Respiratory Therapists are Lung Health Heroes

October 24-30 is Respiratory Care Week – a time to celebrate respiratory therapists who work tirelessly helping those living with lung diseases breathe easier. Whether testing for lung function in a young child with asthma, or helping someone with COPD use an oxygen tank, respiratory therapists give people the power to take control and live to the fullest.

Their work is especially important considering how common lung diseases are in the United States:

• 25 million people live with asthma
• 16 million live with COPD and another 16 million have undiagnosed symptoms
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths among men and women

Respiratory therapists help people better understand and manage their illnesses, allowing them to live without distraction from symptoms. They also provide treatments to those in need of care, improving lung health and way of life.

For respiratory therapists like Rose Riggins, CRTT of AMITA LaGrange in Illinois, it’s way more than a job – it’s getting to know people, their lives and their stories.

“Working with the patients throughout the years has made them feel like family,” she says.

If you are living with lung disease, here are some of respiratory therapists’ most common tips for preventing additional complications and living the healthiest way possible:

• Get a flu shot every year to prevent additional complications of lung disease
• Live smoke-free and avoid secondhand smoke or close contact with smokers
• Eat right to maintain the most energy for staying healthy
• Avoid chemicals – like scented candles and harsh household cleaners – that may cause lung flare-ups
Monitor air quality and avoid the outdoors on poor air quality days

Join RHA this week and every day in saying thank you to respiratory therapists everywhere!

To learn more about becoming a respiratory therapist, view these resources.

Flu Shot is a Gift for Your Lungs

Vaccines are a safe and important part of medical care for everyone. Regular immunizations prevent common bugs like the flu and limit the spread of disease through our communities. For people living with lung disease, a flu shot is especially important. Someone with asthma or COPD:

  • Has a greater risk of catching common infections like the flu
  • May feel added effects from flu symptoms
  • Is more likely to develop pneumonia or other lung problems

This year, getting a flu shot is more important than ever ⁠— especially as COVID-19 continues to spread and people return to more normal activities. The CDC estimates less than half of adults get an annual flu shot. While a flu vaccine cannot prevent you from getting COVID-19, it can help you avoid the flu so your immune system is better able to cope with other illnesses. It also reduces your risk of hospitalization and possibly developing more severe illness, and further adding to the burden on our health care facilities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports flu shots may lower the risk of getting sick by 40 to 60 percent. It also helps those who cannot receive a shot, including children under 6 months old. Additionally, the CDC typically recommends a one-time pneumonia shot for those who live with lung disease.

August is National Immunization Awareness Month, and a great time to talk with your doctor about ways to stay healthy going into peak flu season. Flu cases are most common in the fall and winter, especially between December and February. Ask if you are up-to-date on past vaccines and to get an annual flu shot. Are you concerned about visiting a facility as COVID-19 continues to spread? Talk to your doctor about ways to stay safe.

If you or loved ones are displaying flu symptoms (fever and respiratory symptoms, such as cough and runny nose, and possibly other symptoms, such as body aches, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea) please stay home. Remember to wash your hands frequently, cover your mouth when you cough, and promptly contact your health care provider.

Additional Resources

If you do not have a regular doctor or healthcare provider, or have other questions, there are a number of local and national resources to help:

A Recap of 2021 Lung Health Advocacy Victories

Together we made great progress toward healthy lungs and clean air for all during the spring legislative session. With your support, we advocated new laws and changes to benefit the health of everyone in Illinois. Join us in celebrating these victories,:

  • RHA worked with the Illinois Department of Public Health on an advocacy effort to increase statewide funding for asthma education in Illinois. These efforts resulted in an additional $1 million in funding for school-based asthma education.
  • SB2294 will encourage more Illinoisans to quit smoking by providing expanded Medicaid coverage for FDA approved quit smoking medications, tobacco counseling services, and telephone-based quit smoking services provided through the Illinois Tobacco Quitline.
  • HB3202 will add e-cigarettes and other vapor devices to the state’s health education programs in schools.
  • SB512 will prohibit companies from marketing e-cigarettes to minors and from running misleading e-cigarette advertising.
  • HB1779 will provide easier access to care for people living with cancer by not requiring prior authorization for biomarker testing, which can guide health professionals in developing a treatment plan.
  • HB1745 will reduce out-of-pocket costs for Illinoisans’ prescription drugs, like asthma and COPD medications, by requiring insurance companies to offer plans with predictable co-pays or cap these amounts.
  • HB3498 makes innovative telehealth approaches permanent, so Illinoisans can continue to access critically needed care beyond the pandemic regardless of transportation, scheduling barriers – and with less stigma or risk to safety.
  • SB2563 expands vehicle emissions testing by permitting owners of vehicle service companies to operate an official portable emissions testing company – a win for clean air.
  • SB2133 focuses on health equity by ensuring the state reports data related to race, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disabilities for public health indicators, such as COVID infections.

