Press Release

May 6, 2008


State public health director talks with kids about the most common chronic disease in children

 Approximately 200 deaths annually in Illinois due to asthma  

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – In an effort to raise awareness of asthma on World Asthma Day, Dr. Damon T. Arnold, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, read ‘Taking Asthma to School’ today to second-graders at Iles School. The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), along with the Sangamon County Health Department, is working to educate both children and adults about the symptoms of asthma and how to reduce the burden of asthma.

“Asthma is the most common chronic disease among children. Kids need to know the symptoms of asthma so they can tell their parents what they are experiencing and get to a doctor. Kids, as well as adults, also need to know what they can do to reduce the risk factors for developing asthma,” said Dr. Arnold.

“We are seeing an increase in the number of children dealing with asthma. It is important to provide young children with the knowledge they need to be confident in dealing with their personal health issues such as asthma.  The more knowledge they receive, the more competent they become in taking care of themselves,” said Susan Rhodes, Principal of Iles School.

Asthma accounts for one third of all pediatric emergency room visits, and is a leading cause of school absenteeism. An estimated 20 million Americans have asthma. Every year asthma accounts for 484,000 hospitalizations, 1.9 million emergency department visits and approximately 4,000 deaths. In Illinois there were 209 asthma-related deaths in 2005, the most recent year for which data is available.

Asthma is a chronic condition characterized by inflammation of the airways in the lungs and by the spasm of muscles surrounding these airways. Inflammation occurs when irritated tissues swell and produce extra mucus, creating a condition known as bronchoconstriction. The combination of the two can cause constriction of or complete blockage of the airways and can initiate symptoms of an asthma attack.

There is no clear cause of asthma, but many risk factors have been linked to triggering asthma attacks. Individuals are more likely to have asthma if there is a family history of the disease and there are several biological and environmental factors that can trigger an asthma attack. Common allergens include pollen, dust mites, secondhand tobacco smoke, pesticides, cockroaches, bacteria, molds, animal hair and animal dander. Allergens can also come from food and food additives. Studies have shown that common additives, such as monosodium glutamate, can cause an asthma attack.

Symptoms of an asthma attack can include frequent coughing and wheezing, chest tightness and shortness of breath. These symptoms may occur alone or in combination with other symptoms. A sign that asthma may be present, especially in children, is an excessive number of chest colds or episodes of pneumonia. Because these symptoms are common to other illnesses, asthma is often difficult to diagnose. Recognizing and reducing the frequency and severity of symptoms can help prevent further damage to the lungs.

Although asthma is not curable at this time, changes in lifestyle and proper medication can reduce the frequency and severity of asthma attacks. The following are some steps you can take to help control asthma:

  • Keep your home clean.
  • Properly maintain heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems by regularly changing filters and cleaning humidifiers. Use high efficiency particle filters to remove particles from the indoor environment.
  • Install exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathrooms.
  • Relative humidity in the home should be kept at less than 60 percent. If humidifiers are used in the home, change the water daily and clean the tank weekly to prevent the growth of bacteria and mold.
  • Do not allow cigarette smoking in your home. Avoid secondhand smoke as much as possible.
  • Refrain from exercising outdoors during cold weather. During windy weather or after light rain, time outdoors should be limited because pollen counts may be high.
  • Develop an asthma action plan to help prevent symptoms and to recognize them if they occur and to know what medicine to take and when to take it.
The ‘Taking Asthma to School’ books were provided through a grant for Asthma Education and will remain at the schools. Information on asthma was given to each child to take home for family education,” said Diana Wade, Sangamon County Department of Public Health Genetics Coordinator.

idph online home
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Illinois Department of Public Health
535 West Jefferson Street
Springfield, Illinois 62761
Phone 217-782-4977
Fax 217-782-3987
TTY 800-547-0466
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