By DR. CAMEUAL WRIGHT
Asthma has long been a critical health issue in Indiana, with a staggering 1 in 10 adults and 8.4 percent of children grappling with this often debilitating chronic disease. Recently, environmental catastrophes, like the Richmond plastic recycling site fire and the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, have sounded the alarm once again. For asthmatic Hoosiers, the fear of an asthma attack’s life-altering consequences has become all too real.
With the month of May being Asthma Awareness Month, Dr. Cameual Wright, chief medical officer for CareSource Indiana, highlights the key pieces of information that Hoosiers need to know on this condition.
What are the signs and symptoms associated with asthma?
Asthma is primarily the result of hyper-reactivity of the airways, a spasm of the airway which is commonly perceived as having shortness of breath. This lung condition is often triggered by things in one’s natural environment such as pollen, mold, pets and their dander, home pests, and poor weather. The condition can also be exacerbated by the presence of an upper respiratory infection as well as human-generated factors including chemicals, secondhand smoke, and pollution.
Since asthma attacks can come out of the blue, this condition can be especially scary for affected children and their parents/guardians. Children also tend to experience symptoms most often, which can range from wheezing, coughing, and chest tightness to feelings of anxiety and a racing heart. Asthma can be diagnosed in two primary ways – through breathing tests (often known as pulmonary function tests within medical settings) or by a patient’s history. In many cases, a health care provider may request keeping a journal to track flare-ups, identifying when these situations occur and what was present within the patient’s environment.
How can asthma be treated and symptoms minimized?
When someone is diagnosed with asthma – child or adult – health care professionals will oftentimes prescribe the individual two different types of medications.
One medication, referred to as a reliever, is strictly used in the case of an acute crisis, meaning an asthma attack has been triggered and the individual utilizes their inhaler in the moment to assist in opening their airways. The second, an asthma controller medicine, will also be prescribed to help reduce the occurrence of or prevent attacks, but not for use in response to an asthma attack itself. For parents of children with asthma, regular communication and visits with your pediatrician or family doctor is essential as your child grows and their treatment or medication plan is adjusted.
One’s surroundings play an influential role when living with this chronic condition. If an individual within the household is showing symptoms of asthma, there are several steps that can be taken to help minimize their risk for flare-ups. All members within the home should take steps to quit smoking. Bedding can be replaced with allergen proof options and the family pet should be kept out of bedrooms. In the case of dust, mold and pests, professionals can be brought in to inspect the home, make recommendations and carry out deep cleaning.
Who is most often affected and what resources are available?
Research has shown that asthma is more common in communities of color, and severe consequences of this condition occur more often in said communities. The Office of Minority Health within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that non-Hispanic Black individuals were 30 percent more likely to have this condition than their white counterparts and nearly three times more likely to die from asthma-related complications. In terms of social determinants of health, or non-medical elements that affect one’s health outcomes, infrastructure and housing continue to be heavily influential. Individuals living, working, and playing in older buildings and houses are more likely to encounter mold, dust mites, and pests such as cockroaches that can trigger asthma symptoms.
Whether you are specifically affected by asthma or not, knowledge of this common condition is crucial as we live, work, and engage with so many that are impacted. The Indiana Joint Asthma Coalition is leading awareness efforts in the state, working to improve the health of all residents with asthma through community collaboration, greater education, and identification of funding.
Medical and/or managed care providers can also be helpful, connecting residents to local programs and resources as well as providing guidance on managing environmental factors.
An initiative that our team is particularly passionate about is the CareSource Asthma Collaborative Project, which aims to reduce health disparities among Black members with asthma in Indiana through evidence-based strategies, person-centered approaches, and coordinated efforts with providers, schools and state/local entities.
Additionally, our smoking cessation program through Quit Now Indiana assists members that are looking to quit smoking, an action that betters their health and the health of those around them.
Dr. Cameual Wright serves as the chief medical officer for CareSource Indiana.