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 Americas
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 its being vacuumed and if you have asthma, wear
a mask while vacuuming.)
- 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 dont 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.
Dander - On the Rez, dogs and cats tend to remain outside most
of the time so they arent a problem. In the city, they
live indoors with us. Their dandruff, dried saliva, and hair
can trigger asthma. If you cant keep your pet out of the
house, then at least keep it out of your bedroom.
Mold - Fix leaky faucets, pipes, or any other source of water
and clean mold off surfaces with a cleaner containing bleach.
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.
Sports, Work, or Play - If asthma is under control, then you
shouldnt 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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
NHLBI Health Information Center
Phone: 301-592-8573, (TTY): 240-629-3255
Asthma Education and Prevention Program
Web site: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/about/naepp/
and Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics (AANMA)
Phone: Toll-free 1-800-878-4403
Web site: http://www.aanma.org/
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 http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/airpollution/asthma/default.htm.
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.
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
http://www.4woman.gov. To request weekly health tips by e-mail,
click on the box that says, "Click Here for weekly health tips