Offering help to families of children with asthma
Lillian Shirley, RN, MPH, MPA
Multnomah County Health Department Director
Coughing and wheezing that won’t stop. The wild eyes of a child who can’t get enough air. A sad child sitting on the couch watching her friends run and play. A child’s asthma can be a parent’s nightmare.
Maria Rodas knows the situation all too well. She has three daughters and her youngest, a 4 year old, has asthma.
As part of her plan to get rid of things that make her daughter’s asthma worse, Rodas chose to give her dog to another family. It wasn’t easy, but she felt she had to do it. She has a cat, too, and tried to find another home for it. But in the end, she couldn’t part with the cat and now takes steps to make sure the cat has as little effect on her daughter’s health as possible.
Her experience with her daughter helps her understand the tough spot parents of other children with asthma are in. Rodas is a community health specialist with the Multnomah County Health Department Healthy Homes and Housing programs. She knows what the families she works with are going through when she talks to them about making their homes healthier.
“It’s heartbreaking,” she says. “Having a child with asthma is really draining. It brings you down a little. I try to tell the parents I work with that I know they are doing the best they can.”
Asthma is a serious lung disease. People with asthma often have trouble breathing. They may wheeze and be short of breath. They may feel a tightening or pain in their chest. Severe asthma can even cause death. Though anyone can suffer from asthma, it is more common in children than in adults.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, 8 percent of Hispanic children in the U.S. have asthma. But there are big differences among ethnic groups. Puerto Rican children have the highest rates of asthma at 20 percent, compared with 7 percent for Mexican-American children. Hispanic children are almost twice as likely to be hospitalized for asthma as white children.
Asthma is a complicated disease with a number of causes. Family history of the disease, access to healthcare, and exposure to things in our environment that can make asthma worse, all contribute to the disease.
“It’s really hard when you see that your child can’t breathe,” Rodas says. Parents want to do whatever they can to make it better, but that isn’t always easy.
Through the Multnomah County Healthy Homes and Housing programs, community health nurses and community health specialists like Rodas work with families right in their homes.
Community health nurses assess each child’s asthma. They consult with the doctor and help families access care. They provide education specific to each child’s needs and tools to control and improve their asthma symptoms. They answer medical questions and make sure families are using medications properly.
Rodas and other community health specialists then work with families to reduce asthma triggers — things in the home that can make asthma worse or bring on an attack.
Asthma is complicated. Many things, both inside the home and outside, can irritate lungs and set off an asthma attack. Healthy Homes community health specialists visit homes, look for common problems and offer possible solutions. Some common household asthma triggers include:
- Tobacco smoke — cigarette and cigar
- Mold and humidity, especially in bathrooms, basements and kitchens
- Dust mites — microscopic organisms that live in our homes especially in furniture, carpets, and bedding
- Pests like cockroaches, mice, and rats – their hair, saliva and droppings
- Pets’ saliva, hair and dander
- Pollen from outside the house
- Household chemicals, such as bleach and other common cleaners
- Fragrances, such as room deodorizers, perfume, and cologne
“I work with people to problem-solve,” Rodas says. “Each family has different issues and problems. We work with people to help them do what they can at any given time.”
Rodas and her co-workers visit participating homes a minimum of three or four times over as many as six months. Sometimes they visit more often. They offer resources like pest control, recipes for household cleaners using common products like vinegar and baking soda, and referrals to other programs such as energy assistance.
And they listen. They listen to the concerns and everyday problems of the people they work with.
“Sometimes that’s all it takes for them to start changing their homes for their children,” Rodas says.
Asthma triggers are everywhere, but creating a healthy home is critical in the fight against asthma. Rodas has many success stories to share.
“We fix. We clean. Sometimes, we move them. We’ve had great outcomes. We try to get families involved and to a place where they don’t need help anymore.”
If your child has asthma or other conditions linked to housing, you may qualify for assistance from one of the Healthy Homes and Housing programs. Programs are free for families living in Multnomah County. Call 503-988-3663, extension 24571, to find out what you can do to make your home healthier and improve your child’s health.
For more information on asthma symptoms and triggers go to http://web.multco.us/health/asthma.
Este artículo también está disponible en / This post is also available in: Spanish
Short URL: http://www.elhispanicnews.com/?p=3019