Want to get involved with our advocacy efforts and help promote laws that will benefit everyone’s health? Learn more and sign-up to receive our emails here.

COVID-19 Summer Updates: Continuing to Protect Yourself

senior people toasting wine glasses summer covid-19 updates

About one third of the United States is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and nearly 72% of adults 65 or older are fully vaccinated. The CDC has stated fully vaccinated people (people who have received two doses of Pfizer or Moderna, or one dose of Johnson & Johnson at least two weeks ago) can resume most normal activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing. As holidays approach, families may want to gather to celebrate. However, there are still some COVID-19 summer updates to consider:

  • If a family member shows signs of illness before gathering, it may be best to reschedule until symptoms pass or the person receives a negative COVID-19 test.
  • Keep in mind that some businesses, restaurants, or situations may still require you to wear a mask. Call ahead or check online if you’re unsure.
  • Planning a family trip? Planes and public transportation still require masks. Take steps to protect yourself while traveling – wash your hands often, monitor your symptoms, and cover any coughs or sneezes.
  • Older adults with underlying conditions may want to continue to wear a mask at large indoor gatherings or crowded events.

If you have not already, it is important to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible. Studies show COVID-19 vaccines are effective at preventing the disease, especially severe disease and death, and reduce the risk of people spreading it.

It is also important to monitor the advice given by the CDC and other federal, state, and local authorities. We will continue to provide guidance and education on protecting you from COVID-19, so please reach out with any questions.

Building a Healthy Future Together

Your support made it possible for us to have an impact in communities throughout Illinois and beyond this past year. Together we faced new challenges, found new solutions, and made progress toward a future free of lung disease. As we come to the end of our program year, we want to share some of our work to prevent lung disease, promote clean air, and help people with lung disease live better lives.

Project STRENGTH for COPD

Thanks to support from the Learn More Breathe BetterSM program of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, we created resources that provide information on how people with COPD can live well at home. Each informational packet aims at keeping people with COPD healthy and provides guidance to help build exercise routines, manage breathing, put together a nutrition plan, and more.

Improving Our Asthma Programs

We collaborated with University of Chicago to conduct a formal evaluation of our two asthma programs – Fight Asthma Now© and Asthma Management. The evaluation showed kids and parents participating in these programs learned a lot about asthma triggers, medications, and staying healthy. The results were even better with repeat sessions.

A New Approach to Quitting

We began testing a new format for our Courage to Quit® program that helps people stop smoking. The new “rolling” model allows people to attend group Courage to Quit sessions with more flexibility, which increases accessibility and makes the program work for more people. We’re pushing forward to expand this idea and increase access to the program in the coming year.

Educational Webinar Series

In August, we launched a new educational webinar series. Lung health content reached nearly 1,000 people on important topics like COVID vaccines, women’s lung health, lung cancer screening, and environmental justice issues. Because the programs were entirely online, we were able to reach a national audience.

Funding Asthma Education

Asthma is the No. 1 cause of school absences due to chronic illness. RHA led an advocacy effort to increase statewide funding for asthma education in Illinois. These efforts resulted in an additional $1 million in funding for school-based asthma education.

group participating in event to help people living with lung disease

Lung Cancer & COPD Research

We awarded two grants to fund promising research into lung cancer and one new COPD research award. One of the lung cancer studies is looking at a specific gene mutation that can cause cancer even in non-smokers. Our annual Solovy Award for Advancement in COPD was awarded to support the research efforts of Dr. Nadia Hansel at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

School-based Asthma Policy Study

We conducted a study to see how well school staff understand current rules about asthma inhalers in schools. We found that 60% of school nurses in Illinois surveyed didn’t fully understand current rules that allow students to bring and use their inhalers in school. We will now focus some of our program resources on educating school health staff to better serve students.

Investing in Clean Air

In April, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency released a plan to invest $88.6 million in electric public transportation, school buses, and charging infrastructure for electric cars. For years RHA has given testimony and fought for money to support clean transportation because transportation is a leading cause of air pollution. This investment is a huge victory for clean air.

woman with stat about helping people with lung disease

Women’s Lung Health Research

Thanks to amazing growth in our Catch Your Breath® women’s lung health initiative, we were able to partner with CHEST Foundation to fund a new research award addressing gender disparities in lung disease. Lung disease impacts one in every six US women, and this award will increase research into the unique aspects of lung disease in women.

