World Asthma Day 2019

Join Breathe Pennsylvania as we celebrate World Asthma Day on Tuesday, May 7, 2019. This annual event was originally organized in 1998 by the Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA) supported by USA based National Heart, Lung, Blood Institute (NHLBI) and the World Asthma Foundation.

More than 24 million Americans have asthma, affecting 1 in 12 children and 1 in 14 adults. Asthma seems to be most prevalent in areas that are underserved and have low quality air. Racial and socioeconomic disparities still impact the quality of care and treatment received. There are genetic interactions and environmental issues that can also play a role in the severity of asthma.

Asthma is a chronic lung disease which causes breathing difficulties. There is still no cure for asthma, but with proper awareness, education, and management it can be controlled. A good place to start is to identify your personal asthma triggers. Triggers can include but aren’t limited to:

  • Allergens- pollens, animal dander, certain foods, mold
  • Irritants- cigarette smoke, fumes, pollution
  • Physical triggers – exercise, cold air, emotions

By identifying your triggers you can reduce, avoid, and/or eliminate coming in contact to reduce asthma’s impact on your lifestyle.

Managing asthma takes a team effort. You can take an active role in managing your asthma: create a personal asthma action plan, take your medications according to your doctor’s direction, know when your symptoms are getting worse, and be prepared by carrying your rescue albuterol with you at all times.

Let’s work together this May and raise awareness of asthma and how it impacts everyone. To view the most current statistics on adult and pediatric asthma visit www.cdc.gov/asthma/default.htm

To learn more about your local asthma news, events, programs and resources visit www.breathepa.org

 

Radon Testing Instructions

I often get questions about testing protocols for radon test kits.  First, when doing home testing with a kit, make sure all the directions are read.  In our own test kits – which are similar to others – there are basic instructions that talk about how to physically set the kit.  However, on the back there are more in-depth instructions that should be read and followed.

First, the most important instructions are to maintain closed house conditions starting 12 hours before the test.  Close all windows and exterior doors and turn off any fans that vent to the outside.  This also includes a door to the garage if you have one.  Normal heating and AC can be used and normal use of doors is acceptable as long as doors are immediately closed after use.  If outside air is allowed to circulate through the house this will give a false low to the testing.  It is also important to note that in certain situations it can also give a false high reading.  So it is important to be strict with this protocol.

Second involves placement.  The state of Pennsylvania requires – in a non-real estate test – for a kit to be placed in the lowest lived in area of the house.  This would be a basement, but not a crawl space, garage or any other unheated unused space.  Additionally, bathrooms and washrooms should not be used, but this is more for humidity issues.

Radon is usually highest in the basement, and also tends to be more consistent there.  This allows for the most consistent measurement.  This assures that other areas of the house will be probably be lower.

Third, the device should be placed at a level where people normally breathe.  This is between 2 and 6 feet.  This should be obvious.  We want to measure the air people will actually inhale.  Also the devices should be more than 3 feet away from doors, vents, exterior walls and exterior windows.  Moving air can also have an effect on testing results.  Interior fans, even though they are not exhausting air, should also be turned off if in the same room as a test kit.

In the end all of these “rules” are about getting the most accurate reading for the home owner.

To learn more about radon test kits or to purchase one, visit www.breathepa.org/radon-test-kit.

Navigating Air Quality Alerts and Children

Spring is here and we are all ready to make the transition of wintry weather to warm and breezy weather with regards to our clothes and outside activity. Ok, there are probably still a few who hate to see the snow go, but not me! So for those of us ready to make the move to a warmer time of the year and moving our exercise and activity outside, let’s talk about air quality.

This is an important issue for the children I work with who have asthma. Parents often ask if it is safe to send their children outside to play when the news is listing a day as a “poor air quality day.” With this issue as with others, it’s important to talk to your doctor, follow the recommended guidelines provided and use your best judgement.

