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EPA Helps People Take Control of Their Asthma

Release Date: 05/17/2010
Contact Information: Elias Rodriguez (212) 637-3664,

(New York, N.Y.) Local air quality affects how you live and breathe. Like the weather, it can change from day to day or even hour to hour. Add pollutants in the indoor air of people’s homes and workplaces, and you have conditions that can be extremely serious for people with respiratory diseases such as asthma. Asthma is a serious, sometimes life-threatening respiratory disease that affects the health of millions of people; but it can sometimes be managed if people know how the environment can affect asthma patients. Although there is no cure for asthma, people with asthma can have an active lifestyle and can control the disease through medical treatment and management of environmental triggers. This month, which is Asthma Awareness Month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is educating people about asthma, and how they can reduce the severity and frequency of attacks.

“EPA’s clean air regulations have improved air quality, resulting in better protection for people living with asthma,” said Judith Enck, EPA Regional Administrator. “It is vitally important that people understand that they can help control their asthma by knowing the warning signs of an attack, staying away from things that trigger an attack, and following the advice of their healthcare providers. Children are especially vulnerable, but can learn to manage their asthma at an early age with the help of their doctors, teachers, friends, and family members.”

About 23 million people, including seven million children, have asthma. Asthma in children is the cause of seven million physician visits and nearly 200,000 hospitalizations. Thirteen million school days are missed each year due to asthma. African-Americans are three times more likely to die or be hospitalized because of asthma according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Puerto Ricans suffer from asthma at six times the rate of other Hispanic groups.

Pollutants in the outdoor air, including particulates (soot) and ozone (smog) are major asthma triggers. When ozone levels increase, most commonly in the summer months, they can affect people’s health, especially children with asthma. Ozone can irritate the respiratory system, causing coughing, throat irritation, and aggravating asthma. When ozone levels are high, more people with asthma have attacks that require a doctor’s attention or use of medication. One reason this happens is that ozone makes people more sensitive to allergens such as pets, pollen, and dust mites, which are common triggers of asthma attacks and lead to increased hospital admissions and emergency room visits.

Sources of fine particles, which are less than 2.5 micrometers or about 1/30th the diameter of a human hair, include all types of combustion, including motor vehicles, power plants, wood burning and some industrial processes. Fine particles can penetrate deep into the lungs and pose serious health risks, including aggravating the symptoms of asthma and other respiratory problems in healthy individuals.

Fortunately, there are many steps that people can take to reduce air pollution and protect their health and at the national level, EPA is working to improve everyone’s air quality.

EPA’s Communities in Action for Asthma-Friendly Environments program mobilizes and equips 1,000 communities to lead the nation in the delivery of quality asthma care using innovative tools and technical assistance to improve asthma care. Community-based programs participating with EPA are achieving some of the best asthma results in the nation, reducing asthma episodes, emergency room visits, and hospitalizations by 50-80 percent.

The Obama Administration is taking great strides to reduce air pollution. In January 2010, EPA proposed the strictest air pollution standards in U.S. history. Last year, EPA announced tougher tailpipe emission standards for cars and light-duty trucks for model years 2012-2016, which will result in cleaner vehicles - ultimately requiring an average fuel economy standard of 35 mpg in 2016. This will result in increased fuel economy of five percent every year, reduce greenhouse gas pollution by nearly 950 million metric tons and save the average car buyer more than $3,000 in fuel costs. EPA also finalized a renewable fuels standard, which substantially increases the volume of renewable products – including bio-fuels – which refiners must blend into transportation fuel.

As part of Asthma Awareness Month, EPA recommends these top five steps people can take to help prevent asthma attacks:

  • Don’t smoke, or if you have to…take it outside. One of the most common asthma triggers in the home is second hand smoke. Until they can quit, people should smoke outside, not in their home or car.
  • Play it Safe. Ozone and particle pollution can cause asthma attacks. People should watch for the Air Quality Index (AQI) during their local weather report. AQI uses a color- coded system to display whether five major pollutants exceed air quality standards. When AQI reports unhealthy levels, people should limit outdoor activities.
  • Dust mites are also triggers for asthma. For mite control, people should cover mattresses and pillows with allergen proof covers. They should wash sheets and blankets once a week in hot water.
  • Household pets can trigger asthma. People should keep pets out of the bedroom and off furniture.
  • Break the mold. Mold is another asthma trigger. The key to controlling mold is controlling moisture. People should wash and dry hard surfaces to prevent and remove mold, and should replace moldy ceiling tiles and carpet.

Don't know what triggers your asthma? Use this new tool developed by the NYS Department of Health to find out.

The New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services and EPA help New Jersey school children manage their asthma through their work with the Pediatric/Adult Asthma Coalition of NJ (PACNJ). Visit the web site at

Find Asthma Awareness Events near you:

Read about award-winning community-based asthma programs:

More information on EPA’s asthma program:

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