What Is Asthma?
Asthma is a condition in which your airways narrow and swell and produce extra mucus. This makes breathing difficult and triggers coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.
The definition of asthma is simple, but the condition itself is quite complex. It’s a chronic condition that requires continuous monitoring and treatment. For some people, asthma is a minor nuisance. For others, it can interfere with daily life. For those living in areas with polluted air, asthma is detrimental. It's not clear why some people get asthma and others don't, but genetics and the environment play a role.
Asthma is one of the most common respiratory issues in the world. The World Health Organization (WHO)1 estimates that 235 million people around the world have the disease. It’s the most prevalent non-communicable disease among children. Asthma is characterized by “attacks,” symptoms of which include coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, and difficulty breathing. They are caused when something triggers the lung’s airways to narrow and increase mucus output, which makes it tough for the asthmatic to breathe. While there are treatments to help prevent attacks and manage symptoms, asthma is a chronic disease and has no cure.
How Can Air Pollution Affect Asthma?
Overall, asthmatics are relatively more sensitive to air pollution compared to healthy people. Dust, soot, and diesel fumes create fine pollution particles that are so small it makes it easy for them to travel into the lungs, causing irritation and inflammation. An asthma sufferer will experience more severe breathing problems as a result of air pollution.
What Pollutants Affect Breathing for Asthmatics?
There are two primary air pollutants that affect asthma. One is ground-level ozone (found in smog). The other is particle pollution (found in smoke, dust, and haze). When ozone and particle pollution are in the air, asthmatics are more likely to experience symptoms.
Exposure to unhealthy air can have lasting effects on you and your child’s health. From heart to lung function and even premature death, air pollution is a serious and undervalued health threat. 91% of the world’s population live in cities and communities with unhealthy air. The situation in our homes can be even worse. The Environmental Protection Agency warns that the air quality in your homes is often more unhealthy than the air outside your window. The good news is you can take steps to improve the air quality in your home. And new research about the causes and effects of unhealthy air can help you make the best choices for your family. Long-term Health Impacts The World Health Organization says pneumonia is the leading cause of death for children under five years old. Poor air quality is a leading risk factor. The EPA spells out a grave list of ailments poor air quality can cause: Aggravate asthma Increase respiratory issues like coughing or irritation of the airways Decreased lung function Irregular heartbeat Damage to the liver, kidney, and central nervous system Premature death in people with lung or heart disease
Why does asthma impact kids more than adults?
Children are more vulnerable to symptoms and triggers because they are smaller and still developing. Some people find that their symptoms decrease as they get older. However, asthma never completely goes away and there’s always a chance symptoms could come back later in adulthood. The exact origin of the respiratory disease is unknown, but there is a range of potential causes. While it is not fully understood, there is clearly a genetic component – if one of your parents has asthma, you are more likely to have it than someone who doesn’t. However, most research indicates that the primary causes of asthma are environmental.
What is an asthma trigger?
An asthma trigger is something that can set off asthma symptoms or lead to an asthma attack. Your child’s activity level, environment, air quality, and health can all impact their struggle with asthma. Each one contains potential triggers. Triggers spark asthma symptoms like shortness of breath, wheezing, tightness in the lungs, and coughing. Here is a list of common asthma triggers and how to figure out which ones are impacting your child’s breathing.
Dust Mites are nasty little critters that make themselves right at home in your bed, linens, and couch. These tiny organisms are barely visible to the naked eye and feed off moisture in the air. They can act as a trigger for both asthma and allergies. So, how do you know if dust mites are affecting your health? Consider the symptoms:
- Red, watery, and irritated eyes
- Wheezing, coughing, and tightness in your chest
Dust mites thrive and multiply quickly in warm, humid environments. They cozy up to items like pillows, rugs, carpets, and mattresses. If dust mites are triggering your asthma, you may constantly experience issues with your breathing. Dust mites are not seasonal. You can’t get rid of them, but you can cut down on their population. The Mayo Clinic suggests,
- Wash bedding in hot water every week
- Use pillow covers
- Remove dust with a wet rag or mop
- Vacuum regularly (HEPA filters are recommended)
- Keep humidity low in your home (use a dehumidifier or air conditioner)
How to Protect Yourself From Pollution as an Asthmatic
There is no cure for asthma, but there are measures you can take to control your symptoms. If symptoms flare up during heavy levels of pollution, change your activity level and amount of time spent outdoors. This will reduce how much pollution you breathe in. While you might not be able to change your schedule completely, you can control the intensity of activities. For example, go for a walk instead of a run.