• National Asthma & Allergy Awareness Month

Did you know May is National Asthma & Allergy Awareness Month? Asthma and allergies are much more common than you think. About 26 million people in the U.S. have asthma and over 100 million people in the U.S. have allergies. This month, educating and spreading awareness about asthma and allergies are more crucial than ever. Dr. E. Caroline McGowan, a pediatrician at the UCR Health Coachella Valley Pediatric Center, helps answer some of the most asked questions about asthma and allergies.

E. Caroline McGowan, MD
What is asthma?

“Asthma is a chronic lung disease that can start in childhood,” says Dr. McGowan. “They become more sensitive to triggers in the environment that cause the muscles that should stay open in your lungs to contract a bit too much. This can also happen when someone gets a cold or upper respiratory infection. This affects the way air is transported out of the lungs and that’s why people [with asthma] feel like they cannot catch their breath or have trouble breathing. Asthma can also cause chronic inflammation in the lungs. We also know that genetics play a role, close family members may be more likely to also develop asthma.”   

Although asthma symptoms can occur differently for every child, Dr. McGowan advises parents to speak with a pediatrician if their child has a chronic cough that lasts for more than three to four weeks, even after a cold. This chronic cough would be usually worse at night, which can disrupt the child’s sleep. 

What are the triggers?

Asthma can be triggered by environmental allergies, secondhand smoke, and pollen. Babies and children are exposed to secondhand smoke by breathing in the smoke particles that remain on clothing. This exposure has been associated with an increased likelihood of developing asthma or causing an asthma exacerbation (asthma attack). The best way to reduce the risks of secondhand smoke is to stop smoking, but if you do smoke and must be in contact with a child, Dr. McGowan recommends changing your clothes and brushing your teeth before holding or playing with children. 

What are the treatment options?

According to Dr. McGowan, the most common treatment is Albuterol, which is a muscle relaxer. When you have asthma, “the muscles in your lungs can become triggered and start to contract,” she adds. This is where Albuterol comes in for the rescue – it helps the muscles to relax and make it easier for the person to breathe. “Everyone who has been diagnosed with Asthma will most likely be prescribed Albuterol to use whenever they have shortness of breath, trouble breathing, or have a persistent coughing episode, shares Dr. McGowan. 

The next avenue of treatment is figuring out what the triggers are. Once you know what is causing you to have the symptoms, you can reduce the triggers to ease your symptoms. Dr. Mcgowan says, “If asthma is triggered by environmental allergies, getting those allergies under control, and sometimes using an antihistamine, such as allergy medications, would be especially important. Some may need to use an inhaled corticosteroid daily to help reduce the inflammation in their lungs. This helps reduce the number of asthma exacerbations and the need to use albuterol frequently." 

What should I do if my child has an asthma attack?

"If you have a child who has asthma, make sure you have an asthma action plan that you discuss with their pediatrician. This is a plan on what to do when you notice the signs of an asthma exacerbation,” says Dr. McGowan. These signs include:   

  • Rapid and shallow breathing  
  • Nasal flaring  
  • Chest retractions - “If you look at their belly and ribs, you can see the muscles between the ribs rapidly going in and out, contracting to help them breathe”  

“If you have medication at home, you can use Albuterol and observe the child to see if there is improvement within minutes of using the medication,” Dr. McGowan said. However, you need to seek immediate medical attention if there’s no improvement or if they need to use Albuterol more frequently than every four hours.  Dr. McGowan states that these are all the signs that they should go to the nearest urgent care or emergency room to seek medical care. 

How can I maintain a healthy respiratory system?

Below are the tips from Dr. McGowan on how to keep your lungs healthy:  

  • Stay active and exercise  
  • Maintain personal hygiene – wash hands frequently and avoid close contact with people who are sick   
  • Get fresh air when there’s not a high pollen count – try not to spend too much time outdoors if you have environmental triggers 
  • Take allergy medicine prescribed by your doctor if you know you have allergies – take it preventatively 

Would you like to speak to a physician with concerns regarding asthma and allergies? To schedule an in-person or virtual appointment with a UCR Health Physician, click here or give us a call at 1-844-827-8000.

About UCR Health

UCR Health is comprised of a team of physicians, specialists, and healthcare professionals dedicated to improving people’s health. With five medical offices located throughout Inland Empire and Coachella Valley, UCR Health is growing to meet the healthcare needs of the region, bringing innovative, culturally sensitive medical care to the community. Established alongside the School of Medicine at the University of California, Riverside, UCR Health’s patient-centered primary care and specialty services deliver university-based healthcare excellence and innovation to all communities.