This is a guest blog by Katie Huffling. She is a Certified Nurse-Midwife and is coordinating the efforts of the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments (ANHE). In her work with ANHE, Ms. Huffling works with nurses nationwide on a variety of environmental health issues including air pollution and asthma.
Nurses know first-hand the fear that children and their parents have when an asthma attack strikes. There’s the incessant coughing and wheezing, the feeling of trying to breathe through a tiny straw while worrying that you can’t get enough air in your lungs.
When it comes to asthma attacks, we know that minutes could literally mean the difference between life and death. Not only do nurses understand the struggles of asthmatics as practitioners, but many in our ranks have asthma, too. Nurses have one of the highest risks of developing asthma of any profession.
Nurses serve in emergency rooms, schools, and community health centers across the nation. Each and every day, we are on the frontlines of managing chronic asthma and surviving potentially lethal asthma attacks.
Today is World Asthma Day when many groups recognize the need to improve everything from access to care for those with asthma to steps our government can take to better protect people from asthma.
One thing President Obama can do is to support the most protective federal standard for ozone pollution to limit how much ozone we’re all exposed to.
Ozone, also known as smog, is formed when exhaust from cars, trucks, factories and power plants mix and heat up in sunlight, and this toxic stew is what causes the narrow airways in our lungs to swell and provoke asthma attacks.
An ozone standard of 60 parts per billion could save some 7,000 lives and lead to 1.8 million fewer asthma attacks each year, according to federal data.
President Obama has talked about the need to limit greenhouse gases to help children like his daughter Malia, whose asthma attacks led to emergency room visits when she was younger. Obama could bolster that support by backing a 60 ppb standard, which would follow the science and go further than the 65-70 ppb standard that EPA has proposed. A final updated standard is due Oct. 1.
Asthma is one of the most common chronic childhood diseases, and the number one reason for excused medical absences from school. In 2007, the Centers for Disease Control estimated that the annual cost of asthma in the U.S. was more than $53 billion.
Kids’ lungs do not work the same way as mature adult lungs do, so they are especially vulnerable to asthma attack triggers like ozone pollution. In the spring and summer more people, including kids, seek leisure and fun outside. It is the sincere hope of my profession that with diminished air pollution kids can experience the great outdoors without discomfort or serious illness.
According to the 2015 American Lung Association State of the Air report, four out of 10 Americans live in an area where the air is unsafe to breathe.
This figure includes millions of children. Our communities deserve to breathe clean air. Our children should be able to play outside without fear that they are harming their lungs and without the risk that outdoor play may lead to a hospital stay. Parents should not need to have apps on their phones alerting them to dirty air days so that they can change their picnic plans and fortify themselves indoors to minimize the risk of an asthma episode.
Spring is at time for rebirth and renewal and greater fun outdoors. Nurses also know it’s a time when we worry for our future patients who are trying desperately to simply enjoy life and breathe easy. The Obama administration can make spring less of a health threat for future generations by supporting the more protective recommended level of 60 ppb. The health care community, from nurses to physicians, is united in our call for clean air for all. Let’s make sure the Obama administration gets a clear message to do all he can to protect the quality of the air we breathe.