Tips for Staying Healthy in Peak Asthma Season

September marks the beginning of the new school year. Unfortunately, it also marks the beginning of cooler temperatures, elevated seasonal allergens, and increased circulation of respiratory viruses—all of which may trigger asthma episodes.

This time of year can create challenges if you or your loved ones are living with asthma. Asthma-related visits to emergency departments and doctors’ offices are typically the highest in the fall. During this time of year, it is important to work with health care providers to ensure asthma control:

  1. Review and update your Asthma Action Plan with a health care provider. Ensure an updated copy is given to your child’s school or childcare provider; (download AAP from RHA website)
  2. Use prescribed asthma medication and ensure proper medication technique is practiced;
  3. Manage seasonal allergies by working with your health care provider;
  4. Get your yearly flu vaccine. Everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every year before flu activity begins. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends getting vaccinated by the end of October.
  5. Take everyday preventive actions to stop the spread of germs. Wash your hands often with soap and water. Cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze with a tissue. Stay home when you are sick.
  6. Ensure access to quick-relief asthma medication at all times. If your child will be carrying a quick-relief inhaler in school (ideal for most school age children), complete all necessary school paperwork, including required school health forms (e.g. documentation of an asthma diagnosis, a note signed by you explaining that your child can carry and use a quick-relief inhaler, medication prescription label, etc.). (visit RHA’s webpage asthma management in school)


RHA Prepares for Another Year of Asthma Education

three women stand in front of a brick wall with the Respiratory Health Association logo

RHA’s 2018 National Health Corps Asthma Educators

RHA recently welcomed three National Health Corps members that will serve as RHA’s asthma educators this school year. This fall, RHA’s asthma educators will deliver RHA’s evidence-based asthma programs, Fight Asthma Now© and Asthma Management, to students with asthma and their adult caregivers throughout Chicagoland schools in an effort to improve asthma management in the area. It’s RHA’s goal to educate more than 2,000 students with asthma and more than 3,000 adult caregivers this school year.

Help Protect Clean Car Standards

One of the best ways to promote clean air is to promote clean cars.   In 2012, President Obama directed federal agencies to set strict standards for new cars and SUVs requiring vehicles to get higher mileage over time, use less fuel and emit fewer greenhouse gases. The rules set a goal of getting the average car to 54 miles per gallon by 2025. Extensive technical analysis, vehicles available for sale today and near-weekly announcements by the auto industry show reaching that target is both achievable and beneficial.

Unfortunately, the current Administration is working to finalize a rule that would completely stop any improvement in mileage standards after 2020. This would mean new cars made after 2020 would use more fuel, cost consumers more to operate, emit more greenhouse gases and contribute more to local air pollution – all leading to greater climate instability and increasing health threats.

In addition, the U.S. EPA is proposing to take away California’s legal authority to set a higher bar for limiting vehicle emissions. For decades, California has had the ability to set tighter tailpipe standards for vehicles sold in the state and their leadership has also helped push tighter car tailpipe standards for the nation as a whole. Hybrid electric and 100% battery-powered cars are on the roads today because California demanded that auto manufacturers make and sell vehicles that provide better air quality as well as cost savings. A dozen other states have already adopted California’s tougher standards. Taking away California’s authority would mean that states like Illinois would also be unable to demand better to improve the lives and health of residents.

Urge the government to keep these ‘clean car’ standards in place!

RHA Statement on Governor Rauner’s Veto of Tobacco 21

On Friday, August 24, 2018, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner vetoed Senate Bill 2332, legislation that would have substantially reduced youth smoking and saved the state hundreds of millions of dollars in future health care costs by raising the tobacco purchase age to 21 from 18.

Respiratory Health Association (RHA) is incredibly disappointed in Governor Rauner’s decision to veto this legislation after it passed the Illinois General Assembly.  The bill is also supported by a majority of Illinois residents. A recent study, conducted by Fako and Associates, showed that two out of three adults in Illinois support Tobacco 21, a figure that is even higher among current and former smokers.

A cornerstone of RHA’s work has been to reduce the toll of tobacco on our communities, particularly among our youth. At this point, 26 communities across the state have adopted local laws to raise the tobacco purchase age. These local laws cover more than 30 percent of the state’s population and will remain in full force and effect.