Here are some recommendations:

  • Limit your activity to one that doesn’t require moving and breathing too fast. For example, consider walking instead of running or yoga in place of soccer.
  • Arrange your activity near or in water. Winds tend to be stronger around water so consider kayaking or swimming. Swimming can also be a great indoor activity if it is recommended you stay indoors.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, levels for ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide are the determinants that impact air quality in Southwestern Pennsylvania. The Air Quality Index Report has six categories: Good, Moderate, Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, Unhealthy, Very Unhealthy and Hazardous.

Follow the links below to learn more:

Air Quality Index Categories
AQI Reports in the area
Air Quality Index for Kids- Parents Reference Page

The Importance of Pulmonary Rehab

At Breathe Pennsylvania, we are big proponents of pulmonary rehab. It is a drug-free intervention that teaches individuals with respiratory disease how to safely exercise while maintaining control of their breathing. Individuals who attend pulmonary rehabilitation not only reduce their breathlessness and improve stamina, but learn about exercise options that can be implemented long-term, even when the formal pulmonary rehabilitation program ends.

Pulmonary rehabilitation is a multidisciplinary program and should be considered as part of a care plan for patients with respiratory disease. The supervised exercises, education, training, and assessments can help improve your quality of life. What are you waiting for? Talk to your lung doctor about pulmonary rehabilitation. A list of pulmonary rehabilitation facilities near you can be found at www.livebetter.org.

Air Quality and Your Lungs

Recently in western Pennsylvania, there has been a lot of discussion about air quality, pollution, and the importance of protecting your lungs when you are considered part of a “sensitive” population. However, the terminology and classification may be confusing. What does it mean to be “sensitive” to dips in air quality, and how would someone know that they need to protect their lungs?

The Clean Air Act is a law that mandates that the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards (OAQPS) set national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS). These standards evaluate pollutants that are considered harmful to people and the environment, and include six criteria:
• Ground-level ozone
• Particulate matter
• Carbon monoxide
• Lead
• Sulfur dioxide
• Nitrogen dioxide

In order to communicate these pollutant levels to the public, the EPA has established an Air Quality Index (AQI), which quantifies local air quality levels using five of the six pollutants previously mentioned (lead is excluded). The AQI ranges from 0-500, and is color-coded for ease of communication to the public. The AQI alerts individuals about when they should take actions to protect their lungs.

Some individuals are considered to be part of “sensitive populations.” This terminology means that it would be harder for an individual to protect themselves—and recover from—dips in air quality. The elderly, children, individuals with lung disease, and individuals with heart disease are included in this classification. Therefore, when pollutant levels rise, they tend to feel the effects before the rest of the population does.

It is important for individuals from sensitive populations to be aware of the air quality levels in their community, so that they may take steps to protect their lungs. You may register online at www.enviroflash.info for daily AQI email alerts, or visit www.airnow.gov to review current air quality levels.

Exposure to pollutants can reduce the ability for the lungs to function normally. This is particularly true for sensitive groups. To protect your lungs when the AQI level is high, reduce the amount of time you spend outdoors, and limit your exertion levels outdoors. For more information on the Clean Air Act, visit www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-08/documents/peg.pdf.

1. Environmental Protection Agency (2016). Air quality. Retrieved from https://www3.epa.gov/airquality/cleanair.html
2. Environmental Protection Agency (2016). Air quality index (AQI) basics. Retrieved from https://airnow.gov/index.cfm?action=aqibasics.aqi

The 10 Worst Jobs for Your Lungs

It is estimated that up to 17% of adult asthma cases may be caused by exposure to inhaled irritants in the workplace, making people with COPD at even greater risk from these types of jobs. Occupational lung diseases are preventable using a little common sense and control measures. Here are 10 fields that can cause you problems over time:

