The summer has arrived in all its glory with heat and air quality concerns for those with asthma, especially young asthma patients who are at increased risk for health problems when playing outdoors.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), during the summer when the ozone levels rise, the number of people with asthma-related symptoms admitted to hospitals and emergency rooms increase. Asthma rates – especially among children – have increased dramatically. Asthma now affects 25 million people in the United States, including seven million children, and is more prevalent among African Americans.
Springfield is one of the most asthma-aggravating cities in the United States with wind-blown tree and plant pollens and all kinds of pollutants in the air, as well as mold and other irritants. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health noted that asthma affects 10% of children statewide, with particularly high rates in Springfield (16%) and Holyoke (18%). As a result, asthma - the single most chronic illness in children in the Springfield area – results in many young patients suffering more attacks and seeking increased medical care during the “irritating” months of summer.
Dr. Matthew Sadof, pediatrician, Baystate High Street Health Center – Pediatrics, and chairman of the Pioneer Valley Asthma Coalition, recommends the following “play it safe” tips for asthma sufferers:
- Swimming is excellent for people with asthma. Asthmatic children should be encouraged to swim and play sports such as baseball, compared to longer, more intense exercise. However, patients with exercise-induced asthma should consult their physician before embarking on any exercise program.
- Keep your child indoors early in the morning (before 10 AM) when pollen is at its highest levels.
- Although warm, moist air from vaporizers can greatly ease and moderate asthma attacks, living in damp houses is not healthy. Dust mites thrive in humidity and damp houses increase the risk for mold, and as a result ongoing humidifiers can be counterproductive.
- Keep windows closed at night to keep pollens and molds out. If it's hot, use air conditioning, which cleans, cools, and dries the air.
- Camping and hiking trips should not be scheduled during times of high pollen counts.
- Patients should avoid strenuous activity when ozone levels are at their highest, usually in early afternoon, and particularly on hot and hazy summer days. Levels are lowest in the early morning and at dusk. Look for the Air Quality Index (AQI) during the local weather report or go to EPA’s website at www.airnow.gov.
- Patients who are allergic to mold should avoid barns, hay, raking leaves and mowing grass.
- Animal dander, irritants such as perfumes and cigarette smoke, and some chemicals such as sulfur dioxide and sulfites in preserved foods and drinks can also serve as triggers.
Parents should also take into consideration summer travel plans as children with asthma may experience worsening symptoms during travel.
The American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology recommends:
- Checking pollen counts at your destination.
- Requesting a non-smoking room where you are staying.
- Packing medications according to air travel regulations.
- Being aware of what access to medical care is available at your destination.
- Speaking with your child’s pediatrician before traveling about your destination and the activities you are planning.
Baystate Children’s Hospital’s Specialty Pediatric Pulmonary Practice, staffed by Dr. Robert Kaslovsky, chief, Dr. Francis Duda and Dr. Asha Thomas, as well as its Primary Care Asthma Intervention Program, led by Dr. Sadof at Baystate High Street Health Center - Pediatrics, offer patients and their families the latest treatments and education in dealing with asthma. Baystate’s program includes the most advanced medical care by a specially trained medical team who offer home visits to help families remove triggers and maintain medication levels as the most effective way to maintain the health of a child with asthma.
For more information on asthma, or for a referral to a physician, call Baystate Health Link at 800-377-4325.