May is national asthma awareness month |

May is national asthma awareness month

Garfield County Environmental Health Department
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

Editor’s note: In recognition of National Air Quality Awareness week, Garfield, Eagle, Mesa, and Pitkin County, the city of Aspen, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are working together to raise awareness about indoor and outdoor air quality issues, encouraging communities to “share the air.”

Even her own laundry detergent can trigger an attack. Sometimes it helps to go outside and get fresh air, but sometimes she just can’t catch her breath.

Aspen resident Cari Anne Holcomb has struggled with asthma for the last 10 years, but her condition seems to be getting worse.

People often associate air quality with the outdoors, thinking about emissions from vehicles or other industry sources. However, the air inside our homes is often more polluted than outdoor air.

It can be polluted by personal care products, cleaning supplies, and other products treated with chemicals. Because people and pets spend up to 90 percent of their time indoors, this is particularly concerning.

May is National Asthma Awareness month.

People suffering from asthma feel like they are being choked and can’t catch their breath. For Holcomb, on extreme days there can be several minutes where she just can’t breathe.

Asthma attacks can range from persistent coughing and scratchy throats to severe reactions.

Holcomb’s asthma is considered moderate.

“It’s frustrating that there can be things in your life you don’t have control over. You can’t help it, but you have to deal with it. I just try to keep it all in balance,” she said.

Pitkin County Environmental Health Manager Carla Ostberg said volatile organic compounds are chemicals found in common household items and are key contributors to indoor air pollution. These pollutants can cause or worsen allergies, respiratory illnesses (such as asthma), heart disease, cancer, and other serious long-term conditions.

Volatile organic compounds are found in scented candles, carpets, nail polishes, paint, air fresheners, dry-cleaned clothing, building material, and even some home furnishings (such as pressed-wood furniture). The compounds evaporate into the air when the products are used, and sometimes even when they are stored.

“I always say that scented candles are the nicest smelling form of pollution you will ever welcome into your home,” said Ostberg.

For Holcomb, her struggle with asthma has been even more difficult than she would like to admit. Sometimes she finds herself struggling for breath and not even know where the trigger is coming from.

“People don’t realize that the things they put on, or have in their home, or use at work can be harmful,” she said, especially to those who suffer from asthma. “For me it’s not a ‘preference,’ like whether I like a particular fragrance or not. It’s a physical reaction that I have. I don’t have control over it. I would prefer not to have this allergy or asthma at all, but this is what it is.”

Ostberg said residents can help clear their indoor air and improve their own health by controlling the chemicals brought into the home or workplace.

Increasing fresh air brought indoors also helps. Even opening the window a crack can improve ventilation.

Ostberg also cautions residents to never mix products such as cleaners, and always follow manufacturers’ instructions when using and storing items that may release pollutants into the air.

To learn more about improving the quality of indoor air, contact Garfield County Public Health at 625-5200 or visit

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