What is Asthma?
Asthma is a serious chronic disease that affects your lungs. It causes repeated episodes of wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness, and nighttime or early morning coughing. Asthma is with you all the time, but you may have “asthma attacks or episodes” only when something bothers your lungs. Asthma cannot not cured but can be controlled.1
Who is most likely to suffer from Asthma?
In New Jersey, approximately 500,000 adults and 180,000 children currently have asthma. Anyone can develop asthma; however, children, black, Hispanic, and urban residents are most likely to be affected. Individuals with allergies and those people with a family history of asthma are also most likely to suffer from this disease.
How is Asthma Diagnosed?
Asthma can be difficult to diagnose, especially in children under 5 years old. Regular physical exams that include checks of lung function and checks for allergies can help in making the right diagnosis.
A health-care provider trying to diagnose asthma will ask you questions about coughing, especially coughing at night, and whether breathing problems are worse after physical activity or during a particular time of year. The provider will ask about other symptoms, such as chest tightness, wheezing, and colds lasting more than 10 days. He or she will ask about your family history of asthma, allergy, and other breathing problems. Other questions will be about your home environment and about lost school or work days and limits to your activity.
Testing of lung function, called spirometry, is another way to diagnose asthma. A spirometer is a piece of equipment that measures the largest amount of air you can exhale after taking a very deep breath. Airflow can be measured before and after you use an asthma medication.1
What Happens During an Asthma Attack?
Airways are the paths that carry air to the lungs. As the air moves through the lungs, the airways become smaller, like branches of a tree. During an attack, the sides of the airways in your lungs become inflamed and swollen. Muscles around the airways tighten, and less air passes in and out of the lungs. Excess mucus forms in the airways, clogging them even more. The attack, also called an episode, can include coughing, chest tightness, wheezing, and trouble breathing.1
What Causes an Asthma Attack?
- Environmental Tobacco Smoke, Also Known As Secondhand Smoke
Parents, friends, and relatives of children with asthma should try to stop smoking. Until they can successfully quit, they should smoke only outdoors, not in the home or in the family car. They should not allow others to smoke in the home, and should make sure the child's school is smoke-free.
- Dust Mites
Mattress covers and pillow case covers provide a barrier between house dust mites and the person with asthma. Down-filled pillows, quilts, or comforters should not be used and stuffed animals and clutter should be removed from bedrooms.
- Outdoor Air Pollution
Pollution caused by industrial emissions and automobile exhaust can cause an asthma episode. In large cities that have air pollution problems the number of emergency department visits for asthma episodes goes up when the air quality is very poor.
- Cockroach Allergen
You may find cockroaches any place where food is eaten and crumbs are left behind. Decreasing exposure to cockroaches in the home can help reduce asthma attacks. Remove as many water and food sources as you can because cockroaches need food and water to survive. Vacuum or sweep these areas at least every 2-3 days. You can also use roach traps or gels to decrease the number of cockroaches in your home.
Furry pets may trigger an attack. The simplest solution to this situation is to find another home for the pet. However, some pet owners may be too attached to their pets or unable to locate a safe new home for the animal. Any animal causing an allergic reaction should not be allowed in the bedroom. Pets should be kept outside as much as possible and bathed weekly. People with asthma are not allergic to their pet’s fur, so trimming the pet’s fur will not help your asthma. Frequent vacuuming will reduce the presence of the allergen. Hard surface floors should be damp mopped weekly.
When mold is inhaled, it can cause asthma attacks. Eliminating mold throughout the home can help control asthma attacks. Keep humidity levels between 35% and 50%. In hot, humid climates, this may require the use of air conditioning and/or dehumidifiers. Fixing water leaks and cleaning up any mold in the home can also help.
- Asthma-Causing Agents in the Workplace
There are many substances in workplaces that can cause work-related asthma. These include, for example, chemicals in polyurethane paints and other products, cleaning materials, latex rubber, dust (dander) from animals and insects, grain and flour dust, and molds. To find out if workplace exposures are a problem, ask yourself these two questions: #1) Does your asthma symptoms usually start or get worse when you are at work and get better when you are away from work? #2) Are there any materials or activities at your job that you try to avoid because they make your asthma symptoms worse. If you answered “Yes” to either of these questions, you may have work-related asthma.
- Other Triggers
Strenuous physical exercise; adverse weather conditions like freezing temperatures, high humidity, and thunderstorms; and some foods and food additives and drugs can trigger asthma episodes. Strong emotional states also can lead to hyperventilation and an asthma episode. People with asthma should learn if these things trigger their episodes and avoid them when possible.1
How can Asthma Triggers be controlled and reduced?
- No smoking indoors (or in the car).
- Cover mattress, box springs and pillows with special allergy-proof encasings.
