San Joaquin Valley asthma patients facing flare-ups with these winter weather triggers

On December 27, 2023 by Vivienne Aguilar

Take a look at what local advocacy group suggests to reduce asthma symptoms


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National recognition is usually cause for celebration. For Stocktonians, being called out for air pollution and asthma rates is not a badge of honor. 

The city has been named an Asthma Capital by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. 

“It’s not something anyone’s proud of,” said Jazmarie LaTour, Director of Little Manila Rising’s Decreasing Asthma Within Neighborhoods (DAWN) program

Asthma is a chronic lung disease that narrows airways and makes breathing difficult. It can lead to hospitalization and even death. It can be triggered by anything from a strong smell to a stressful day, according to the American Lung Association.

San Joaquin Valley asthmatics have no choice but to regularly breathe some of the worst air in the country. The pollution presents year-round challenges, but winter comes with its own set of triggers. Cold and wet weather and a lack of fresh outside air combine to create a wintertime asthma trigger.

“I fill more prescriptions for inhalers this time of year,” said Andrea Bartels, pharmacist at Coffee Plaza Pharmacy, a closed-door operation in Modesto. 

Regular pharmacies allow anyone to have their prescription filled, but Bartels works with patients who have specific organizational needs. Like the elderly and their caretakers.

“Usually people need more refills because of chest colds and things like that,” she said.

It is important for people with asthma to pay attention to air conditions both inside and out.

“During winter, people are dealing with excess moisture from the walls, which can lead to mold,” said Alexis Garcia, a DAWN Community Health Equity Specialist. 

Garcia visits homes of asthmatics in south Stockton, an economically disadvantaged area that struggles with pollution from freeways, industrial agriculture and an inland port. She and the DAWN team provide education and resources over multiple visits to supplement irregular doctor appointments.

She and the team assess homes for triggers, drop off tools to target the issues, create Asthma Action Plans and give directions on how medications are meant to be used. 

Some remediation tools the team prescribes in the winter include:

  • Dehumidifiers, to remove moisture from the air.
  • Moisture absorbers, which are containers filled with moisture absorbent materials.
  • Hygrometers, to measure the percentage of moisture in the air. Low humidity is considered to be between 30 and 50 percent of fluid per volume of air in the room.

These tools should be placed in areas of the house where people with asthma are frequently in, like their bathrooms, bedrooms and kitchens.

DAWN provides these tools and replacement filters for free to south Stockton residents who sign up for the program. 

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District also provides free HEPA air purifiers to qualifying residents through funding from Assembly Bill 617.

One of the most important long-term ways to minimize asthma triggers is to weatherize a home to make sure indoor air quality is as clean as possible.

A challenge people with asthma in south Stockton face is inability to weatherize their homes because they rent, LaTour said. Replacing windows and doors can help keep dust out of the home.

Helping neighbors with Asthma

Stanislaus County has a coalition dedicated to creating an asthma-friendly community by connecting residents with programs and documents to help everyone, especially children, better understand asthma. 

Tens of thousands of people suffer from asthma in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties, according to the American Lung Association. Both counties have consistent failing grades in outdoor air pollution and quality.

Even if you don’t suffer from asthma, your actions can help asthmatics run into fewer triggers, flare-ups, attacks and hospitalizations. Stay up to date with local conditions to know if agricultural or residential burning is allowed in your area. Participate in Clean Air Days in your area by finding alternatives to driving an individual vehicle. 

Sign up for daily information on air quality levels throughout the San Joaquin Valley, or check on your phone’s weather app to ensure healthy air quality when you’re with someone with asthma.

“Still a lot of advocacy efforts and voices are needed to better improve conversations about indoor and outdoor air quality,” LaTour said.

Vivienne Aguilar is the health equity reporter for the Central Valley Journalism Collaborative, a nonprofit newsroom based in Merced, in collaboration with the California Health Care Foundation (CHCF).

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