May 2012: Asthma and Air Pollution

Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago's e-newsletter is published monthly and contains news of our happenings, program updates and links to lung health resources. To receive our monthly e-newsletter, send an email to

Highlighting Local Stories and Resources

In recognition of May as Asthma Awareness Month, we're offering a special e-news series that highlights a key aspect of Respiratory Health Association's commitment to addressing asthma in our communities, as well as resources, trainings and other ways you can support asthma efforts.

This week, we highlight the importance of clean air and monitoring air quality to help manage asthma. Respiratory Health Association works to clean up Chicagoland's air by supporting idling limits, pollution controls and cleaner fuels that will reduce the number and quantity of lung-damaging pollutants in our air.

Below, you'll read about Air Pollution Action Days, helping your child at summer camp, and monitoring air quality in your area. You'll also learn about CowaLUNGa Bike Tour - an opportunity to raise funds and awareness for our clean air initiatives.

This month's issue includes:

Staying Safe on Air Pollution Action Days

Smog ChicagoAir pollution is a serious health hazard for everyone, and it has more severe consequences for people living with asthma and other lung diseases. Fine particle matter (soot) and ground-level ozone (smog) pollution irritate the airways and can trigger asthma attacks.

"You can avoid many of the things that trigger asthma - such as pet dander, secondhand smoke, and strong chemicals - but it's hard to get away from air pollution," said Robert Cohen, MD, chair of pulmonary and critical care medicine at Cook County Health and Hospitals System.

The Chicago area fails to meet several air quality standards. Major sources of air pollution in the metropolitan region include industrial sites, cars, and diesel-powered trains, buses and trucks.

Although Chicago's air quality is poor year-round, it is especially important to pay attention to air pollution levels when it's hot outside. On hot, sunny days with little wind or clouds, air pressure keeps soot and smog pollution closer to the ground, making it more likely to trigger asthma episodes.

Days with exceptionally high levels of air pollution are referred to as Air Pollution Action Days by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. This alert is used to inform people in sensitive groups - including people living with lung disease, children and the elderly - when to take precautions.

"We recommend that on Air Pollution Action Days, people with asthma keep their inhalers and other medications nearby, limit outdoor activities and stay in air conditioning whenever possible," said Dr. Cohen.

Read more Air Pollution Action Day tips on our website.

Checking Air Pollution Alerts

AirNowThe U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides up-to-date air quality reports, so you can check the air pollution in your area by visiting the EnviroFlash website, signing up for email alerts, or downloading an app for your iPhone or iPod Touch or Android device.


Learn more on the EnviroFlash website.

Preparing for Summer Camp

Just like preparing a child with asthma for school, keeping your child safe at summer camp requires advance communication and planning.

Talk to your health care provider about keeping your child safe while at camp, and ask about pre-treating asthma on days with especially poor air quality.

Before your child starts summer camp, ensure that he or she recognizes warning signs, knows when to take medicines and is able to ask an adult for help. Also, set up a meeting with your child's counselor and/or nurse to ensure that each person responsible for your child has a copy of an asthma action plan and is prepared to assist during an asthma episode or emergency.

Get Involved: CowaLUNGa Bike Tour

On August 4, 5 and 6, cyclists will take on our 16th annual CowaLUNGa Bike Tour. The one, two or three-day ride covers up to 190 miles and raises funds and awareness to support people living with asthma, COPD, lung cancer and other lung diseases.

JohnFormannVeteran rider John Fortmann is now preparing for his 13th CowaLUNGa Bike Tour. As a child, John had severe asthma that led to a series of hospitalizations from the time he was 10 to 16 years old. At that time, the treatments he was given included shots of adrenaline and a rudimentary inhaler. Now, with advancements in treatments and inhalers, John uses a daily controller medicine but rarely needs a quick-relief inhaler.

When I learned that the association taught kids how to use inhalers and care for their asthma, that touched me," John said. "I remember being largely impacted by my own asthma."

If you'd like to ride in honor or memory of someone living with asthma, register for CowaLUNGa Bike Tour today! 

Visit the CowaLUNGa Bike Tour website to learn more.

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