Category Archives: Lungs & Breathing

Smoke from wildfires pose health threat, officials warn


From the Washington Department of Health

fire-moves-through-forestSixteen large wildfires and many smaller ones now span about 400,000 acres of Eastern Washington.

State health officials warn that smoke from the fires raise health concerns for people in the 11 affected counties.

This is especially true for children and those with health conditions.

People in areas affected by wildfire smoke are encouraged to monitor air quality using current information found on the Department of Ecology’s website.

Breathing smoky air can cause shortness of breath, coughing and chest pain in healthy people. However, people with asthma or other lung diseases may experience more serious symptoms. Continue reading


Facing death but fighting the aid-in-dying movement


Stephanie Packer (Photo by Stephanie O’Neill / KPCC)

By Stephanie O’Neill
Southern California Public Radio

Stephanie Packer was 29 when she found out she has a terminal lung disease.

It’s the same age as Brittany Maynard, who last year was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Maynard, of northern California, opted to end her life via physician-assisted suicide in Oregon last fall.

Maynard’s quest for control over the end of her life continues to galvanize the “aid-in-dying” movement nationwide, with legislation pending in California and a dozen other states.

But unlike Maynard, Packer says physician-assisted suicide will never be an option for her.

“Wanting the pain to stop, wanting the humiliating side effects to go away – that’s absolutely natural,” Packer says. “I absolutely have been there, and I still get there some days. But I don’t get to that point of wanting to end it all, because I have been given the tools to understand that today is a horrible day, but tomorrow doesn’t have to be.”

A recent spring afternoon in Packer’s kitchen is a good day, as she prepares lunch with her four children.


The Packer family gathers in the kitchen to cook dinner. From left: Jacob, 8; Brian Sr. ; Brian Jr., 11; Savannah, 5; Scarlett, 10; and Stephanie. (Photo by Stephanie O’Neill / KPCC)

“Do you want to help?” she asks the eager crowd of siblings gathered tightly around her at the stovetop.

“Yeah!” yells 5-year-old Savannah.

“I do!” says Jacob, 8.

Managing four kids as each vies for the chance to help make chicken salad sandwiches can be trying. But for Packer, these are the moments she cherishes. Continue reading


Common asthma steroids linked to side effects in adrenal glands | Reuters


Illustration of the lungs in blueAfter stopping steroids commonly prescribed for asthma and allergies, a significant number of people may experience signs of malfunctioning in the adrenal glands, a European study finds.

So-called adrenal insufficiency can be dangerous, especially if the person’s body has to cope with a stress like surgery, injury or a serious illness, the study authors say.

Source: Common asthma steroids linked to side effects in adrenal glands | Reuters


FDA warns consumers of the dangers of using homeopathic products to treat asthma


FDA warns consumers about the potential health risks of over-the-counter asthma products labeled as homeopathic

From the Food and Drug Administration

Illustration of the lungs in blueThe U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning consumers not to rely on asthma products  labeled as homeopathic that are sold over-the-counter (OTC). These products have not been evaluated by the FDA for safety and effectiveness.

Asthma is a serious, chronic lung condition. If asthma is not appropriately treated and managed, patients may have wheezing, shortness of breath, and coughing, and could be at risk for life-threatening asthma attacks that may require emergency care or hospitalization.

Although there is no cure for asthma, there are many prescription asthma treatments approved by FDA as safe and effective, as well as some products that are marketed OTC in accordance with an FDA monograph.  Continue reading


Vaccination is the most effective flu prevention for seniors


Flu shot todayBy Dr. Kory B. Fowler
Medical Director, Intermountain Region

The influenza virus– commonly known as the flu – affects up to 20 percent of Americans annually, leaving more than 200,000 people hospitalized from complications each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The flu is particularly dangerous for Washington seniors, who often have pre-existing chronic health conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease.

Last year the flu vaccine prevented 6.6 million illnesses, 3.2 million doctor visits and at least 79,000 hospitalizations.

