Managing Asthma and Poor Air Quality in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the #14 Asthma Capital

 

A Personal Story from the Asthma Capitals™ 2018 Report

On May 1, 2018, – World Asthma Day – the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) released the Asthma Capitals™ 2018 report. This report ranks the top 100 Asthma Capitals in the U.S. It highlights the widespread impact asthma has on our nation. For 25 million Americans, asthma is a challenging disease that can have physical, emotional, social and financial impacts. During National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month, we will share personal stories from our top 20 capitals to show what life is like managing asthma.


During gym class, young April Behounek, noticed a burning sensation in her chest and trouble breathing. She told her mom and they went to see an allergist in northern Wisconsin. At age 10, April was diagnosed with asthma and an allergy to dogs. She grew up managing her asthma with the support of her parents and her doctors. This included using both long-term control and quick-relief inhalers. 

Today, April lives on the northwest side of Milwaukee on the bank of Lake Michigan. She moved to Milwaukee to go to college and decided to make it her permanent home. She loves riding the miles of bike trails around the lake and throughout the city. But, outdoor fitness activities are a challenge because of her asthma. 

“When I started to do more fitness activities, like riding bikes, I felt like my asthma was being impacted differently here in the city than when I’d go on a bike ride in my hometown,” says April. “I’m assuming the pollution in the city contributes to having to use my quick-relief inhaler when I’m exercising outside.” 

Weather permitting, you can find April on the bike trails almost every day. She rides 8-9 miles a day. Despite her asthma, she loves to be outdoors and loves to ride her bike.

“Unfortunately, sometimes the gym is a better option for me because going outside is so aggravating,” she shares. 

Recognizing Her Asthma Triggers 

April not only has asthma, she is also allergic to grass pollen, tree pollen, animals with fur, and molds and mildews. In her own words, “It’s pretty intense.” Avoiding her allergens and managing her asthma “is an everyday effort to anticipate what I am going to be doing and making sure I am prepared.

“The biggest impact living in Milwaukee has on my asthma is the air quality,” April says. “I enjoy outdoor activities and I know that the poor air quality negatively impacts my asthma as I feel better when I visit other communities and engage in the same activities.”

For April, pollution control is about more than taking care of the environment. It is also about being able to go outside and do the activities she enjoys. 

The Importance of an Asthma Management Plan 

Fortunately, April's asthma has never resulted in her going to the emergency room. This is due, in part, to the everyday tasks she does to manage it. She uses long-term control medicines to help prevent and control her asthma symptoms. Every day, she uses her long-term control inhaler, both in the morning and at night, and takes an oral allergy medicine. Plus, she always has a quick-relief inhaler with her. Unfortunately, there is rarely a day that April does not use her quick-relief inhaler. 

“I always have my quick-relief inhaler with me when I’m exercising or going out to do yard work or doing a 5K,” she shares. “Making sure that I have it with me is important, just in case I need it.” 

April is always on the alert for shortness of breath or the feeling of her chest tightening. That’s when she knows it is time to use her quick-relief inhaler. 

Her asthma medicines are one of her families biggest health expenses.

“I’ve been pretty lucky to have stable employment, income and insurance, and I’ve been able to have pretty good care for myself and my children, but obviously the medications are not very cheap,” April states. 

Advice for People with Asthma 

April’s experience with asthma has given her insights that help with her job. She is a social work supervisor at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin Community Services. Her personal experiences with asthma have made her "acutely aware of the importance of children with asthma having their inhalers," she shares. “It is super important that they have that. Having a lot of experience with asthma and allergies makes me more attuned to those needs and I make sure the kids get what they need.” She encourages the children and their families to work with their doctors to create a plan to manage their asthma. 

April is passionate about educating others about asthma. “I want to bring it to people’s attention,” she says. “It’s not easy feeling sick with asthma and allergies in and of itself. I often wonder what would life be like if I didn’t have any of these struggles.”

Whether you live in an Asthma Capital or not, you don't have to manage asthma on your own. We are all in this together. Join our community to talk with others who manage asthma or care for those with asthma. Follow our blog for more news and information on managing your asthma symptoms.

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The Asthma Capitals™ 2018 report is an independent research and education project of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America made possible with support from Sanofi Genzyme and Regeneron.

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