Tobacco 21 laws are important because 95 percent of adult smokers take up the habit before they turn 21. By raising the purchase age from 18 to 21, the law would have helped keep tobacco out of schools and away from teens.

“Too many kids are being exposed to tobacco products in their teenage years,” said Joel Africk, President and CEO, Respiratory Health Association. “If we can keep kids away from tobacco until they’re 21, they’re far less likely to become addicted and can live healthier lives.”

Tobacco 21 also would have yielded significant health and economic benefits.  The Institute of Medicine estimates that raising the tobacco purchase age to 21 could result in a 12 percent decrease in smoking rates by the time today’s teenagers become adults. RHA estimates that in Illinois alone the law would save $500 million in future healthcare costs and avoid $500 million more in lost productivity associated with smoking and tobacco related illnesses.

“Respiratory Health Association is undeterred.  We will continue to fight to protect kids across Illinois from smoking and tobacco addiction in the next legislative session. Tobacco 21 is the right thing to do,” continued Africk.

To date five states – California, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey and Oregon – and hundreds of municipalities around the US have raised the tobacco purchase age to 21.

Prior to working on Tobacco 21, RHA advocated strongly for the Smoke-free Illinois Act, which passed in 2007. That legislation was the strongest statewide smoke-free law in the country.


Respiratory Health Association has been a local public health leader in Chicago since 1906. A policy leader, our organization remains committed to advancing innovative and meaningful tobacco control policies. We have been one of the state’s leading advocates for Tobacco 21 and Other Tobacco Product policies. For more information, visit

Dr. MeiLan K. Han Receives 2018 Solovy Award for COPD Research

Respiratory Health Association (RHA) is pleased to name MeiLan K. Han, MD, MS, Associate Professor and Director of the Women’s Respiratory Clinic at University of Michigan Health System, as recipient of the 2018 Solovy Award for Advancement in COPD.

Two women holding the 2018 Solovy Award for Advancement in COPD.

Kathleen Hart Solovy presents the 2018 Solovy Award for Advancement in COPD to Dr. MeiLan K. Han on June 28, 2018.

Dr. Han has published nearly 200 publications on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), particularly COPD in women and risk factors for acute exacerbations. Dr. Han serves on many national scientific advisory boards and is a member of the prestigious Global Obstructive Lung Disease scientific committee which is charged with developing an internationally recognized consensus on COPD diagnosis and management.

Dr. Han is devoted to ensuring the best COPD care is available to patients who need it. Dr. Han has inspired a large number of junior physicians to pursue careers in COPD research and direct care of people living with COPD. Dr. Han’s scientific work, commitment to her patients and impact on advancing COPD care embody the meaning of the Solovy Award.

The award was presented to Dr. Han by RHA board member Kathleen Hart Solovy as part of RHA’s year-end reception on June 28, 2018. Funding for the award is provided by the Kathleen Hart Solovy and Jerold S. Solovy Endowment for COPD.

22nd Annual CowaLUNGa Takes Place August 4-6, 2018

Registration for CowaLUNGa Charity Bike Tour 2018 is now open! Escape the noise of the city for a weekend and explore the scenic Midwest as you bike through northern Illinois into southern Wisconsin.

About CowaLUNGa 2018

Along the way, you’ll experience an unparalleled level of camaraderie and support from other cyclists and Respiratory Health Association, while helping RHA achieve its vision of healthy lungs and clean air for all.

This is RHA’s 22nd year hosting the CowaLUNGa bike ride, so you can rely on our expertise from years of experience to give you a world-class event.

Choose to ride 18 or 65 miles in one day, 130 miles in two days or 190 miles over three days. Riders who select the 2 or 3 Day options may also opt to do a Century Ride on Day 2.

What’s Included

All routes are one-way with full SAG and medical support and include two daily rest stops, breakfast and dinner. Free overnight parking is available onsite at Gurnee Mills for the event’s duration.

Additionally, every participant receives an event shirt and a finisher’s medal at the end of the route to commemorate the bike ride!

We provide return transportation for you and your bike back to Gurnee, Illinois at the end of each day.

Costs & Deadlines

Registration fees and fundraising minimums vary by mileage.

CowaLUNGa 2018 price chart

For more details, see Costs & Deadlines.

