We can make asthma manageable, during allergy season and all year-round

Asian family jogging outdoors, two front girls holding hands smiling

Quick Summary

More than 327,000 adults and 63,000 children in Oregon—at all income and education levels—have asthma. Asthma is manageable, if you have access to appropriate medications and quality health care, and if you live, work and play in environments where you can avoid asthma triggers. You are much more able to live a healthy, active life with asthma if your place in Oregon is a healthy one.

More than 327,000 adults and 63,000 children in Oregon—at all income and education levels—have asthma. You are more likely to report having asthma, however, if you are lower-income, if you don’t have a college education, or if you’re on Medicaid.

I think about these thousands of Oregonians even more in the spring, as trees and flowers bloom and produce pollen, a common asthma trigger.

Like most chronic diseases, asthma is manageable. But how well you’re able to manage it is affected by your place in Oregon.

What do I mean by “place” when I talk about asthma? First, a few basics:

Asthma is a chronic lung disease. It causes swelling of the airways that carry air from the nose and mouth to the lungs. Exposure to asthma triggers can cause the muscles around the airways to contract, making these small tubes even smaller. This can cause trouble breathing, tightness in the chest, coughing and wheezing—commonly called an “asthma attack.”

Common asthma triggers include secondhand tobacco smoke, air pollution, cold air, mold or mildew, and dust mites, to name a few.

Asthma is manageable, if you have access to appropriate medications and quality health care, and if you live, work and play in environments where you can avoid asthma triggers. We all know kids, co-workers and neighbors who are living well with asthma, whether or not we’re even aware they have the disease.

But those “ifs” are critical. You are much more able to live a healthy, active life with asthma if your place in Oregon is a healthy one. If, for example:

  • you have the resources and ability to connect with a doctor and talk about medications
  • you are not exposed to secondhand tobacco smoke
  • you don’t smoke cigarettes
  • your home is free of mold and mildew

More than 1 in 4 adult Oregonians with asthma smoke. At the individual level, the best thing they can do for their asthma, and their overall health, is to stop (Click to Quit or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW). As a state, we can support their efforts to quit. And we can do even more to reduce the burden of asthma on Oregon.

For example, we can encourage all landlords to follow the lead of those who voluntarily keep their multi-family housing units smokefree, so that tenants aren’t unwillingly exposed to a neighbor’s secondhand smoke. We can applaud the more than 60 cities and towns—from Brookings to Baker City—that have made their parks smokefree, and encourage other communities to join them.

And when it’s time for annual flu (influenza) shots, we can each make sure to get one. Adults and children with asthma can get very sick if exposed to people with the flu.

Getting a yearly flu shot is one way that all of us can help manage the impact of this chronic disease on our neighbors and our state.

Karen Girard, MPA, is the former Manager of Oregon Health Authority’s Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Prevention section.

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