Healthy Homes: Asthma & Allergies
More than 8 million children in the U.S. have a disease called asthma. Asthma, a leading reason that children miss school or end up in the hospital, makes it hard for people to breathe. The disease has no cure, but it can be controlled.
What Happens During an Asthma Attack?
Asthma flare-ups are called asthma attacks. During an attack, the breathing tubes in your lungs, called bronchi and bronchioles, swell up causing the muscles around these tubes to tighten and airways to constrict. The tubes make large amounts of a thick fluid called mucus.
Asthma is not contagious; however, it does run in families. The number of asthma cases is growing, and more people die from it each year. These deaths are unnecessary and preventable.
Warning Signs of an Asthma Attack
- Tightness in the chest
- Shortness of breath
- Wheezing or coughing
People with asthma who learn to spot the early signs of an attack can take medicine right away, decreasing the severity of the attack.
Asthma can be managed. Asthma patients (or their parents) who learn what medicine to take and what triggers attacks can avoid them most of the time, meaning people with asthma can lead normal lives.
Many types of medicine can treat asthma. Keep in mind that no one medicine works best for everyone. You and your doctor have to work together to find the best medicine. Remember, it may take a while to find the right kinds. It is crucial to take the time and find out what sets off an attack, so you can help prevent one.
No one knows what causes asthma, but there are many triggers. Some have only one or two triggers and other people have many.
Some triggers are things to which people are often allergic. Common ones are pollen (from trees and flowers) and dander (skin flakes from cats, dogs, and other pets). Also, some people are allergic to pests such as roaches, rodents, or dust mites. Dust mites are tiny spiders that you can't see. They live everywhere - carpets, upholstered furniture, stuffed animals, and bedding. Cigarette smoke is another common trigger of asthma attacks. Other triggers have nothing to do with allergies - cold weather, exercise, or strong feelings (laughing or crying).
Other common triggers include:
- Cleaning products like furniture polish or dusting sprays
- Personal care products like hair spray or perfume
- Flu or colds
About 40 to 50 million people have allergies. Allergies can also make it hard for people to breathe. An allergy is an unusual reaction to something, like a food or plant, which is normally harmless.
Common signs of allergies include runny or stuffy noses, coughing, hives, itching, a rash or puffy eyes. Allergies can be deadly for some people. When sensitive people come in contact with something they are allergic to, like peanuts, their blood pressure drops, their breathing tubes swell up, and they can die from lack of air. The good news is that allergies can be treated.
If you have allergies, it's important to find out what causes them and how to take care of them. A doctor can test you to find out. People with severe allergies may need to carry emergency medicine.
An allergen is something that causes allergy signs, or an allergic reaction. Many of the asthma triggers listed above also cause allergic reactions in people who don't have asthma. There are many other allergens too. It's important to talk to your doctor if you have had a reaction to any of these common allergens:
- Foods: milk and dairy products, citrus fruit like oranges and lemonds, artificial colors and flavors, nuts, and shellfish like shrimp or clams.
- Medicines: penicillin, some heart medicines, and some anti-seizure medicines
- Insect stings and bites: yellow jackets, honeybees, paper wasps, hornets and fire ants
- In some people, reactions to stings become more serious as years go by. Eventually, only one sting may kill. Talk to your doctor if you have had a serious reaction to a sting.
- Contact allergens: things like plants, cosmetics, jewelry, or latex (a type of rubber) that touches the skin
Asthma and Allergies Teachers Guide (Word)
Asthma and Allergies (PowerPoint: 205 KB)
Asthma and Allergies Pre-test (Word: 75 KB)
Asthma and Allergies Post-test (Word: 77 KB)