Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007

Summer’s haze means tough days for those with asthma

Doctors say poor air quality, molds to blame

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As temperatures skyrocketed into the triple digits this summer, asthmatic patients sought help from their doctors, who say the problem wasn’t the heat, but the poor air quality associated with that weather.

The real issue for asthmatics is the ozone air pollution correlated with high heat, said Alfred Munzer, director of pulmonary medicine at Washington Adventist Hospital and the former president of the American Lung Association.

Ozone is generated by the interaction of nitrogen and hydrocarbon oxides released by cars, in the presence of sunlight. ‘‘Ozone is a very powerful irritant to the respiratory tract, so it causes inflammation of the air passages which leads them to constrict and makes breathing more labored. This is especially true in people with respiratory conditions,” Munzer said.

Poor air quality in the summer months prompts patients to seek help. ‘‘When the air is polluted, I do get a lot of patients that complain of shortness of breath,” Munzer said.

In addition, patients with allergic asthma — about half of asthmatics according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America — are especially affected in summer due to the high humidity. ‘‘With humidity, you get spores and molds and ragweed that will actually open up people that have these allergies, and these little particles land on the lining of the lungs and triggers [the asthma] to get worse,” said David Reitman, the chairman of pediatrics at Suburban Hospital.

Such natural and environmental factors resulted in an estimated 20,118 visits to the emergency room for asthma in 2004 nationwide, as reported by the National Center for Health Statistics. While adults are hospitalized more for asthma and are equally as susceptible to humidity as children, asthmatic incidents are more common in children because of their level of outdoor interaction.

‘‘Adults can say, ‘I’ll go to work and be inside and I can avoid the heat.’ But kids don’t want to be indoors, so you can see an increase of incidents in kids,” Reitman said.

Silver Spring resident Jordan Harris, 9, has asthma, and his condition has improved over the years. But on occasion he is affected by the heat, especially when active, his mother said.

‘‘I see that the more heated he gets, that increases his chances of having an attack, usually when he’s moving around. But when he’s outside sitting by the pool or lazing around, it doesn’t bother him,” said Lisa Harris, Jordan’s mother.

Though Harris has noticed that her son’s asthma is less severe then years past, she still takes precautions. ‘‘I am very careful about taking his medicine with us and making sure the people he’s with understand how to use everything,” Harris said.

In order to avoid triggering their asthma, asthmatics are encouraged to stay indoors and in cooler environments, and avoid exercise, particularly during the hottest part of the day. ‘‘During exercise we increase the amount of air we inhale by tenfold, so that means we do the same for air pollution,” Munzer said.