Asthma is a chronic disease of the airways that causes difficulty breathing, and occurs most commonly in people who become sensitized to certain allergens in our environment. People with asthma react to different triggers. Common triggers include air pollution, diesel exhaust particles, viruses, environmental tobacco smoke, cockroach particles, dust mites, cat or dog dander, outdoor pollen, and mold. These exposures also may contribute to the early development of the disease.
Low-income neighborhoods bear a disproportionate share of pollution sources such as diesel bus depots, major commercial roadways, and deteriorated public housing that is often infested with cockroaches and mice. The areas of the South Bronx and Northern Manhattan have one of the highest death and disease rates from asthma in the country. Childhood asthma in these communities is responsible for a large portion of emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and deaths. New York City has one of the country’s highest rates of hospitalizations and deaths due to asthma among children and young adults, and African American and Latino patients accounting for more than 80% of the cases.
Center scientists are following a group of more than 700 children in New York City from pregnancy through adolescence. This research is shedding light on why children in urban areas suffer higher rates of asthma than non-urban children do, and how environmental toxicants contribute to the prevalence of this disease. The results and findings of our research are helping reduce rates and prevent asthma not just in New York, but across the globe.
Below is a short video about the Center’s asthma work in New York City:
What We Know About Asthma
Key findings from Center research of more than 700 pregnant women and their babies living in Northern Manhattan and the South Bronx:
- Exposure shortly after birth to ambient metals (like nickel, vanadium, and carbon) is associated with wheeze and cough in children aged two and younger.
- Approximately half the babies in the study have been born with an immune response to cockroach proteins. But not until the children reach 5 years, are the immune responses linked to allergy and asthma .
- High cockroach and mouse allergen levels are significantly associated with asthma prevalence among children and adults.
- Developing antibodies to cockroach and mouse proteins is associated with a greater risk for wheeze, hay fever, and eczema in preschool urban children as young as three years of age.
- Despite strong associations between cat ownership and sensitization at age 2, owning a cat protects against current wheeze and rhinitis (stuffy nose) at age 5 years.
- Combined prenatal exposure to airborne PAHs and postnatal secondhand smoke results in the increased likelihood of respiratory and asthma-like symptoms at one to two years of age and at five to six years of age.
- Children who were exposed to acetaminophen (active ingredient in Tylenol) prenatally were more likely to have asthma symptoms at age five. Acetaminophen has become increasingly common among women in pregnancy, which coincided with a doubling of the prevalence of asthma among children.
- Feeling distressed during pregnancy may be associated with asthma symptoms during childhood. Many emotions can occur during pregnancy but if high demoralization is reported, it could impact the risk of your child wheezing, a common symptom of asthma, during childhood. Demoralization means nonspecific mental distress that may result in an individual’s inability to cope with stressful situations.
What You Can Do
- Controlling bugs and pests in your home
- Not smoking while pregnant or smoking in the home or car
- Eliminating acetaminophen intake during pregnancy
- Cleaning up mold
- Reduce the spread of the cold and flu
Reduce pest allergens at home
Integrated Pest Management is a set of safe, low-toxic methods for keeping your home clean of pests such as cockroaches and rodents. Clearing clutter, eating only in the kitchen, and using low-toxic pest control products (baits and gels) can do a lot to minimize pests in the home and keeping you and your children safe from toxic pesticides — especially aerosols, which can trigger attacks in family members with asthma. See lots of tips about using IPM at home.
Don’t smoke at home or in the car and don’t allow anyone else to either
Exposure to secondhand smoke, combined with levels of air pollution found in Northern Manhattan and the South Bronx, increases children’s risk of developing asthma. If you or someone in your home must smoke, do it outdoors where smoke disperses. Do not smoke at home or in the car where smoke gets trapped and stays in the air and upholstery.
Clean up mold
Mold may trigger asthma. Mold grows in damp places such as kitchens and bathrooms. You can make a simple, safe cleaner to remove mold. For example, you can mix one gallon of water and one cut of non-chlorine bleach together. Use exhaust fans or open a window in the bathroom and kitchen when showering, cooking, or washing dishes to reduce moisture in the air.
Reduce the spread of the cold or flu
Colds and flu can cause asthma-like symptoms. Make sure you and your child wash your hands often, with soap and warm water. Make it a habit! Use an antibacterial hand sanitizer when you don’t have access to soap and water. If you have a cold, don’t touch your eyes, nose, and mouth because you can spread germs.
Join a clean air campaign in your community
Several community groups in Northern Manhattan and the South Bronx are working to improve air quality. They are getting new laws passed that reduce bus and truck traffic and require the use of new technologies that lower diesel emissions. These organizations are also working hard to prevent new sources of pollution from being put in their neighborhoods, and ensuring that existing polluters — such as power plants and waste transfer stations — are doing everything possible to minimize pollution. Many groups are planting trees that absorb bad chemicals and put more oxygen in our air, and building parks to increase green space. More community clean air campaign successes.
If you or your child already has asthma
Be certain to visit your doctor regularly and have a good self-care plan to follow at home. Many asthma attacks can be prevented if you and your doctor can identify triggers and ways to avoid those triggers. Trips to the emergency room can also be prevented if good self-care practices are in place. If you or someone in your family has asthma and you don’t already have an asthma care plan, use this Asthma Action Plan from Kids Health; print out the form and take it to your doctor to fill out together.
Source: Kids Health
1. Miller, R.L., et al., Association of Age 5, but not Cord Blood, Allergen-Induced T Cell Proliferation with Age 5 Allergen-Specific IgE and Asthma. Journal of allergy and clinical immunology, 2009. 123(2): p. S98-S98.