CHICAGO—An estimated 25 million Americans—including seven million children—suffer from asthma, a chronic respiratory disease for which attacks can range from mild to life-threatening. The prevalence has been increasing over the last two decades, and the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) is encouraging effective management to reduce environmental triggers of the disease during Asthma Awareness Month in May.
“Asthma attacks account for nearly 2 million emergency room visits nationwide each year,” said IDPH Acting Director Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck. “It is extremely important that we continue to raise awareness about common triggers so that the disease can be effectively controlled, and environmental factors, to the greatest extent possible, can be reduced.”
The annual economic cost of asthma, including direct medical costs from hospital stays and indirect costs such as lost school and work days, amounts to more than $56 billion annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). African-Americans and Latinos are also disproportionately impacted by the disease. Approximately 3 million Latinos are affected by asthma, with the highest rate being among Puerto Ricans—113 percent higher than non-Hispanic whites, and 50 percent higher than non-Hispanic blacks, according to the CDC.
About 14 percent of Illinoisans suffer from asthma, and over the last 20 years, Illinois has had one of the nation’s highest asthma mortality rates. Asthma is triggered by indoor and outdoor allergens, irritants including secondhand smoke, dust mites, mold, gas-cooking stoves, wood smoke, cockroaches and other pests, and many household cleaning supplies.
In 1999 the Illinois Asthma Program was established to develop strategic goals and long-range planning in the effort to reduce asthma in Illinois. In 2009, the third Illinois Asthma Strategic Plan was released with long-range goals and solutions to reduce the burden of asthma for people with asthma and their caretakers.
In August 2010, the legislature passed Public Act 96-1460, making it simpler for students to carry and self-administer rescue inhalers at school. Students now need only a note from a parent or guardian and a copy of their prescription to keep their inhalers with them. Previously, they were also required to get written permission from a physician—a logistical hurdle that prevented many children from having ready access to their medication.
The Illinois Asthma Partnership consists of state and federal agencies, local asthma coalitions, national non-profits, hospitals, universities, and individuals from a diverse background of professions to address statewide goals. Statewide goals include implementing interventions to identify triggers and increase asthma awareness in the workplace and in schools, and promoting the use of asthma action plans and the adoption of asthma friendly policies and practices.
Steps toward preventing and/or reducing the occurrence of asthma attacks include:
• Talk to a doctor—Learn what triggers asthma attacks, identify triggers in the home and medications to take.
• Develop an “Asthma Action Plan”—Identify triggers, keep track of the severity of symptoms and keep medical resources handy.
• Asthma-proof your home—Manage and eliminate triggers (mold, dust mites, secondhand smoke; keep food sealed and kitchen area free of clutter to minimize pests, maintain low humidity in the home).
• Quit smoking—When a person inhales tobacco smoke, irritating substances settle in the moist lining of the airways. These substances can cause an attack in a person who has asthma. Call 866-Quit Yes for free tobacco cessation information.
To read the entire Illinois Asthma Strategic Plan, and for additional resources regarding the management of environmental triggers for asthma, visit http://www.idph.state.il.us/about/ chronic/asthma.htm.