Protect Your Lungs from Summer Air Pollution

The summer months generally have more days with poor air quality. Ground-level ozone (smog) levels increase due to warmer temperatures, which can lead to difficulty breathing. This summer has been no different — and has also featured additional air pollution from wildfires in the U.S.

Poor air quality can be bad for anyone. However, it is especially concerning for vulnerable populations like children, the elderly, and people living with lung disease. Periodically, the Illinois EPA will call an air pollution action day to indicate particularly bad air quality. On these days labeled “unhealthy for sensitive groups,” people included should try to avoid strenuous physical activity, stay cool inside, and hydrate.

Everyone can take steps on action days to reduce air pollution and protect people in their communities, including:

  • Limit driving if you can — consider walking, biking, or working from home if possible.
  • If driving, avoid idling, and try to run errands after 7 pm when sunlight is not as strong.
  • Avoid using gasoline-powered equipment.
  • Set your thermostat up 2 degrees to limit air pollution from fossil fuel power plants.
  • Turn off and unplug electronics not in use.
  • Do not burn leaves and other yard waste.
  • Sign-up to receive air quality forecasts via email at enviroflash.info.

Keep an eye on local news and weather alerts or visit airnow.gov, which also provides daily air quality updates by location. As a lung health advocate, sharing this information can help everyone breathe easier when summer air pollution increases.

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:

Tips on Choosing a Wearable Fitness Tracker

Welcome back, summer! As the weather warms and the sun shines, mix up your exercise routine and head outside. Wearable fitness devices can help you track your exercise. There are many devices available today and it can be hard to choose one. Below are several tips and tricks to help you find one that’s right for you:

• Do you want a tracker or a watch? Trackers count your steps and active minutes, but watches can also monitor your heart rate and send alerts.

• What will the upkeep require? Fancy devices may be nice but are often high maintenance. Look for devices that are easy to use, have a good battery life, and are comfortable to wear.

• Will it meet your needs? Think about your lifestyle and how much you’ll use it. Also think about the interconnectivity aspect; does it need to be compatible with your phone or other electronics, or will this be a stand-alone device?

Regardless of what you choose, fitness trackers and watches are wonderful devices that can get you motivated to exercise. For more information on staying active and healthy visit our Project STRENGTH page, which features pulmonary rehab at home resources.

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.

Dr. Nadia Hansel Receives 2021 Solovy Award for COPD Research

Respiratory Health Association (RHA) is pleased to name Nadia Hansel, MD, MPH, as recipient of the 2021 Solovy Award for Advancement in COPD. Dr. Hansel is the Director of the Division of Pulmonary & Critical Care Medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

The award is funded by the Kathleen Hart Solovy and Jerold S. Solovy Endowment for COPD. It recognizes researchers who have worked to improve the lives of people living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Through the award, Dr. Hansel and her team will work to address the disparities and hospitalization burden of people living with COPD.

More than 16 million Americans live with COPD, a disease that makes breathing difficult and may lead to other conditions. Millions more have early symptoms.

Dr. Hansel has published over 200 articles and has been involved in local, national, and international educational activities focused on COPD. She researches the genetics and environmental factors of COPD and, in addition to her own work, serves as a mentor to investigators who are also dedicated to advancing the knowledge of COPD. A major focus of her work is the study of social causes of health-related risk factors for COPD including poverty, obesity, diet, and indoor air pollution. This is especially important as COPD has been traditionally considered a smoking-related illness, with other possible risk factors not fully addressed. Her work has also produced groundbreaking research showing indoor air cleaners may improve symptoms and reduce the risk of COPD flare-ups.

The impact of Dr. Hansel’s research is significant – and is a reminder that lung disease research is historically underfunded. Every year Respiratory Health Association awards early-stage research grants to promising projects covering lung diseases such as lung cancer, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, and COPD. Learn more about RHA’s research program and funding opportunities.

Watch our 2021 Solovy Award spotlight:

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.

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