As a kid who grew up with asthma, Jamason knew exactly what to say when his friends tried to get him to smoke: no! But he couldn’t control people smoking around him in the restaurant where he worked, and one day when he was just 16 that smoke triggered an asthma attack that put him in the hospital for four days.
“My chest got really tight,” says Jamason. “I was just trying to breathe, trying to get air in my lungs. I couldn’t bear it.” Breathing treatments got him through the hospitalization, but then he was afraid to leave. “I wanted to go home,” he says, “but, then again, I didn’t, because I knew there was no smoking inside the hospital. But outside, in the real world, people smoke.”
Since Jessica never smoked, she never gave much thought to the effect cigarette smoke could have on her young son, Aden’s, asthma. It wasn’t till he began having problems that required a trip to the ED that she had her “ah ha” moment. Secondhand smoke from her mother, who was watching Aden while Jessica worked all day, was to blame. “They kept asking me if I smoked, and I kept saying no,” she says of the ED visit. “Then it dawned on me that he was around cigarette smoking while at my mom’s house.”
Jessica wants other mothers in her position to know the dangers and not be afraid to ask people not to smoke around their children. Her own mom no longer smokes around Aden and is trying hard to quit.
Asthma first entered Ellie’s life when she was in her mid-30s. She grew up with parents who smoked but never took up the habit herself. However, after taking a job as a bartender in a smoke-filled bar, asthma attacks became a regular occurrence. Despite loving her job, she ended up having to quit.
“Every time someone asked, ‘Can I have change for cigarettes?’ I knew I was going to be breathing in more of that smoke,” she says. “And when I went home each night, I was afraid that I was going to wake up in the middle of the night not being able to breathe.” Ellie believes everyone has the right to work in a smoke-free environment.
The work environment proved deadly for Nathan. Also a life-long nonsmoker with asthma, the Native American was employed at a casino that allowed smoking, and it cost him his health. “A common cold escalated into pneumonia, sending me to the emergency room,” he said. “During one of the visits, a doctor was looking at x-rays of my lungs and commented that I had the lungs of a heavy smoker. I told him, ‘I never smoked a day in my life!’”
Nathan kept busy with his family, and especially his grandchildren, but this once active man who served in the U.S. Marines, raced motorcycles, and participated in tribal dance competitions was basically sidelined by lung damage from bronchiectasis. Before his death in 2013, walking even short distances put him out of breath and he used oxygen on a daily basis.
These stories come from the CDC’s Tips From Former Smokers campaign and, while they don’t involve smokers themselves, they certainly show how smoking can adversely affect people with asthma. As the campaign points out, tobacco smoke is the most common asthma trigger, and staying away from cigarette smoke is key to avoiding asthma attacks.
How can respiratory therapists help patients and families understand the dangers inherent in cigarette smoke?
The AARC is a key partner in the CDC’s Tips campaign and wants all of us to know about the wealth of resources they have to help us get the job done. From videos and posters to FAQ documents, fact sheets, and free notepads, you’ll find what you need to engage your patients and their family members in the smoke-free discussion.
So invest some time in perusing the CDC resources and consider how you can put them to work in your practice. For your patients with asthma, it could mean the difference between staying healthy and ending up in the hospital or emergency department with an acute exacerbation of the disease.