There are many ways to reduce the risk of catching the virus, such as washing your hands often, but an annual flu shot is the most effective way to prevent the flu and reduce the risk of complications. Continue reading


Enterovirus D-68 confirmed in two patients at Seattle Children’s Hospital


From Seattle Children’s Hospital

Parents strongly encouraged to take precautions, seek medical attention for troubled breathing, wheezing in babies, children, teens

EV68-infographicSEATTLE – Sept. 19, 2014 – Seattle Children’s Hospital announced today that two children have tested positive for Enterovirus D-68 (EV-D68).

The children, whose names were not released, have preexisting health conditions that exacerbated their condition but were stable enough to be discharged from the hospital earlier this week.

The presence of EV-D68 in the two children was confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on Thursday.

Results for three other children who were tested for EV-D68 were negative. Two of those children have been discharged; one is deceased.

No children in Washington or the United States have died of EV-D68 related illness. Continue reading


How Racism Creeps Into Medicine – The Atlantic


Illustration of the lungs in blueIn 1864, the year before the Civil War ended, a massive study was launched to quantify the bodies of Union soldiers. One key finding in what would become a 613-page report was that soldiers classified as “White” had a higher lung capacity than those labeled “Full Blacks” or “Mulattoes.” The study relied on the spirometer—a medical instrument that measures lung capacity.

via How Racism Creeps Into Medicine – The Atlantic.


Death with Dignity Act prescriptions rise 43 percent


Washington MapThe number of Washington state residents who obtained prescriptions for a lethal dose of drugs under the state’s Death with Dignity Act rose from 121 in 2012 to 175 in 2013, a 43% increase over the previous year.

Of the 159 who died

  • 77 percent had cancer
  • 15 percent had a neuro-degenerative disease, including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease).
  • 8 percent had other conditions, including heart and respiratory disease,

Their ages ranged from 29 to 95 years. Ninety-seven percent were white, and 76% had some college education. Ninety-five percent lived west of the Cascades.

Of the 159 who died, 119 ingested the medication and 26 did not. In 14 cases, it is unknown whether they took the medicines.

Reasons that patients gave for obtaining the lethal prescriptions included

  • Concerns about loss of autonomy – 91 percent
  • Concerns about loss of dignity – 79 percent
  • Concerns about loss of the ability to participate in activities that make life enjoyable – 89 percent.

Under the state’s Death with Dignity Act, terminally ill adult patients have had the right to ask their physician to prescribe a lethal dose of medication to end their life. Since the law’s enactment, 550 people have acted on that right since the law went into effect.

The 2013 Death with Dignity Act Report and information about the Washington State Death with Dignity Act are on the agency website.


States target asthma care as number of patients grow


Washington is one of the few states that has made the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America honor roll of states that have adopted comprehensive public policies supporting people with asthma, food allergies, anaphylaxis risk and related allergic diseases in schools.

Illustration of the lungs in blueBy Michael Ollove
Stateline Staff Writer

April 16, 2014 

In a valley wedged between the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, St. Louis often finds itself beset by a stationary air mass that only a severe storm of some kind can dislodge.

St. Louis is also an industrial city with high humidity, so it’s no wonder it usually makes the list of worst places for asthmatics to live.

But the state has also pioneered advances in addressing asthma treatment and costs. Two years ago, the Missouri legislature became the first to allow schools to stock quick-relief asthma medications for emergencies.  Continue reading


Antibiotics don’t prevent complications of kids’ respiratory infections


Three red and white capsulesBy Milly Dawson
HBNS Contributing Writer
FEB 18, 2014

Antibiotics are often prescribed for young children who have upper respiratory tract infections (URIs) in order to prevent complications, such as ear infections and pneumonia, however, a new evidence review in The Cochrane Library found no evidence to support this practice.  Continue reading


App lets you determine your neighborhood’s radon risk


Screen Shot 2014-01-21 at 11.28.29From the Washington State Department of Health

Olympia, January 21, 2014 — Washington residents now have a new online map to check and see if their neighborhood has a geological risk for the cancer-causing gas, radon, using a new state app. The new app is offered by the state Department of Health’s Washington Tracking Network.