  1. Construction: Inhaled dust can cause mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer.
  2. Firefighting: Inhaled smoke and chemicals caused by burning structures as well as asbestos exposure after the fire has been extinguished can be harmful over time.
  3. Textiles: Byssinosis is common among those who make upholstery, socks, towels and clothes who have inhaled cotton dust or other materials.
  4. Automotive Repair: Spray-on paints can irritate skin and the lungs causing severe breathing problems.
  5. Transportation: Delivery truck drivers, railroad workers and those who unload materials on loading docks can be at risk for COPD. Diesel exhaust is the culprit.
  6. Manufacturing: Factory workers are exposed to myriad of irritants such as dust, chemicals and gases. Diacetyl, a flavoring agent used in microwave popcorn, is linked to bronchiolitis obliterans, a relative of COPD.
  7. Health Care: Up to 12% of health care workers are allergic to latex. This can cause a severe airway reaction. Many places have switched to latex-free gloves.
  8. Baking: Exposure to flour dust and enzymes used in dough-making can lead to developing of an allergic sensitization. Also a danger are allergens shed by insects that are found in flour.
  9. Mining: Dust exposure from coal, rocks, minerals, and sand can lead to black lung and silicosis.
  10. Bartending: Smoke-filled bars and restaurants put workers at high risk for developing lung disease.These days most states have banned smoking which has helped immensely.

What should you do if you work in these high-risk fields? First, if you smoke, stop! Use a mask or respirator, make sure the room is well-ventilated, and use gloves and goggles if needed. Don’t think that because you are young you don’t need to be concerned. Lung damage takes place over time so start now to protect yourself.

Reference: Time Health Winter 2018

Exposure to Radon is a Preventable Health Risk

January is National Radon Awareness Month. Radon comes from the breakdown of trace amounts of uranium in our soil.  As a gas, it moves up into our homes where it is trapped and presents a danger to us in the form of lung cancer. Radon is considered the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking.

As a former radon measurement technician, I know about the importance of testing your home, and the effects of radon really hit close to home a few years ago. I was in the same neighborhood that my grandmother lived in about 25 years prior. I was there to pick up a radon test, and my equipment indicated a level of about 17.0 picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L) – the recommended remediation level is 4 pCi/L, so this measurement was clearly extremely high.

After leaving the house, I cruised through the old neighborhood and I noticed many houses that had radon remediation systems.    Their white PVC piping terminating above the roofs and fan housings near foundations were an obvious give away.  It’s possible that there were probably just as many on the opposite side and rear of the houses that I could not see.

It got me thinking.

My grandmother died of lung cancer, and her death was a little perplexing because she was never a smoker.  My parents just assumed it was related to her growing up in the “smoky city” that Pittsburgh has been known for. She grew up near the old American Bridge Steel facility where my grandfather worked.

Though scientists were aware of the dangers of radon at the time, it had not yet become a common issue to check a home for such during a sale.

My state training has told me that just because one house has high levels of radon, it doesn’t mean the one next door will (and vice versa). I have certainly encountered such situations.

However, after seeing so many houses with radon mitigation systems near and around my grandmother’s old home, I seriously wonder if the reason for her death had more to do with radon than living in the “smoky city.”  In my profession, I have heard people talk about radon testing and mitigation as being an excuse for home inspectors to make a buck on an unnecessary service.  However, I could not think of a more important, lifesaving service for people to have during a home sale and inspection.

Exposure to radon is a preventable health risk. For more information about radon and testing for radon, or to order a radon test kit, visit www.breathepa.org/radon-test-kit.

What is E-Asthma?

Eosinophilic Asthma (E-Asthma), is a severe form of asthma that affects the entire respiratory system. What sets this type of asthma apart from the asthma you might know, is the high levels of white blood cells called eosinophil. These white blood cells are part of your immune system and help to fight off infection.

High levels of eosinophils can cause inflammation (swelling) that affects the sinuses and nasal passages as well as your lower airways. This kind of asthma is often seen in people who are 25-35 years old.

At this time, we are not sure what causes this type of asthma. Scientists are exploring whether or not there could be a genetic link. What they do know is that this particular kind of asthma is not triggered by an allergen.

