaning products that you can make with common household ingredients!
How to use your inhaler and spacer correctly:
- For younger children: spacer with mask
- For older children and teens: spacer with a mouthpiece
- Don’t make these common inhaler mistakes!
- How to clean your inhaler and spacer
Organizations in New York City and New York State that provide in-home services for families with asthma and environmental asthma triggers:
- Statewide: NYS Healthy Neighborhoods Program
- New York City- AIRnyc (talk to your doctor to see if you qualify)
- New York City- Department of Health (talk to your doctor to see if you qualify)
- East Harlem- LSA Family Health Service (talk to your doctor to see if you qualify)
- Share Prescriptions for Prevention with your patients!
- Environmental History Form for your patients with asthma (checklist of common asthma triggers): NEEF Asthma Environmental History Form
- Pediatric Environmental Health Toolkit: An online clinical resource with key messages about a variety of environmental health topics
- A Story of Health: Bret’s Story (Asthma): A multimedia e-book for healthcare professionals to explore the risk factors for disease and prevention strategies.
- Order asthma-related materials for your patients and updated clinical guidance documents from the New York State Department of Health Asthma Program
- NHLBI National Asthma Guidelines
- Climate Change and Health – an overview
In-home asthma interventions are available for qualified families: