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

Mia Gives Hope for a Future Where Everyone Breathes Easier

girl behind sewing machine and face masks

Mia has produced over 3,500 masks to help people during the pandemic.

Throughout the years, young people have challenged society to do better and often advocate a different future – the future they wish to inherit.

This year was no exception, and Respiratory Health Association was driven by passionate young people toward a future where everyone breathes easier. One of these young advocates, Mia Fritsch-Anderson, eagerly stepped up to make a difference during the early days of the pandemic.

Mia has been working with RHA since her asthma diagnosis at age five. She has championed asthma protections for students and smoke-free policies at the local and state levels.

When COVID-19 began to spread, Mia was immediately aware of the extra warnings for people living with lung disease. Mia and her family have taken all the necessary precautions to ensure she avoids getting COVID-19, which could lead to a more severe infection because of her asthma. However, she still wanted to find a way to safely continue her work helping the community – and alleviate her feeling of helplessness from being stuck inside.

Mia used her sewing skills to make masks for essential workers and people at increased risk. By June, Mia had made 500 masks. She worked with RHA staff to identify People for Community Recovery, one of our community partner’s on Chicago’s South Side, to help distribute the masks to people in need. Together, we provided the masks and much needed bottled water to teens with asthma and their families.

As the pandemic stretches on, Mia hasn’t stopped making masks. By her last estimate, Mia had made over 3,500 masks! She continues to provide them to people in need and has opened an Etsy shop to sell extras, donating the proceeds to Respiratory Health Association and other charities doing important work during the pandemic.

Teens like Mia continue to inspire us. RHA works hard to advocate with them – creating a world where we can breathe easy. During this year, we have continued to advocate stronger support of our health care system during the pandemic, stronger protections against tobacco companies’ predatory marketing, and stronger air pollution standards.

2021 promises to be a year of change as we join our community partners in advocating support for asthma management programs and the Clean Energy Jobs Act in Illinois, which will protect the air we breathe.

You can join us in celebrating a hopeful future by making a donation this giving season.

COVID-19 Safety This Holiday Season

The holiday season is here women preparing food holiday seasonand with it, questions and concerns about celebrating safely while COVID-19 continues to spread. While the safest option this year is to celebrate with only those in your household and virtually “connect” with loved ones, the CDC has released new guidelines for those who wish to gather in person.

While we know that large gatherings increase the risk of spreading the virus, there is also a risk of spreading the virus in smaller family gatherings. It is best to keep activities limited to those in your household, your social bubble (which may include a caregiver), or others if social distancing can be observed.

Traditional holiday activities like parades, shopping, and other large events pose a high risk. Close physical contact and mixing with people outside of your social bubbles make it easier for the virus to spread. Instead, try shopping online or ask family members to order items for you so you can avoid crowded stores. Other low risk activities include watching sports games, parades, and movies from home. However you choose to celebrate, look at the COVID-19 positivity rates in your community. From this information, decide what best suits your family. And if you go out, always wear your mask!

Lung Disease and COVID-19: An Update

We invited Dr. Khalilah Gates, a pulmonologist from Northwestern Medicine, to share her experiences as a front-line provider during the COVID-19 pandemic and how the virus has affected people living with COPD. Dr. Gates discussed what we know so far about COVID-19 symptoms and testing, and the best prevention practices for people living with lung disease like COPD.

man with lung disease during COVID-19Common COVID-19 Symptoms

The most common COVID-19 symptoms people experience include cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fever, chills, body aches, headache, sore throat, new loss of smell or taste, and diarrhea. Symptoms vary by person, so it is important to monitor your health. Symptoms can occur between 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. Some people who recover from coronavirus have had longer lasting symptoms, including fatigue and cough.

COVID-19 Tests

There are two types of tests that are currently available: viral tests and antibody tests.

  • Viral tests: Collected via nasal swab (most reliable), oral swab, or saliva. Used to
    diagnose an active COVID infection.
  • Antibody tests: Collected through blood draws. A positive antibody test suggests you
    were exposed, but we do not know that having antibodies protects you from becoming
    re-infected.

Prevention Practices for People Living with COPD and Other Lung Diseases

While people living with COPD are not more at risk for getting COVID, there is an
increased likelihood of having a more severe case of the virus. Dr. Gates suggests the
following for people living with COPD:

  • Continue your home medications—now is not the time to stop taking any providerprescribed
    medications that help you manage your COPD.
  • Practice COVID-19 specific guidelines, which include:
    • Wearing a mask. It is very important to wear a mask that covers your
      mouth AND nose when out in public. If you are having trouble breathing
      in your mask, experiment with different fabrics, materials, and types of
      masks. If you continue to have difficulty breathing in a mask, you may
      need to limit the activities you do that require you to wear a mask.
    • Clean your hands often. Wash your hands with soap and water for 20
      seconds. If you do not have access to soap and water, use alcohol-based
      products.
    • Practice social distancing. Limit contact with people and stay six feet
      away from others when possible.
    • Clean and disinfect surfaces often.
  • Stay as active as possible. Take walks whenever possible and visit the RHA website for
    tips on exercise while staying home.
  • See your doctor. Hospitals have protocols in place to minimize transmission of COVID-19,
    but many doctors now have the option to use telehealth (which include video visits and
    phone calls).
  • Stay up to date with your vaccines, including the getting the influenza vaccine. Now is
    the right time to be getting your flu shot.

If you would like to learn more about the relationship between COPD and COVID-19, view one of our webinars on-demand.

Respiratory Therapists Are Front-line Heroes

healthcare workersThis year was a challenge for everyone. As we think about how COVID-19 has affected our families, health, and way of life, we also think about the unique challenges people living with lung disease have faced. Pulmonary rehabilitation programs offer important support for people living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Through exercises, peer support facilitation, and more – every day heroes known as respiratory therapists help people manage their disease and live more fulfilling lives.

As COVID-19 began to spread, critical programs like these were paused. Many respiratory therapists moved to treatment teams to help people recovering from the virus. Their work, and that of so many healthcare workers, inspires us. It gives us hope that we will overcome the pandemic.

Unfortunately, the absence of these programs left the COPD community without easy access to resources they count on to breathe easier. Respiratory Health Association was ready to help. With the initial support of pulmonary rehab leaders, we are launching Support for Transitioning Rehabilitation and Exercise Now Going to Home (STRENGTH). This program offers exercise routines and breathing tips COPD patients can use at home.

In an uncertain time, we bring hope to people living with COPD.

We look forward to the day when respiratory therapists reunite with their patients and can continue this important care in-person. Until then, we will develop and share resources to help people living with COPD stay safe and continue pulmonary rehab at home.

Over the years, your support has helped us fight for a future free of lung disease. As we continue to address the changing needs of our lung health community, we say thank you for your support.

If you are able, we ask you to support RHA this giving season. Give today to help us continue important lung health initiatives in Illinois. Together, can bring hope to people living with lung disease.

Respiratory Therapists are Lung Health Heroes

This week 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.