Here are some of the symptoms a person might experience with E-Asthma:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing/cough
  • Tightness on the chest
  • Stuffy nose
  • Chronic sinus infections
  • Nasal drainage
  • Nasal polyps
  • Lost sense of smell

It is important to see your doctor if you are experiencing any of these symptoms. This type of inflammation of your airways can lead to permanent damage to your airways and scarring of the lung tissue.

A doctor will be able to decide if you have E-Asthma by measuring the eosinophils in your blood or saliva and by conducting a bronchial biopsy.

There are injectable medications available to treat E-Asthma along with inhaled corticosteroids: Cinqair, Fasenra, Xolair and Nucala. There is also a new oral medication being tested called Fevipiprant. Though still in development, this experimental drug reduced symptoms and improved lung function in studies completed so far. If Fevipiprant is approved, it would be the first new oral asthma drug to be introduced in 20 years. These treatments take place under the direct supervision of a physician.

To learn more visit https://www.verywellhealth.com/what-is-eosinophilic-asthma-4156744

Consider Your Lungs Before You Cozy Up by the Fireplace

Home fireplaces often sit unused for most of the year.  With the holidays coming up, fireplaces might get “fired up” for family get togethers. 

The biggest issue can be old brick and terra cotta liners that can allow flue gasses to escape into the home.  In some older homes, flues have combined uses—such as for the fireplace and hot water heating system. It’s important to know the purpose of a flue is to ensure that dangerous gasses like carbon monoxide aren’t building up in your home.

Even if your fireplace is blocked off and not used, the flue still could be in use by your water heater or your furnace – especially in an older home.  

Additionally, animals like to make their homes in chimneys.  Their nests and fecal material can cause flue gasses to back up into the home. Such venting problems can develop slowly and exacerbate difficult breathing for older people or people with known asthma issues. 

Finally, make sure the flue damper is functional. The flue damper enables you to control how much air flows up your chimney when the fireplace is in use. It should always be open when the fireplace is in use. Otherwise, smoke could fill your home. 

The most likely repair to flue issues is to have the chimney lined.  Most chimney liners can be installed for under $1,000.  As with most issues an ounce of prevention can go a long way. If you’re planning to use your fireplace this winter, it is a good idea to have a certified chimney sweep check it out.

Take Steps to Live Better with COPD

November is National COPD Awareness Month, and as the third leading cause of death in the United States – and the fourth worldwide – it’s the public health crisis that nobody is talking about. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a general term that is used to describe diseases such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis, which develop over a long period of time. These diseases cause significant lung destruction and air trapping, and they are irreversible.

In Pennsylvania, more than 6% of adults have been diagnosed with COPD. That means that nearly 700,000 adults in Pennsylvania have been diagnosed and are living with COPD. However, the nature of the disease process causes it to be grossly underdiagnosed, and it is estimated that just as many people have undiagnosed COPD.

As November wraps up, take the steps to live better with COPD:

  1. Quit smoking. If you smoke, make an effort to quit. Quitting smoking will have the greatest impact on changing the natural course of the disease.
  2. Get tested. Pulmonary function testing, or spirometry, will identify airflow limitations and provide your doctor with useful information about your lung health. Many people with COPD attribute their worsening lung function to part of the natural aging process. Measuring lung functions will help determine if that is the case.
  3. Get your vaccinations. The flu shot and pneumonia vaccine are recommended for individuals with COPD.
  4. Take your medications and take them correctly. Take your respiratory medications as prescribed. Use your inhaler with a spacer and follow proper technique to ensure the best medication distribution in the lungs.

 

  1. COPD Foundation, 2018. COPD in the United States: How is your state doing? Retrieved from https://www.copdfoundation.org/Portals/0/
StateAssessmentCards/SAC__PA_2018.pdf
  1. Global initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease, 2018. Global strategy for the diagnosis, management, and prevention of chronic lung disease. Retrieved from https://goldcopd.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/GOLD-2018-v6.0-FINAL-revised-20-Nov_WMS.pdf