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Topics > Healthy Outlook > May is Asthma Awareness Month

May is Asthma Awareness Month

Published by Contra Costa Times
Posted on Wed, May. 18, 2005

By Donna Kaufman, RN

MAY IS Asthma Awareness Month, and for good reason. Especially in Contra Costa County, spring months bring pollen, which is a major cause of asthma symptoms.

As most asthma sufferers know, symptoms consist of chest tightness, coughing, wheezing and/or shortness of breath.

Although asthma rates have climbed in recent years, asthma symptoms can often be managed successfully. So speak with your doctor.

Asthma symptoms often come and go, and are usually caused by "triggers", many of which are environmental conditions that can irritate the airways and lead to asthma attacks.

Outdoor triggers such as pollen can cause the most severe symptoms, because they often come on suddenly and unexpectedly, and the patient may not be taking asthma medication. Internal triggers, such as cold and flu viruses, can also cause sudden and unexpected asthma attacks.

Other indoor triggers include cigarette smoke, dust, and allergens from animals or insects. Once identified, some indoor triggers can often be reduced or eliminated inexpensively.

We recently visited the home of a client, we'll call her Andrea, to help her reduce her asthma symptoms. Like many 11-year-olds, Andrea's room was messy. Some food and clothing were left about the room, making it difficult to straighten up or dust.

A relative had recently reclaimed her bed frame, so Andrea's bed was on the floor.

Dust can be a major asthma trigger, and the leftover food can lead to other triggers - roaches and mice. The feces and fur from these pests contain small particles that, when inhaled, cause irritation and inflammation of some peoples' airways.

Depriving pests of food and water - in this case, food crumbs - is a good way to avoid them. A licensed pest control company can also be consulted if the problem is severe.

In Andrea's case, more regular vacuuming of her room and washing of her sheets were our primary recommendations. We also suggested that they get another bed frame to elevate her bed above the floor, and move the bed further from the heating vent in her room.

People often ask about air filters to reduce asthma symptoms. Although air filtration may be beneficial, most allergens come from the surfaces of rugs, furniture and countertops. Cleaning these areas is more important than air filtration in controlling asthma.

Air filtration is never a replacement for keeping cigarette smoke outside, or better yet, quitting altogether. Scientific studies disagree about the benefits of air filtration, and there are no official standards for air filter performance.

For a more thorough discussion of this, visit the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America Web site at

Andrea's example shows that many asthma triggers can be reduced inexpensively. Often this involves more frequent and regular cleaning routines for items such as drapes and floor coverings.

If you think chemicals in cleaning products are a problem for a patient - as they frequently are for very young asthmatics - we can supply recipes for baking soda-based cleaners that are nontoxic and can be made at home at very low cost.

Home consultation regarding asthma triggers is available from Contra Costa Health Services, either at its Web site at or by calling 925-313-6651, or toll-free 877-313-6905.

Donna Kaufman is manager of Contra Costa Health Plan's asthma management program.

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