By Aswad Walker
Growing up, local entrepreneur Derrick Carson felt like asthma was terrorizing his family.
“When I was a kid, middle school aged, I was scared to death of asthma because on several occasions, my little brother had attacks and looked like he was about to die,” said Carson. “I remember, me, my parents and older brother would all run around in a panic to get my younger brother hooked up to that breathing machine, that nebulizer, and get him calmed down. That happened like three or four times. Scary.”
But for stay-at-home dad Jimmie Roberts, asthma was simply an inconvenience.
“During my childhood, it felt like I lived every moment carrying around that dang inhaler, and feeling extremely uncool with it, usually in my shirt pocket,” he recalled. “But as I grew older, it was like I grew out of it, like the asthma disappeared. Don’t know if that’s possible, but I’ve been inhaler-free since high school freshman year.”
Between those two experiences exists many asthma myths and facts. But first, what exactly is asthma?
Asthma Is …
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute define asthma as a chronic (long-term) condition that affects the airways in the lungs, making them inflamed and narrowed at times, and thus making it harder to breathe out.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says about one in 13 people in the U.S. has asthma, which affects people of all ages and often starts during childhood.
And as Carson’s and Roberts’ experiences show, there are different levels of asthma’s impact. In fact, there are various types of asthma, including allergic and nonallergic. But that alone doesn’t form the basis of identifying how severe it is. Hence, asthma is further classified into four stages – intermittent, mild persistent, moderate persistent and severe persistent (often called uncontrolled).
Blacks and Asthma
Not surprisingly, asthma, like seemingly every other medical condition in the U.S., negatively impacts Black people more than others.
- Black children are more than twice as likely to have asthma, at a rate of 15.7%, compared to white children at 7.1%.
- According to the “State of the Air” report, more than 1 in 3 people living in the United States live in communities with unhealthy air quality levels.
- Of the nearly 120 million people who live in areas with unhealthy air quality, more than 64 million — 54% — are people of color. (State of the Air)
- According to the American Lung Association State of the Air Report, there were 30,826 adults with asthma
- People of color are 3.7 times more likely to live in a county with failing grades across three metrics for air pollution
- Black people are 75% more likely to live near oil and gas refineries. Exposure to dirty air can result in serious health conditions and death. From lung cancer to asthma, there are so many ways pollution can impact the health and wellness of Black folk.
Houston, We Have a Problem
The Houston Health Department’s report, “Houston’s Asthma Burden: A Summary,” the following things are major contributors to asthma in the Bayou City:
- Petrochemical complexes: Houston is home to the largest petrochemical complex in the nation. Populations living nearby may be at higher risk of suffering adverse health effects from those complex’s pollution.
- Outdoor air pollution: Houston’s air quality consistently ranks as one of the worst air quality regions in the nation, posing further risk to Houstonians with asthma.
- Housing: Roughly 36.0% of Houston homes were built before 1980 and 5.9% before 1950. Older housing is at a higher risk of containing indoor environmental triggers, such as mold, mildew and cockroaches.
- Outdoor allergens: Houston has multiple outdoor allergens (i.e. tree, grass and ragweed pollen, and mold spores).
- Climate: Houston’s climate is getting hotter and wetter, thus making breathing harder and increasing the risk of breathing problems, especially when humidity is high.
- Hurricanes: Families in flooded areas can be exposed to multiple asthma triggers including wet housing, poor indoor air quality and particulate matter suspension from debris piles after remediation.
And because asthma is inflammation in the lungs, and all diseases or illnesses are some form of inflammation, Jennifer Jones, a certified integrative, holistic nutrition health coach, personal trainer and wellness educator with a focus on Nutrition Psychology and CEO of JENuine Nutrition, links diet to asthma, as well.
“A potential reason why asthma may be affecting the Black community more prevalently could be due to poor diet and lifestyle which feeds the illness rather than heals the illness,” said Jones. “As I always say, the body is a magnificent machine that knows how to heal itself, we just have to be good to it and provide the space for it to do so.”
Additionally, the 24th Annual “State of the Air” report published by The American Lung Association this year reveals that between 2019-2021, people of color were more likely to inhale dirty air than white people.
“One bad day of air pollution can be one bad day too many. It is something we owe to our families, to our community, and to ourselves to get a handle on,” Katherine Pruitt, the national senior director of policy at the American Lung Association, told Word In Black.
Moreover, Houston has higher overall (adults and children) rates of asthma hospitalizations as compared to the national rate in 2018. And Blacks have higher rates of hospitalizations and emergency room visits due to asthma, compared to all other races.
Lifestyle Changes to Help Manage Asthma
- Prioritize good sleep and relaxation.
- Try to keep your weight in a healthy range.
- Forget junk food. Focus instead on fresh fruits and vegetables and lean meats.
- Aim for at least a little exercise every day.
- Don’t skip doctor’s appointments.
- Take medications as prescribed and refill prescriptions before they run out.
- Stay current with your vaccinations, especially influenza and pneumonia.
- Keep windows and doors closed on days when pollen counts are high and air quality is poor.
(Source: Allergy & Asthma Network, https://allergyasthmanetwork.org/what-is-asthma/lifestyle-changes-to-manage-asthma/)
6 Steps to Help Control Asthma
(Source: American Lung Association)
- Step 1: Make Your Medical Visits More Productive
There are a number of resources available to help you ask the right questions of your doctor about asthma management and treatment.
- Step 2: Create an Asthma Management Plan
Learn how to develop a plan with your healthcare provider that includes key information on managing your asthma.
- Step 3: Assess and Monitor Your Control
Common asthma symptoms can include a cough, tight feeling in your chest, wheezing, activity limitation and feeling tired. Keeping track of your symptoms will help you stay in control.
- Step 4: Understand Your Medication
There are a variety of medicines available to treat asthma. Each person’s asthma is different. Get with your doctor to create a personalized plan.
- Step 5: Reduce Asthma Triggers
Identify your asthma triggers and learn simple ways to limit your exposure or avoid them altogether.
- Step 6: Learn Asthma Self-Management Skills
Learn more about asthma, including our asthma basics online course and what is asthma animation.