Funds raised support RHA’s programs:


Ready to ride CowaLUNGa 2018? Start your journey!

New Asthma Legislation Aims to Protect Students

Across Illinois more than 330,000 children have reported asthma; however, less than twenty-five percent of those children have their asthma under proper control. That means three out of four kids living with asthma are likely to experience symptoms of respiratory distress, leading to increased emergency department visits and hospitalizations.

New Asthma Legislation

A proposed law “Stock Asthma Rescue Medication in Schools” (SB3015) improves access to life-saving medication by allowing schools to stock undesignated asthma rescue medication and allowing school nurses and trained school staff to administer the medications at the first signs of respiratory distress.

“While current rules allowing students to self-carry and self-administer asthma medications are good first steps, those policies don’t help if a student faces barriers to obtaining medications or simply forgets his or her medication at home,” said Joel Africk, President and CEO of Respiratory Health Association. “Allowing schools to stock asthma rescue medication builds on and fills a gap in existing school policies to create a safer environment for all.”

The Burden of AsthmaYoung boy taking an inhaler with a spacer or holding chamber attached

Children from minority and low-income households are even more likely to face barriers in access to medication and other asthma management resources that can lead to poorly controlled asthma and avoidable emergency department visits. Indeed, emergency department visits for asthma in Illinois occur among African American children at nearly six times the rate of visits by White children.

Asthma causes an estimated 300,000 missed schools days per year in Illinois, which in turn leads to days of work missed by adult caregivers. Reliance on emergency care for asthma treatment also contributes to the growing economic burden of asthma in Illinois, which is expected to reach $1.9 billion by 2020.

“Administering asthma rescue medication has minimal side effects and this simple act has the potential not only to save lives but significantly reduce the economic burden of asthma in Illinois as well,” continued Africk.

How We Know This Legislation Works

Ten other states have adopted similar policies, including Indiana and Missouri. Early results indicate that these policies reduce the need for 911 calls and EMS transports as a result of asthma attacks. Initial data also demonstrate that these policies reach populations of need and improve health outcomes.

To ensure any potential stock asthma rescue medication in schools policy would be both evidence-based and informed by practical experience from the field, in the fall of 2017 we worked the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and Legal Council for Health Justice to form an advisory group of school and health experts to discuss the possibility of a similar policy in Illinois. This advisory group considered the policies adopted in other states and explored a variety of Illinois policy implementation considerations.

Our review of the ten existing stock asthma rescue medication state policies yielded important lessons for Illinois healthcare, public health and school stakeholders to consider moving forward. One key finding: in Illinois the existing Stock Undesignated Epinephrine Auto-injector policy provides a tested framework for implementation of Stock Asthma Rescue Medication in Schools.

Based on the research led by RHA and our partners, legislation to allow Stock Asthma Rescue Medication in Schools (SB3015) was introduced in the Illinois Senate by State Senator David Koehler.

SB 3015 passed Illinois Senate Education Committee by unanimous vote on April 17. A full senate vote will take place in the coming weeks. We recommend that upon passage of a stock asthma rescue medication policy, IDPH and ISBE convene an implementation workgroup that can work through the details of this life saving policy.

RHA stands ready to assist in this effort.

To learn more about the need and feasibility of stock asthma rescue mediation in Illinois schools, download the issue brief we produced with Legal Council for Health Justice.

What is ‘Non-medical Switching’ of Prescriptions?

Under current Illinois law, there’s nothing that prevents coverage changes during the course of the policy year when participants are locked into their plans. These midyear changes in coverage often cause “non-medical switching” – the practice in which stable patients are forced off their original medications, regardless of clinician recommendations and health consequences.

RHA joined with partners to support legislation that prevents insurers from changing co-pays or coverage of medicines during a plan year. The legislation, HB 4146, passed the Illinois House Insurance: Health and Life committee and awaits a hearing of the full House of Representatives.

medical drugs close up

The issue of non-medical switching was brought to our attention by our friends at University of Illinois at Chicago pharmacy.  Many patients with chronic health issues, including respiratory diseases, are being forced off their current medications or prices shift for their medication. When these changes occur, other drugs may not control their symptoms adequately.

