Breathing Easy

For children with asthma, the home environment plays an important role in managing symptoms. Many common household items — such as scented candles, cleaning products or even a well-loved stuffed animal — may trigger a child’s asthma. Lessening such triggers can have a positive impact on children’s health.

“Removing or modifying environmental triggers in the home that cause asthma episodes helps to reduce symptoms for children,” said Kathleen Moseley of the American Lung Association in New Mexico.

The benefits of decreasing symptoms are numerous, including reduced emergency room visits and fewer missed school days. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, asthma is the third leading cause of hospitalization for children under 15 years old and a primary cause of missed school days.  

Unfortunately, it may be challenging to identify and mediate asthma triggers, which can vary from child to child and over the course of a child’s life. A room-by-room assessment of the child’s living space may help identify and resolve irritants and allergens in the home that set off asthma.

That’s where an innovative collaboration between Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico (BCBSNM) and the American Lung Association in New Mexico comes in. As part of the Enhancing Care for Children with Asthma project, BCBSNM and the American Lung Association implemented the Environmental Improvements for Children’s Asthma (EICA) program, which provides home assessment services to families with children who have poorly controlled asthma.

Enhancing Care for Children with Asthma

In 2012, BCBSNM launched the Enhancing Care for Children with Asthma project with the American Lung Association to help improve asthma care for children. For the project, the American Lung Association trains selected clinics on standardized care for asthma patients. In the first two years of the project, BCBSNM claims data indicated an 80 percent reduction of hospitalizations and emergency department visits for 179 children treated by participating clinics. Thirty-two clinic locations throughout New Mexico have received the training to date. 

As an expansion of the Enhancing Care for Children with Asthma project, EICA takes care one step further for kids with severe asthma by bringing an asthma educator into their homes to help remove or mitigate environmental triggers known to cause asthma episodes. Since 2017, when the American Lung Association conducted the first home assessment in New Mexico, 12 children have taken part in EICA, and the number of participants continues to grow.

Here’s how the home assessments work:

  • An eligible family is invited to participate through BCBSNM, clinics, school nurses or other sources.
  • An American Lung Association asthma educator calls the family and learns about the child’s asthma. Based on the family’s needs, the educator may bring remediation supplies, such as allergy-impermeable covers for mattresses and pillows, to the first home visit. 
  • On the day of the home visit, the educator begins by talking to the family and assessing the child’s asthma, medications and inhaler technique.
  • The educator teaches the child and family about asthma.
  • The family and educator walk through each room of the house, identifying possible asthma triggers and solutions. Some commonly found triggers include pet dander and cockroaches.
  • After the visit, the educator may return to the home to bring needed items or equipment, such as an air purifier or vacuum with high-efficiency particulate air filters.
  • The educator conducts follow-up visits or calls three months and 12 months after the initial visit to reassess the child’s asthma and the effectiveness of the remediation tools.

Bringing asthma education home

Abby, a parent of 7-year-old twins, learned about the home assessment program through her sons’ school nurse. Due to the severity of their asthma, the boys were seeing the nurse more frequently than other students with the condition, and the nurse recommended the program to Abby.

Moseley visited Abby’s home and helped the family identify and resolve triggers. She also provided the twins with one-on-one education about asthma and inhaler practice.  “They’re really using her techniques,” Abby said. “They’re doing the counting. They’re breathing in. They’re taking their time.”

Since the visit, Abby’s sons have been more active. “They actually asked for a soccer ball,” Abby said. “They’ve been taking the soccer ball to the school and running a little bit more.”

The in-home evaluations are all part of a broad effort to improve health outcomes and help children with asthma lead healthier lives. Together, BCBSNM and the American Lung Association are helping families in New Mexico breathe easier.

To learn more, visit Taking on Asthma.

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