Some areas of the state, such as Spokane and Clark counties, are well-known for having higher levels of radon, but the new online map shows that there are some areas around the Puget Sound such as Pierce and King counties that might come as a surprise.  Continue reading


Something odd about your cigarette? FDA wants to hear about it


Consumer Update from the FDA

Cigarette SmokeAre you using a tobacco product that you believe is defective or is causing an unexpected health problem?

Are you using a tobacco product that has a strange taste or smell?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wants to hear from you and has a new online tool you can use to report your problem. Continue reading

lesson one

Oregon schools use ‘behavioral vaccine’ to reduce smoking

Blackboard with "Lesson one" written on it.

Photo: Krzysztof “Kriss” Szkurlatowski

By Kristian Foden-Vencil
Oregon Public Broadcasting

Behaving well in elementary school could reduce smoking in later life. At least, that’s what Trillium Community Health Plan hopes, and it’s putting money behind the idea.

Danebo Elementary in Eugene, Ore., is one of 50 schools receiving money to teach classes while integrating something called the “Good Behavior Game.”

Teacher Cami Railey sits at a small table, surrounded by four kids. She’s about to teach them the “s” sound and the “a” sound. But first, as she does every day, she goes over the rules.

“You’re going to earn your stars today by sitting in the learning position,” she says. “That means your bottom is on your seat, backs on the back of your seat. Excellent job, just like that.”

For good learning behavior, like sitting quietly, keeping their eyes on the teacher and working hard, kids get a star and some stickers.

Railey says the game keeps the kids plugged in and therefore learning more. That in turn makes them better educated teens and adults who’re less likely to pick up a dangerous habit, like smoking.

The Washington, D.C., nonprofit Coalition for Evidence Based Policy says it works. It did a study that found that by age 13, the game had reduced the number of kids who had started to smoke by 26 percent — and reduced the number of kids who had started to take hard drugs by more than half.

The fact that a teacher is playing the Good Behavior Game isn’t unusual. What is unusual is that Trillium is paying for it. Part of the Affordable Care Act involves the federal government giving money to states to figure out new ways to prevent people from getting sick in the first place.

So Trillium is setting aside nearly $900,000 a year for disease prevention strategies, like this one. Jennifer Webster is the disease prevention coordinator for Trillium Community Health, and she thinks it’s a good investment.

“The Good Behavior Game is more than just a game that you play in the classroom. It’s actually been called a behavioral vaccine,” she says. “This is really what needs to be done. What we really need to focus on is prevention.”

Trillium is paying the poorer schools of Eugene’s Bethel School District to adopt the strategy in 50 classrooms.

Trillium CEO Terry Coplin says changes to Oregon and federal law mean that instead of paying for each Medicaid recipient to get treatment, Trillium gets a fixed amount of money for each of its 56,000 Medicaid recipients. That way Trillium can pay for disease prevention efforts that benefit the whole Medicaid population, not just person by person as they need it.

“I think the return on investment for the Good Behavior Game is going to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 to one,” Coplin says.

So, for each dollar spent on playing the game, the health agency expects to save $10 by not having to pay to treat these kids later in life for lung cancer because they took up smoking.

Coplin concedes that some of Trillium’s Medicaid recipients will leave the system each year. But he says prevention still makes medical and financial sense.

“All the incentives are really aligned in the right direction. The healthier that we can make the population, the bigger the financial reward,” he says.

The Oregon Health Authority estimates that each pack of cigarettes smoked costs Oregonians about $13 in medical expenses and productivity losses.

Not all the money Trillium is spending goes for the Good Behavior Game. Some of it is earmarked to pay pregnant smokers cold, hard cash to give up the habit. There’s also a plan to have kids try to buy cigarettes at local stores, then give money to store owners who refuse to sell.

This story is part of a reporting partnership that includes NPROregon Public Broadcasting and Kaiser Health News

Photo courtesy of Krzysztof “Kriss” Szkurlatowski

This article was reprinted from with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.