Canku Ota Logo

Canku Ota

Canku Ota Logo

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


September 20, 2003 - Issue 96


pictograph divider


Pathways to Better Health: A Feature of the Pick Your Path to Health Campaign
Taking a Deep Breath For Better Health

by Cathy McCarthy, Anishinaabe - Metis (non-status)
credits: art: Helmo Winter Dancers by Cecil Youngfox

Helmo Winter Dancers by Cecil YoungfoxBreathing in the clean air that surrounds us is a gift that we may take for granted. But for a growing number of Indian people who suffer from asthma, this gift is withheld. This is especially so as our numbers of off-reservation communities increase in America’s inner-city areas. Even more disturbing for us is its increase among our children. Like other minorities in the United States, our people tend to live in poverty and, as a result, are surrounded by the very things most likely to trigger asthma. If we or our children suffer from this condition, lack of money and bad living conditions may prevent us from seeking medical help and the medicines that will control it. More often than not, the only time we come in contact with the systems and people who can help is at a hospital emergency room when crisis hits. And at that point, our chances of dying from asthma are 50 percent.

Asthma is a condition that causes the airways in the lungs to inflame and remain swollen. Symptoms such as coughing, wheezing (a whistling noise when you breathe), tightness in the chest, or shortness of breath indicate that already-swollen airways have closed up even more. They can even close all the way, causing a serious threat to life itself.

So how do we follow a pathway to good lung and airway health over obstacles that are seemingly beyond our control? Once again, as Indian people, we can exercise a lot more power over the situation than we may suspect by virtue of our ability to come together and act in community.

As always, the first place to start is with ourselves and within our families. Here are the more common triggers of asthma and some suggestions for controlling them.

  • Tobacco smoke - Do you or someone in the family smoke? First-hand and second-hand smoke can make asthma symptoms worse. Start by making your house a smoke-free zone. Doing this will also help you and your loved ones quit.
  • Dust mites - We share our beds and pillows with microscopic relations who feed on our dead skin. You can cut down on their numbers by encasing mattresses and pillows in dust-proof covers and washing the sheets, blankets, and pillowcases in water hotter than 130 degrees Fahrenheit every week. It also helps to keep the humidity in your house below 50 percent with either a dehumidifier or an air conditioner. If possible, get rid of rugs and carpeting, or vacuum them often. (Keep anyone with asthma out of the room while it’s being vacuumed and if you have asthma, wear a mask while vacuuming.)
  • Cockroaches - Found wherever there is poverty, the droppings and remains of this bug can trigger asthma. Cockroaches go where there is a good food supply, so the best way to control them is to clean up after meals, keep trash in covered containers, store food in sealed containers, and don’t eat in your bedroom. There are many poisons and traps on the market for controlling cockroaches. Just remember to stay out of a spray insecticide-treated room until the odor goes away.
  • Animal Dander - On the Rez, dogs and cats tend to remain outside most of the time so they aren’t a problem. In the city, they live indoors with us. Their dandruff, dried saliva, and hair can trigger asthma. If you can’t keep your pet out of the house, then at least keep it out of your bedroom.
  • Indoor Mold - Fix leaky faucets, pipes, or any other source of water and clean mold off surfaces with a cleaner containing bleach.
  • Outdoor Pollen and Mold - TV weather programs and newspapers now publish pollen and mold counts for many common irritants like grass, ragweed, and pine. If the counts are high where you live, keep your windows closed and try to stay indoors during midday and afternoon. If you take anti-inflammatory medicine for your asthma, discuss increasing your dose before allergy season starts.
  • Exercise, Sports, Work, or Play - If asthma is under control, then you shouldn’t have symptoms when you engage in physical activity. During allergy season, it might be advisable to cut down on physical activity or consult your doctor on taking medicine before you exercise. Sometimes warming up for 6 to 10 minutes beforehand will also reduce the risk of developing symptoms.

Asthma symptoms that persist after removing the environmental triggers are controlled with two types of medication: 1) those that help over the long term, and 2) those that give quick relief and are meant for the short term.

Long-term medications reduce the swelling in the airways and it may take a few weeks for you to start feeling their effect. The strongest of these medications contain steroids that are either taken as a pill, a liquid, or from an inhaler.

Short-term or quick-relief medications are designed to relax and instantly open the airways. These medicines are breathed in from inhalers. Their effect is felt immediately but only last for about 4 hours at a time.

A doctor treats your asthma by devising an individual action plan that combines removing triggers with long-term and short-term medications. For information and resources on asthma and how to treat it, you may want to contact the following organizations:

U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
NHLBI Health Information Center
Phone: 301-592-8573, (TTY): 240-629-3255

National Asthma Education and Prevention Program
Web site:

Allergy and Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics (AANMA)
Phone: Toll-free 1-800-878-4403
Web site:

Over the last decade, there have been a number of Federal government studies and public health initiatives launched to prevent asthma and help those who already suffer from symptoms gain better control through education and personal action plans. Many of these are ongoing at this time across the country. So it may well be that there is a program in your area for helping people who are on Medicare or Medicaid or who do not have health insurance at all. You may want to contact your local community clinic or Indian Friendship Center for program availability and eligibility. Or you can contact the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Air Pollution and Respiratory Health Branch, toll free at 1-888-232-6789, or (404) 498-1000. Their Web site is

The best way to keep yourself, your family, and your community on the path to good health is by being informed and staying in touch with the resources that will support your efforts. Asthma control starts with a phone call and a dust cloth. It ends with a deep sigh and the laughter of children.

Pick Your Path to Health is a national public health education campaign sponsored by the Office on Women's Health within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. For more information about the campaign, please call 1-800-994-WOMAN or 1-888-220-5446 (TDD), or visit the National Women's Health Information Center at To request weekly health tips by e-mail, click on the box that says, "Click Here for weekly health tips by e-mail."

pictograph divider

Home PageFront PageArchivesOur AwardsAbout Us

Kid's PageColoring BookCool LinksGuest BookEmail Us


pictograph divider

  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.  

Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.

Canku Ota Logo   Canku Ota Logo

The "Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America" web site and its design is the

Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 of Paul C. Barry.

All Rights Reserved.

Site Meter
Thank You

Valid HTML 4.01!