“Medical care is not one-size-fits-all,” said Matt Maloney, Director of Health Policy at Respiratory Health Association. “Making coverage decisions based solely on cost and forcing patients to change can cause unnecessary anxiety, all while ignoring the complexities that inform a patient’s individual care plan.”

We believe that when families in Illinois carefully shop for a health plan that covers the benefits they need, they should be guaranteed the coverage they signed up for the duration of the policy year.

It is especially important that patients who rely on medications to keep their health stable can purchase insurance coverage without fear that their benefits will be changed or be eliminated during the policy year.

HB 4146 is sponsored by State Representative Laura Fine and has bipartisan support with more than 50 other co-sponsors.

Want to help RHA’s legislative efforts? Join our Advocacy Champions group to make your voice heard.

RHA heads to Springfield to make our voices heard!

RHA’s annual State Lung Health Education Day gives advocates the opportunity to visit Springfield and gather support for lung-friendly initiatives. For seasoned advocates and newcomers alike, we want to empower you to speak up for lung health. Just sharing your story can be enough to influence policy and improve lives for years to come.


This year’s trip took place Wednesday, April 18, 2018.

lung health advocates meet with legislators

Lung health advocates visit legislators.

The full day event includes a coach bus ride from Chicago to Springfield, advocacy training, a tour of the Capitol building, meetings with legislators, and a sit-down lunch with special guest speakers.


This year, we talked to our legislators about:


Raising the minimum legal sales age of tobacco products from 18 to 21, or Tobacco 21, is a fast growing, nationally recognized youth tobacco prevention strategy that has been adopted in 20 Illinois communities and we are pushing it statewide. Most smokers (95%) begin smoking before age 21. By getting young people past that critical threshold for brain development and addiction, we can dramatically lower the number of people who start smoking and become addicted to smoking. This will lower smoking rates, prevent disease and save long-term health care costs.


Asthma is a significant public health issue in Illinois, impacting educational outcomes, quality of life, productivity and health care costs. SB3015 would improve access to live-saving medication by allowing schools to maintain a stock of asthma rescue medication. Improving access to asthma rescue medication (Albuterol) would reduce school absences, hospitalizations and long term healthcare costs, improve health outcomes, and save lives. 


  • Protecting Illinoisans from Unfair Coverage Changes (House Bill 4146)

Families in Illinois carefully shop for a health plan that covers the benefits they need when they are locked into their plan. Midyear reductions in coverage often cause “non-medical switching” – the practice in which stable patients are forced off their original medications, regardless of clinician recommendations and health consequences. Patients who rely on medications to keep their health stable should be able to shop for coverage without fear that their benefits will be changed or eliminated during the policy year. House Bill 4146 would protect against unfair pharmacy coverage reductions during the course of the policy year.


Thank you to everyone who joined us in Springfield this year!

Follow RHA on Flickr to see great images from State Lung Health Education Day and other RHA events.

Tom Earll is Making Memories with Every Breath

When Tom Earll’s daughter, Katy, planned her wedding, she easily chose the venue and the dress. But one heartbreaking fact loomed over it all: Katy didn’t know if her father would live long enough to walk her down the aisle.

“It was very possible that I was going to die and not be at her wedding,” Tom explains. “I kept looking forward to that day. Even at the very end when I was very sick and could hardly get off the couch.”

At that point, Tom had been suffering from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis for 10 years. He was on the transplant list, but his doctor said he had a maximum of two months to live.

As he lay in bed those last two months with his wife caring for him, Tom found strength in his daughter’s future. He fought to be present and create a memory he and his family could cherish.

Man holding baby

Tom with his grandson.

Years before, when he was first diagnosed, Tom only had to wear oxygen while exercising, but by the time of his daughter’s engagement he had to carry an oxygen concentrator and tanks of oxygen wherever he went. As his conditioned worsened, he needed the concentrator even while sleeping.

Tom’s path to this point was not direct: a misdiagnosis of asthma delayed his treatment for years. It wasn’t until Tom sought the help of pulmonologists at Loyola Medicine that he finally arrived at the correct diagnosis and was put on the transplant list.

You have to be “sick to enough to qualify, but healthy enough to qualify,” Tom says, acknowledging the difficult decisions hospitals must make when deciding who receives a transplant and who doesn’t.
Months passed while Tom waited. Katy’s wedding ticked closer.

