Asthma is a disease that makes it difficult for yours lungs to get air. Asthma symptoms may include shortness of breath (with or without activity), chest tightness, difficulty sleeping (symptoms are worse at night), wheezing, and a persistent cough. Asthma has many triggers. However, those triggers are slightly different in urban areas (cities) than in suburban locations.
Path to improved health
Urban asthma is associated with the types of air pollution commonly found in cities. This includes:
- automobile exhaust
- tobacco smoke
- smoke stacks
- debris from street cleaners
- heat and natural gases trapped between tall buildings and concrete
- restaurant food odors
- mice and rats.
If you have asthma and you spend a lot of time in the city (work or home), there are things you can do to reduce your exposure to triggers:
- Take your medicine. If you have asthma, follow your doctor’s advice for using your prescription medicine. Asthma medicines include maintenance medicines (taken daily to keep asthma under control) and quick-acting medicines (usually in the form of an inhaler to bring immediate relief when you have an asthma attack).
- Follow your written asthma action plan. Your doctor will write this for you. It is a plan for you. It considers your symptoms and triggers. It will include information about your medicine, advice for avoiding asthma triggers, and what to do if you have an asthma attack.
- Check the air quality. The Air Quality Index (AQI) tracks daily air quality. It tells you how clean or polluted your air is, and what associated health effects might be a concern for you. Avoid being outside when the air quality is at its worst.
- Take a cab, a car, or public transportation during times of poor air quality. While walking is easy in the city, it causes you to spend more time outdoors and exposed to asthma triggers.
- Use the elevator instead of the stairs if your asthma is flaring up. The stairs are good for exercise. However, when your asthma symptoms start, climbing the stairs can make it worse. The same is true for any activity. Talk to your doctor about using your medicine for preventive help for times you will be physically active.
- Keep your office and home as clean as possible from mice, rat, and cockroaches.
- Don’t smoke. Avoid designated smoking areas outside of office and residential buildings. Some smokers gather near entrances to buildings. Find an alternative entrance or exit to your building.
- Talk to your employer to see if you can work from home on days when air quality is at its worst. If your job can be done from home on occasion, it never hurts to ask.
Things to consider
An asthma attack can occur when your symptoms get out of control and you are struggling to breath. An attack can vary in severity. A mild attack can make it difficult to concentrate on your work and enjoy activities. A more serious asthma attack can send you to the emergency room. A severe, untreated asthma attack can potentially lead to death. Therefore, knowing and avoiding your personal triggers is the best way to prevent an asthma attack.
Be sure to keep your quick-acting medicine with you at all times. This may require asking your doctor to provide you with more than one prescription. Use it when you feel asthma symptoms begin. This can slow and even stop your symptoms from getting worse. Sometimes, this medicine is called your “rescue inhaler.”
Questions to ask your doctor
- Why is the air quality worse in urban areas?
- Is air quality worse during certain times of the year?
- Should I cover my mouth and nose if I’m extra sensitive to urban asthma triggers?
- How can I avoid strong odors (like perfume or cologne) when I work in an urban area with lots of people in small spaces and elevators?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.