- Remove carpet in the bedroom or vacuum often.
- Regularly clean your home to remove dust.
- Wash bedding in hot water weekly.
- Fix leaks and moisture problems.
- Store all food in air-tight containers or in the refrigerator.
- Clean up crumbs and dirty dishes and remove garbage daily.
- Keep cats, dogs, and caged pets out of your home.
- Avoid using products with strong odors around family members with asthma.2
- Avoid or control exposure to asthma-causing agents at your job.
What are the symptoms of an Asthma Emergency?
The following symptoms indicate an emergency: trouble walking or talking, lips/fingernails are gray or blue, chest/neck muscles are working hard. If you have these symptoms or see someone with them dial 911.
How is asthma treated?
You can control your asthma and avoid an attack by taking your medicine as prescribed and by avoiding the triggers that can cause an attack. It is important that you remove those triggers in your environment which make your asthma worse.
Medicine for asthma is different for each person. It can be inhaled or taken as a pill and comes in two types—quick-relief and long-term control. Quick-relief (rescue) medicines provide immediate relief of symptoms that cause an asthma attack. If you are using your quick-relief medicines more and more you should visit your health-care provider to change your asthma management plan. Long-term (control) medicines prevent an asthma attack from occurring or control airway inflammation, but they don’t help you if you’re having an attack.
Asthma medicine can have side effects. Most are mild and go away on their own. Ask your health-care provider about the side effects of your medicines.
Remember to take your long-term control medicine even when you don’t have symptoms.1
How do I tell if my child has asthma?
Listed below are symptoms that could indicate your child is developing or has asthma. However, the diagnosis of asthma is done by a healthcare provider in three ways: medical history, physical exam and lung function test.
- Troublesome cough, particularly at night
- Awakened by coughing
- Coughing or wheezing after physical activity
- Breathing problems during particular seasons
- Coughing, wheezing, or chest tightness after exposure to allergens
- Colds that last more than 10 days
- Relief when medication is used3
Will my child be permitted to carry their medication to school?
Yes, New Jersey Statute Amendment 18A:40-12.3 mandated school districts to allow students to self-administer asthma medication.
N.J.S.A. 18A:40-12.7 mandates public and nonpublic schools to provide and maintain at least one nebulizer for students with asthma.
What if I am uninsured and can’t afford treatment or medication?
New Jersey offers several programs for uninsured individuals depending on age and income. You maybe eligible for:
- Resident of New Jersey
- U.S. Citizen or qualified alien (most immigrants who arrived after August 22, 1996 are barred from the program for five years)
- Meet specific standards for financial income and resources
To find out more about Medicaid call 1-800-356-1561 or visit http://www.state.nj.us/humanservices/dmahs/
- Pharmaceutical Assistance to the Aged and Disabled
- A New Jersey resident;
- Must meet the income limit for single or married;
- The income limit will increase each January by the amount of the Social Security cost-of-living increase;
- You are at least 65 years of age, OR at least 18 years of age and receiving Social Security Title II Disability benefits.
You may complete an application at:
- A Partnership for Prescription Assistance (Rx4NJ)
- Rx4NJ is a program that connects qualified, low-income people with discount prescription drugs, direct from the pharmaceutical manufacturer.
- To apply call 1-888-793-6765 or click www.rx4nj.org
- New Jersey Centers for Primary Health Care (CPHC)
Does the State of New Jersey have an Asthma Program?
In recognition of asthma as significant public health issue, the Department of Health in 2000 established an asthma program. The Asthma Awareness and Education Program (AAEP) is located within the Division of Family Health Services/Chronic Disease and Prevention Service Unit. The program focuses on improving the health of people living and/or working in New Jersey by effective prevention, identification and management of asthma, through a coordinated partnership among public and private organizations. The various partnerships have made the program very effective and successful in increasing asthma awareness.
The Asthma Program publishes an "Asthma in New Jersey"
report that summarizes the asthma prevalence, mortality, and morbidity for New Jersey residents.
What is the Pediatric/Adult Asthma Coalition of New Jersey (PACNJ)?
In January 2000, the American Lung Association and Thoracic Society of New Jersey established the Pediatric/Adult Asthma Coalition of New Jersey (PACNJ) coalition. PACNJ is funded through the NJDOH, as a statewide coalition whose primary mission is to promote asthma awareness and education throughout the state. PACNJ focuses on the areas of asthma relating to childcare, community, environment, healthcare providers, schools and health insurance. For more information click www.pacnj.org
Where can I get more information about Asthma?
1 Centers for Disease Control " Important Facts About Asthma".
2 Pediatric Adult/Asthma Coalition of NJ "Top Ten Action to Control Asthma Triggers in Your Home".
3 Centers for Disease Control/NCEH "Speakerskit".