Then one night, while Tom rested in bed with his breathing labored, the phone rang. The hospital had a pair of lungs for him. On December 8, 2015 he received a bilateral lung transplant.

On the third morning after his transplant, Tom could see downtown Chicago from his bed. The sun rose, reflecting off the glass buildings. “I sat up and took a deep breath. I got hit with this wave of emotion, and I burst into tears because I realized that this was my new normal,” Tom recalls.

man walks daughter down the aisle

Tom walks Katy down the aisle.

In the end, Tom was able to walk his daughter down the aisle, making a dream come true for them both. “I danced like a fool at her wedding,” he laughs, “and there was always a chair close by so I could sit down and rest.” Because while Tom emphasizes the joy of making new memories without difficulty breathing, his road to recovery is long and some things in his life will never be the same.

“I grew up swimming and boating, and I was in, on or under the water most of my life. I can’t do that anymore. Some days you struggle to win the mental battle. But I always wanted to play the guitar, so instead, I do that now.”

In addition to learning guitar, Tom has taken up a few athletic challenges. Just nine months after his transplant surgery he ran his first 5K, with friends and family cheering from the sidelines in custom t-shirts that said “Tom’s Second Wind.”

This year, he saw that Loyola had created a Hustle Chicago team to benefit the lung disease research supported by the Respiratory Health Association.

That’s how Tom wound up joining “Loyola’s Lung Angels” and practicing for the climb in his local municipal parking garage, which has 4 floors of stairs. He goes up and down 20 times to reach 1600 steps.

Of the race and the rest of his recovery, he says, “I’m going to keep going at a steady pace.”

To support Tom’s efforts, visit his fundraising page.

New Family Caregivers Act Recognizes Important Role of Caregivers

On January 22, 2018, the President signed into law the Recognize, Assist, Include, Support and Engage (RAISE) Family Caregivers Act. Although RAISE is not accompanied by new funding, it is a step in the right direction in recognizing the important role family caregivers play in the care of people living with chronic illnesses, including COPD.

Couple attending a COPD conferenceIn the United States, it is estimated that more than 40 million unpaid caregivers[i] spend an estimated 30 billion hours annually caring for older family and friends, with uncompensated costs in excess of $500 billion.[ii] RAISE shines a light on these workers and calls on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to work with federal agencies and an advisory council to create a national strategy to support family caregivers.

The RAISE Act has two main features:

Development of a National Family Caregiving Strategy

The Act calls on HHS to develop (within 18 months), update, and sustain a national strategy that considers myriad issues that affect family caregivers.  These include:

  • Promoting greater adoption of person- and family-centered care in all health and long-term services and support settings, with the service recipient and family caregiver at the center of care teams;
  • Assessment and services planning involving caregiver
  • Promoting greater adoption of person- and family-centered care in all health and Long-term and supportive services settings, with the person and the family caregiver (as appropriate) at the center of care teams
  • Assessment and service planning (including care transitions and coordination) involving care recipients and family caregivers
  • Information, education, training supports, referral, and care coordination
  • Respite options for caregivers
  • Financial security and workplace issues

Establishment of a Family Caregiving Advisory Council 

A Family Caregiving Advisory Council will be convened to support the development of the National Family Caregiving Strategy and advise the department on recognizing and supporting family caregivers.  Members of this Council will include family caregivers, older adults with long-term services and support needs, health care and social service providers, and other key stakeholders in the caregiving community. The Council will also include federal representatives from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Veterans Affairs, the Administration for Community Living, and other relevant agencies.

The Family Caregiving Advisory Council’s responsibilities will include (a) an inventory and assessment of all federally-funded funded efforts to recognize and support family caregivers and the outcomes of these efforts, (b) recommendations to improve and better coordinate these federal efforts, (c) the identification of challenges faced by family caregivers, and (d) and evaluation of how family caregiving impacts Medicare, Medicaid, and other federal programs.[iii]

Respiratory Health Association is all too familiar with the essential role that family caregivers play in the lives of their loved ones living with chronic lung disease.  We are encouraged by the passage of the RAISE Act and the promise it may hold for the millions of families affected by respiratory diseases and other conditions.   We will monitor the implementation of the new law and contribute the experiences of our supporters to assure  that the mandates of this new law will be fulfilled.




[iii] H.R. 3759.