10 Tips for Hispanic Americans with Asthma
Managing asthma in the Hispanic populationRegardless of ancestry, when it comes to reducing asthma attacks and symptom severity, certain asthma tips apply to most Hispanic Americans. Learning more about what you can do to reduce the frequency and intensity of asthma attacks can help you manage your asthma and improve your overall health.
Hispanic people are part of a diverse community made up of individuals from Spanish-speaking backgrounds. Although asthma tends to be less common in Hispanic people in the United States compared with the general U.S. population, asthma rates differ within this community because of this diversity. Puerto Ricans, for example, have some of the highest rates of asthma. Also, Puerto Rican children are three times as likely as non-Hispanic white children to have asthma. Conversely, rates of asthma among Mexican Americans are about half that of non-Hispanic white individuals.
1. Eat an anti-inflammatory dietA 2019 study suggests that a pro-inflammatory diet increases the risk of developing asthma and worsens symptoms in Hispanic adults who already have asthma. Replacing pro-inflammatory foods with anti-inflammatory ingredients — such as leafy green vegetables, fish, peppers, and berries — may help bring down inflammation levels throughout the body, including your airways.
Asthma occurs when the inner linings of the airways become inflamed. To help reduce harmful inflammation in the airways and throughout the body, health experts recommend reducing the intake of pro-inflammatory foods, which are foods that cause inflammation. These include red meat, white rice, and fried foods.
2. Manage stressPracticing stress management strategies — such as mindful breathing, meditation, and empathy — may be helpful. It’s also important to recognize the stressors in your life and find ways to avoid them or at least minimize their influence. For example, if driving on a particularly busy stretch of road causes you stress, find an alternative route or drive on it during times when it is less busy, if possible.
A 2021 review of 12 studies notes that Latinos report higher levels of stress than those of other ethnicities. As the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America explains, stress and depression can be powerful triggers of asthma.
3. Quit smoking and avoid secondhand smokeSmoking damages the lungs and airways, exacerbating asthma symptoms. Secondhand smoke can cause similar complications for people with asthma. A 2018 study of African American and Latino children with asthma suggests that as exposure to secondhand smoke increases, asthma symptoms worsen. The research also notes that no amount of secondhand smoke exposure can be considered safe.
One of the most important steps a person with asthma or any respiratory condition can take is to quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke.
4. Avoid asthma triggersIn some cases, however, this is especially challenging. A 2017 study suggests that Hispanic households with low incomes may be more likely to live in areas with poor air quality and other environmental triggers responsible for exacerbating asthma symptoms. Limiting outside exposure on days with especially poor air quality may be one way to reduce exposure to a common asthma trigger.
Certain environmental triggers for asthma affect individuals differently. Some people may be more sensitive to dust, while others may have a harder time with household cleaning products or pet fur. If you know your triggers, try to make adjustments to your home and lifestyle to avoid exposure to them.
5. Exercise regularlySome individuals with asthma experience exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB), in which airways narrow as a result of physical exertion. EIB can cause worsening asthma symptoms. To avoid this, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology suggests avoiding exercise in cold temperatures and in environments with especially dry air. Consulting your doctor about exercise may help prevent complications later on.
Keeping physically active with a condition such as asthma can be challenging, but aerobic exercise can help bolster the strength and function of your lungs and airways.
6. Avoid viral infectionsThe link between childhood viral infections and the risk of developing asthma is well established. A 2020 study suggests that the high incidence of viral infections among Puerto Rican children, in particular, may at least partly explain why asthma is so prevalent in that community.
Something as simple as a common cold virus can take hold in the airways and lungs, making breathing particularly difficult for people with asthma. Try to limit your exposure to people who may be carrying a virus that affects the respiratory system, and consider getting appropriate vaccinations and taking other precautions to prevent viral infections.
7. Stay hydratedA 2017 study of hydration status among U.S. adults across several racial and ethnic groups suggests that Hispanic and non-Hispanic Black individuals had a higher risk of inadequate hydration. Making it a priority to drink water and other fluids throughout the day may help ease asthma symptoms.
To keep your mucus thinner so that breathing with asthma is a little easier, be sure to drink enough water. Proper hydration also helps with digestion and the optimal health of your organs and all your body systems.
8. Have an asthma action planYour doctor may have blank asthma action plans that you can fill out together. If not, work with your healthcare team to come up with a useful asthma action plan. Make multiple copies for your home, office, and school so that they are quickly accessible when you need them.
Each person in your home who has asthma should have an individualized asthma action plan in writing. It should include a list of the medications you take, as well as the current dosage and when or how often you need to take the medications. The plan should also note signs that symptoms are worsening and what to do in an emergency. A list of emergency contact numbers, including your physician’s office, is also essential.
9. Use controller medications properlyChildhood adherence to controller medications is often inconsistent across all ethnic groups. In a 2019 study of Mexican and Puerto Rican children in the U.S., researchers found that about half of the children studied did not take their medications as prescribed. The study also suggests that certain children with asthma may need more intensive interventions to improve medication adherence.
Controller medications are drugs that people with asthma should take daily to control inflammation and prevent asthma attacks. They are not “rescue” medications, which are used to quickly get asthma attacks under control. Controller medications include oral medications and inhaled corticosteroids.
10. Find the right doctorIt’s also crucial to find a doctor you trust, who listens to you, and who doesn’t make you feel rushed or confused. By connecting with the right doctor, you will be more empowered to play an active role in your asthma care and receive the most effective treatment.
A 2016 report on healthcare in the Hispanic population notes that language and other cultural barriers can interfere with access to good healthcare and helpful medical advice. To help eliminate avoidable asthma-related medical problems, try to find a culturally competent physician or other healthcare professional. A culturally competent doctor will be trained in treating conditions in people with different cultural backgrounds and be well versed in the nuances associated with caring for Hispanic individuals with asthma.
If your doctor doesn’t speak Spanish but that’s the language you are most comfortable speaking, make sure you have someone who can interpret for you. By law, U.S. doctors are supposed to provide translation and interpretation services. When you make an appointment, ask about using such services with your doctors, as these accommodations are not just required by law; they can also make a significant difference in your asthma treatment and management.
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Asthma in Hispanics | Asthma in Hispanic Population