MU program aims to ease asthma

Training teaches how to control things that trigger attacks.
Wednesday, May 19, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:55 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 3, 2008

Chris Mordica has dealt with asthma his entire life. He uses an inhaler and a nebulizer, a machine that medicates the lungs, to control his symptoms. However, the 14-year-old has not let the disease slow him down.

Mordica has been playing sports for years and now plays on the football, basketball and track teams at West Junior High School. He said his asthma isn’t a major problem since he has had it for so long. But he knows the disease isn’t something to be taken lightly.

“It’s kind of one of those things,” Mordica said. “You grow out of it but then you realize that there really was a problem.”

Mordica is one of more than 20 million Americans who suffer from asthma and one of 6.3 million children under 17 who report having the disease, according to statistics from the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology.

However, an MU research team hopes to educate people like Mordica about ways to fight the problem in their homes. The team designed a training project that focuses on five common triggers of asthma — secondhand smoke, dust mites, pets, mold and pests.

Terri Dobey, an MU respiratory therapy clinical instructor, said the goal of the Rural Community Asthma-Environmental Control Training Project is to increase awareness about the environmental triggers and provide strategies for people to better self-manage their asthma.

The service area consists of 32 counties in southeastern and south-central Missouri, where, much like the rest of the world, the prevalence of asthma continues to increase. Trained volunteers offer programs to families with asthma in those counties, educating them about what they can do to help prevent and treat asthma symptoms.

Willard Downs, a primary investigator in the project, said that before asthma can be treated people must first be aware of the problem.

“People need to know what asthma is and what typically causes it,” he said, “and then they need to learn what they can do about it in their own homes and environments.”

Dobey said there are easy strategies and methods families can use to control asthma triggers and fight the chronic disease.

Tobacco smoke is believed to make asthma worse and even cause asthma. Because of this, Dobey said, “Anybody with asthma should not be around tobacco smoke.”

To prevent dust mites in the home, Dobey recommends that people dust, vacuum and wash their bedding often. Cockroach excretion, a potent trigger, can be eliminated by washing kitchen counters and tables and storing food in airtight containers. Mold can be reduced by wiping down showers and bathtubs with a bleach and water mixture, and by using an exhaust fan to eliminate moisture accumulation.

Finally, Dobey said pets are bad for asthma sufferers. He suggested keeping them outdoors and out of the bedroom, if possible.

Mark Vandewalker, an allergist at Allergy and Asthma Consultants in Columbia, says Dobey and Downs are on the right track with their program. But he said that it is hard to scientifically show that education makes asthma better.

“Improving the home is a very reasonable approach to preventing and treating asthma symptoms,” Vandewalker said.

For more information about eliminating asthma triggers in the home, visit the program Web site at

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