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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?

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Asthma and Allergies

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Asthma and allergies

Asthma and Allergies

Laura B. Booth

Extension Associate,

Environmental Health Education

Alabama Cooperative Extension System

Auburn University

Asthma and allergies

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

What is Asthma?

  • A chronic inflammatory disorder of the airways

  • 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

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

Who is most at risk to suffer from asthma?

  • Children

  • Low-income, urban residents

  • Some minorities

  • Allergic individuals

  • People with hereditary disposition for asthma (genetics)

What happens during an asthma episode

What happens during an asthma episode?

  • Airways narrow, caused by:

    • tightening of the muscles that surround the airways

    • swelling of the inner lining

    • increase in mucous production

What does an asthma episode feel like

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 when it is not a cold)

Wheezing (a squeaking sound when breathing)

Fast breathing

Poor skin color

Shortness of breath

Hunched over posture

Restless during sleep


Space between the ribs may sink in when breathing



Warning Signs of Asthma

Warning signs of asthma1

Warning Signs of Asthma

  • Strained breathing

  • Prominent neck muscles

  • Out of breath after physical activity

    IMPORTANT: These symptoms don’t necessarily mean it is asthma

Asthma can be controlled

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

What can you do to manage asthma?

Everyone needs a written Asthma Action Plan; this includes:

  • Medication

  • Identification and avoiding of asthma “triggers”

  • Peak flow monitoring (over age 5)

  • Emergency plan

What to do if a child has an asthma episode

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 severe

  • Call 911 in emergency

Types of medications 2 main types

Controller or everyday medications

Intal, Singulair

Pulmocort, Aerobid

Azmacort, Serevent

These control inflammation in the lungs on an everyday basis

Rescue or “Quick-Relief” medications

Albuterol, Serevent

Xopenex, Ventolin

These help to control broncospasms--release “squeezing” of the airways

Types of medications2 main types

Asthma medicines can be given in different forms

Asthma medicines can be given in different forms

  • Metered-dose inhalers

  • Inhalers can be used with “spacers”

  • These are especially useful with young children

  • Nebulizers

  • Pills

Inhalers attached to spacers

Inhalers attached to spacers

Peak flow meters

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

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







Pests (cockroaches)


Secondhand smoke

Strong odors


Chemicals/cleaning compounds

Common Asthma Triggers

Other asthma triggers

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

Indoor Air Pollution: A Major Health Concern

  • Most people spend 90% of their time indoors

  • Toxin levels indoors may be higher than outdoors because of energy tight buildings

  • Most of the common asthma triggers are found indoors

5 most common indoor environmental triggers

5 Most Common Indoor Environmental Triggers

Secondhand Smoke

Dust Mites




Other indoor triggers household products

Other Indoor Triggers:Household Products

  • Vapors from cleaning solvents (non-water based), paint, liquid bleach, mothballs, glue

  • Spray deodorants, perfume

  • bleach, pesticides, oven cleaners, drain openers, aerosol spray products

Recognize asthma triggers to control indoor air

Recognize asthma triggersto control indoor air

  • Not all triggers affect every person

  • 3 Basic Strategies to improve indoor air quality:

    • 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 windows

Secondhand smoke

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

Byproducts of Smoke

  • Particles such as nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide may cause decreased lung function

  • Increased risk of respiratory tract infections (bronchitis, pneumonia)

  • Not only tobacco smoke--also caused by burning wood, candles, coal, kerosene, natural gas

Avoiding secondhand smoke

Avoiding Secondhand Smoke

  • Do not allow smoking indoors or in vehicles

  • 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

Dust Mites

  • Too small to be seen

  • Found almost everywhere!

  • Live in soft bedding

  • Feed on dead skin cells

  • Mites and mite droppings can be asthma triggers

  • Live in warm, humid places

Avoiding dust mite triggers

Avoiding Dust Mite Triggers

  • 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 triggers1

Avoiding Dust Mite Triggers

  • Cover mattresses and pillows in dust-proof (allergen-impermeable) zippered covers

  • Vacuum mattress, chairs and carpeting

  • Replace pillows every 5 years

Pets animals


  • 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 surfaces

  • Molds grow by releasing spores

  • Grow on organic materials: wood, drywall, wallpaper, carpet, foods

Avoiding mold triggers

Avoiding Mold Triggers

  • Mold problems are caused by excess moisture

    • Correct the moisture problem first!

  • Maintain low indoor humidity (between 30-50%)

    • Warm air holds more water than cold air

  • Fix leaky plumbing

  • Empty and regularly clean refrigerator drip pans

Avoiding mold triggers1

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 basement

  • Use air conditioner to lower humidity

More on mold

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 solution--

    • 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 cockroaches

Pests (especially Cockroaches)

  • 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

  • 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:

    • Prevention

    • Identification

    • Control

Preventing pests

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

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

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

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 triggers1

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

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

For More Information

Alabama Cooperative Extension System

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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