To learn more about the educational programs, research, and policy work your contributions support, as well as to receive updates on our work toward healthy lungs and clean air for all, sign-up for our monthly newsletter.

If you’d like to support RHA’s work to prevent lung disease, promote clean air, and help people living with lung disease, you can donate here.

Why We Stand for Clean Air

Lung health begins with the air you breathe.

Polluted air puts everyone’s lungs at risk for asthma, COPD, and even lung cancer. And our loved ones living with asthma and COPD may experience worse symptoms on bad air quality days.

Unfortunately, more than 137 million Americans – over 40 percent – live in communities with unhealthy levels of air pollution.

We cannot create a world free of lung disease without addressing this. Cleaner air will help prevent lung disease and protect the health of people who already live with these conditions.

You can spring into action by supporting our clean air efforts during the month of May.

RHA is one of the leading health voices in the Illinois environmental community. We are dedicated to connecting the dangers of air pollution to health impacts. Our collaborations are leading to some exciting new opportunities that promise cleaner air and healthier lungs for everyone.

  • We recently released a study with researchers at UW-Madison that shows positive health impacts of using clean energy. A transition to power sources like wind and solar may prevent nearly 2,000 people in Illinois from having lung problems (like asthma flare-ups) due to air pollution every year. You can read the full report here. Research like this is key to pass laws that will help everyone in Illinois breathe easier.
  • Along with other groups, we are working toward a clean air future by supporting the Illinois Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA). This bill will reduce air pollution by focusing on renewable energy sources and electric transportation options. This includes significant investment in electric transit buses and charging hubs for personal vehicles. In addition, it includes a plan that converts Illinois to 100% renewable electricity by 2030.
  • After years of RHA’s advocacy efforts, the governor announced a new plan in April that will allocate the remaining funds from a 2018 VW settlement for electrifying school buses, which contribute greatly to diesel pollution. Additionally, funds will be used for charging hubs across Illinois to promote electric car ownership.
  • This past year, RHA partnered with organizations and residents in Chicago’s Southeast Side to protest the move of General Iron, a heavy polluting company, to their neighborhood. In May, the city announced a pause on the permitting process. They plan to do a more in-depth study into the health impacts of the move. We are hopeful this will result in a permit denial and commitment to protecting a community long plagued by unequal exposure to air pollution.

Only with your support can we continue the fight to protect our lungs from the damaging effects of air pollution. Together we can create a clean air future for all!

For this month only, a group of generous donors from RHA’s leadership have agreed to match every dollar raised up to $5,000. Donate now. 

Three Asthma Myths Uncovered

More than 25 million people across the U.S. live with asthma. While there is no cure, people can manage their asthma to prevent flare-ups (also known as attacks or episodes) and live well. Asthma is one of the most common lung diseases but also one of the most misunderstood. May is Asthma Awareness Month, and we want to share some common myths about this disease.

Myth: Asthma is a childhood disease.adult man inhaler asthma

While asthma does occur often in kids, adults can develop asthma at any age. In fact, changing hormone levels, allergies, or even illness can cause asthma.
Unfortunately, when many adults start to experience changes in their breathing or can’t keep up like they once did, they assume they’re out of shape or it’s a normal part of aging. Women are at an even greater risk for severe asthma as adults than men.
Remember: it’s important to talk to your health care provider about any changes in your breathing.

Myth: Coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath are the only symptoms of asthma.

These symptoms are common with asthma, but there are other less-commonly known symptoms that may be early asthma warning signs.
  • Itchy chin or throat
  • Watery eyes
  • Dark circles under eyes
  • Stomach ache: for some children it is hard for them to identify where their pain is coming from so when they say their stomach hurts, in reality it may be hard for them to breathe
Sometimes these warning signs may be mistaken for other things like allergies or colds. It’s important to recognize that these changes may be a sign that someone’s asthma is worsening.

Myth: If you live with asthma, you should not exercise.

People who have their asthma well-controlled should be able to continue doing things they enjoy, like exercise.
Proper asthma management includes:
  • Avoiding triggers
  • Knowing your signs and symptoms of an asthma flare-up
  • Maintaining your supply of asthma medications and carrying it with you as necessary
  • Having an asthma action plan that lists specific steps you should take to prevent or handle an asthma episode
You can help us raise asthma awareness with a donation today. Your gift supports Respiratory Health Association’s programs like Fight Asthma Now©, which teaches kids how to manage their asthma.

