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Dangerous Triggers: How To Protect Your Loved One With Asthma From Summer Heat And Air Pollution

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Did you know that 24 million people in the United States have asthma and 6 million are children? As summer heats up and air pollutants increase, it is important for parents to be mindful of air quality, which can be a major asthma trigger.

In Massachusetts, where I live, nearly 2 million children under 18 years old are at risk for being exposed to poor air quality. With over 130,000 documented cases of pediatric asthma throughout Massachusetts, too many of our society's most vulnerable members are finding themselves at risk for asthma attacks. Asthma symptoms can be triggered by extreme temperatures, respiratory infections and illness, tobacco smoke, allergens, and indoor and outdoor air pollutants like ozone, which increases significantly during hot summer months.

The American Lung Association recommends that affected families be proactive in helping to control a child or loved one's asthma by:

  • Taking the time to develop an Asthma Action Plan with their physician. All children with asthma should have a written Asthma Action Plan that details personal information about the child's asthma symptoms, triggers, medications, and any medicine required before exercise. The plan should provide specific instructions about what to do if an asthma episode does not improve with prescribed medication.

  • Elementary school children, ages 8-11 can learn to manage their own asthma when they participate in the American Lung Association's award-winning Open Airways For Schools program.
  • It is also important for parents to know that in all 50 states, students have the legal right to carry asthma medications. Meet with your child's healthcare provider to complete any required paperwork.
  • The American Lung Association strongly recommends that all children--especially those with asthma--be immunized against influenza each year. Influenza poses a special health risk to children with asthma, as these children often experience more severe symptoms.
  • Finally, checking the air quality index in extreme conditions can help individuals and families prepare for their day.
  • Suffering with asthma makes air pollution a very personal issue, especially when it affects a child, elderly parent or loved one. According to the American Lung Association's annual State of the Air Report for 2016, everyone has cause for concern. The report uses the most recent quality-assured air pollution data and examines the two most widespread types of pollution, ozone and particle pollution. It grades and ranks cities and counties based on scores calculated by the average number of unhealthy days for ozone and short-term particle pollution, as well as by annual averages for year-round particle pollution.

    Ozone (smog), is one of the worst asthma triggers and is created by the reaction of sunlight on emissions from vehicles and other gases. When ozone is inhaled, it irritates the lungs, almost like a bad sunburn. It can cause immediate health problems that continue days later, like wheezing, coughing, asthma attacks and even premature death.

    Here in Massachusetts, seven out of 13 counties received failing grades for high ozone days. Those counties were: Barnstable, Bristol, Dukes, Essex, Hampden, Hampshire and Norfolk. Berkshire County and Suffolk County received C for grades high ozone days. Despite failing grades, the Boston-Worcester-Providence metro area was able to make some positive changes in its ozone pollution. Find out more about the air pollution in your area here.

    Despite the failing grades in Massachusetts and in states throughout the country, there is reason for hope. During recent years, the Clean Air Act has forced major improvements in air quality across the United States. As more elected officials, community leaders and members of the public gain a greater understanding of air pollutants and the implications for public health, the more remediation measures we see put in place to manage and reduce those pollutants. More than ever, parents, caretakers, doctors and advocates are raising their voices to demand change - and it is making a difference.

    Air quality alerts on local news channels have become standard operating procedure during the summer, especially for those of us in the Northeast. However, that doesn't mean we are simply passive bystanders when it comes to protecting our lungs and our loved ones. While we can't control the weather, we can help control things like emissions and air pollutants. As a result, we have a clear responsibility to those with asthma and other respiratory conditions to succeed in reducing those pollutants. Our communities must stand alongside affected families to reduce air pollution so that those with chronic respiratory diseases like asthma do not suffer a diminished quality of life.

    It's imperative we continue to work toward making our air cleaner by building momentum, educating our friends and adding allies. Join that effort by signing up to be an e-advocate for the American Lung Association's Fight for Air.