Cockroach Poop, And Other Things That Make it Hard to Breathe | Health's Up

Barb Israel shows a fifth grade student at Marion-Sterling Elementary in Cleveland an article about healthy breathing.
ideastream educator Barbara Israel shows a fifth grade student at Marion-Sterling Elementary in Cleveland an article about healthy breathing. [Tim Dubravetz / ideastream]
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When it comes to health, it isn’t always easy for kids and families to navigate the facts. That’s why we created “Health’s Up,” a new podcast that explores healthy choices through kids’ voices. The show is hosted by pediatric nurse practitioner Kristi Westphaln.

Sometimes, it's hard to catch a breath. Danise from Mrs. Simpson's fifth grade class at Marion-Sterling Elementary School in Cleveland knows this all too well.

"One time, I was outside and I was running, playing tag and stuff, (and) I stopped breathing," she said. "I couldn’t breathe, so I had to go and get my inhaler and use it because I have asthma and breathing problems."

We don’t always think a lot about our breathing, but it’s really important for our health.

Our bodies are made up of trillions of cells. In order to perform their vital functions and keep us alive, cells in the human body require a continuous supply of oxygen. When our cells use oxygen, they also produce a waste product called carbon dioxide. Our respiratory system is responsible for getting oxygen in and carbon dioxide out of our bodies through the process of respiration. If the respiratory system is unable to function correctly, it disrupts the balance between our need for oxygen and the need to clear out harmful amounts of carbon dioxide waste. And that can make us sick.  

Asthma: a common and chronic illness

It can feel pretty scary when we have trouble breathing. There are lots of things that can make it difficult: exposure to environmental pollutants such as smog from cars and trucks, vaping and juuling, and illnesses like asthma.   

One student in Mrs. Simpson's class, Jovan, explained what it feels like during an asthma attack.

"Your lungs get like tangled up and they squeeze together and that makes it harder to breathe," he said. "That’s why you have to take the inhaler to get that special air, the medication, inside your lungs so that the asthma attack can stop."

Danise pointed out, "Asthma is a common disease. It's connected to your lungs, so when you inhale it helps your body."

She's right: asthma is a common disease — in some neighborhoods in Cleveland, the rate of kids with asthma is 20 percent or more. So if you’ve got it, you’re not alone.  

Asthma is also what’s called a “chronic” disease, meaning that the symptoms come and go. So one day you might be coughing, wheezing, or feeling like your chest is heavy, and the next day you feel fine.  

If you have asthma, there’s an important medication to have on hand in case of an attack: albuterol, which you use through an inhaler. 

Technology can help keep asthma at bay as well.  There are special applications for smart phones that can help detect when an attack is coming on and even make recommendations for medications to help with asthma. 

You can prevent asthma attacks by knowing what triggers them. Some common triggers of asthma attacks include exercise, catching a cold, cold weather, smoking and even cockroach poop!

Dangers of vaping

Smoking isn’t just bad for people with asthma. Breathing in smoke is actually bad for everyone. While the national smoking rate is going down, rates in Cleveland are still very high. There’s a free quit line any one can call for help in quitting smoking:1-800-QUIT-NOW.  

One student, Kameron, said a big concern these days is vaping.

“I heard on the news that vaping is starting to kill people now. It can harm you, it can put you in danger, and it can do some stuff to your body that you would not want to have or feel or anything," said Kameron.

Wendy Hyde from Tobacco 21, a national group focused on raising the tobacco purchase age from 18 to 21, said using e-cigarettes and vapes as an adolescent harms brain development. It’s also really bad for your lungs, especially for kids aged 12-14.

"There’s a higher tendency for addiction to occur more quickly, because of the effects of nicotine on the brain, so that’s of course putting that adolescent at an increased risk for a lifelong addiction to this product," she said. “It’s a constant use that we’re seeing, because it’s easy to hide this product, so teens are using them more frequently than they would a traditional tobacco product, therefore increasing the risk factors that are occurring in the lungs.”  

So, the next time you take a big breath, think about your respiratory system. Consider how you can help it and how you could hurt it. How can we help our friends and family members with asthma to stay healthy and not have asthma attacks? How does smoking cigarettes, vaping, or juuling harm our health?  

From exam room, to classroom, to newsroom – we know that healthy habits matter.  

Be in the know, stay healthy, and grow!  

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