Clean Air Protects Lung Health

earth day clean air healthy lungs

Did you know more than 137 million Americans live in communities with unhealthy levels of air pollution? Clean air is critical to protecting lung health. While air pollution is bad for anyone to breathe, it is especially dangerous for people living with asthma, COPD, and other lung conditions.

Breathing polluted air can irritate your lungs and may cause shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, asthma flare-ups, and chest pain. It also puts you at risk for lung cancer, heart attacks, stroke, and even death.

While we continue to make progress, air pollution remains a serious environmental and health problem. Additionally, as global warming accelerates, climate change will impact public health and put people living with lung disease at additional risk.

By taking small steps together, we can protect our air and our health. Watch this message from Joel Africk, RHA’s President & Chief Executive Officer.

How to Protect Lung Health and Promote Clean Air

  • Walk, bike, or use public transportation when possible.
  • Try to reduce your waste and recycle.
  • Try to avoid gasoline-powered lawn equipment like leaf blowers.
  • Raise awareness by telling people about the importance of clean air. Sharing this message on social media is a great start!
  • Advocate healthy lungs and clean air for all with us!

COVID-19 Vaccines and Lung Disease

covid-19 vaccines armAs COVID-19 vaccines become available to older adults and people living with chronic conditions like lung disease, it’s important to consider scheduling an appointment for yourself. Older adults, as well as people with COPD, are at greater risk for experiencing more severe health outcomes related to COVID-19. Getting the shot is safe for people living with lung disease and is the best way lower those risks. It also helps protect your loved ones and community.

One of the best ways to schedule your free COVID-19 shot is by calling your primary care provider. If you don’t have a primary care doctor, try calling local pharmacies, clinics, or community health centers. They may have vaccines available for you. If you prefer to make an appointment online, you can do so through Zocdoc. Keep in mind that two of the currently available vaccines require two doses.
In addition, family or informal caregivers who live in Cook County, Illinois are eligible now. Call your local Aging and Disability Resource Center to complete a three-question phone screening. After the screening, caregivers will receive a letter certifying their status as a family caregiver.
The Chicago Department of Public Health is additionally offering a new program for people who have a difficult time leaving home. The Chicago Fire Department will come to homes to provide vaccinations for eligible seniors 65+ and their caregivers. The program is available for Chicago residents who are seniors or people with a disability who:
  • Require in-home assistance or
  • Need equipment and/or accessible transportation to leave home.
If you are interested in receiving your shot at home, fill out this online form and someone will reach out to you via email with more information.

Sharing Hope for a Future Free of Lung Disease

As we close out a year of many challenges, I am proud of all we have accomplished at Respiratory Health Association (RHA). Together, we have continued to reach for a future free of lung disease.

With the support of our dearest friends, supporters, and partners this year, we made some amazing progress.

Five things give me hope for a brighter tomorrow.

 

Our amazing Making a Difference Volunteers

They give me hope and inspiration in their dedication and support of healthy lungs and clean air for all. Whether riding CowaLUNGa to support kids who have asthma or working with people committed to quit smoking, these awardees have lived RHA’s mission and they are amazing.

collage of photos

RHA’s resilient program staff

When respiratory therapists paused their pulmonary rehabilitation programs for patients living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and shifted to help care for COVID-19 patients, RHA stepped up and provided much-needed patient resources. RHA’s new Project STRENGTH (Support for Transitioning Rehabilitation and Exercise Now Going to Home) offers exercise routines and breathing tips COPD patients can use at home.

girl behind sewing machine and face masksOne of RHA’s Next Generation Advocates, Mia Fritsch-Anderson

Mia, a high schooler who lives with asthma, made more than 3,500 masks over the last nine months. Mia donates masks to people in need and sells some with all the proceeds going to charities doing important work during the pandemic.

Our local research community

These scientists have worked tirelessly over the last year to find treatments and new vaccines for COVID-19. The collaboration across the industry has saved countless lives, and RHA is excited to help promote the vaccine in the new year.

Our environmental policy staff and partners

Amidst the pandemic, they have continued to fight for equitable clean air policies and to reduce climate change. The air we breathe has a direct effect on our lungs, and these advocates are committed to protecting the air to ensure we can all breathe better.

These people, and their tremendous work, give me hope for a brighter tomorrow.

Please join us and make a gift today to help create a tomorrow where everyone breathes easier.

Thank you for being a part of Respiratory Health Association’s community.

Have a happy new year,

Joel J. Africk
President and Chief Executive Officer