Having an asthma attack feels like drowning. Inflamed, swollen airways make breathing difficult as a sudden spike in mucus production overwhelms narrowed bronchial tubes. Wheezing and coughing lead to pain, panic, and — in the worst cases — death. Eleven people die of asthma every day in the United States, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Thirty thousand have asthma attacks.
Sara Triest wants to reduce those numbers. Having worked as a respiratory-care practitioner at Children's Hospital in Oakland for 29 years — in the emergency room and pulmonary-care unit and on the wards — she is now a consulting asthma educator, presenting programs for the public on this troubling condition that can be treated with medicine but can be difficult and time-consuming to diagnose.
"In many offices, doctors are allotted maybe ten minutes per patient," Triest lamented. "So it becomes this vicious revolving door as families come through, have that quick visit, yet never get the opportunity to go into depth" about symptoms that might indicate asthma, which can be hereditary, triggered by environmental factors, and linked with allergies.
"Allergies and asthma are first cousins," Triest said. "You can have allergies and no asthma or asthma and no allergies, but it's very common for an individual to have many allergies that trigger their asthma." According to the Mayo Clinic, common asthma triggers include air pollutants, pollen, pet dander, smoke, stress, sulfites in food, and even cockroaches.
"The area around the Port of Oakland has a really high incidence of asthma because of the large number of diesel trucks," said Triest, who teaches a workshop titled "Asthma and Allergies From a Western and Holistic Perspective" at the Emeryville Health and Wellness Center (1240 Powell St., Emeryville) on Wednesday, September 29.
Triest aims to empower participants as she teaches them about respiratory-system anatomy, assesses their breathing patterns, and discusses warning signs, medications, and other self-management steps. She hopes that what they learn "will help them feel assured enough to tell physicians what is and isn't working for them.
"I've seen too many people with asthma fall through the cracks," Triest continued. "Kids come into the emergency room and are hospitalized time after time because their doctors didn't have the time to be of real help. It's no one's fault. It's not the doctors' fault. It's our system that's failing people. It's simply not set up for us to take the time to be with each other. What insurance covers and doesn't cover is insane, and when people die because they can't get asthma medicine — I have no words for this."
Triest also offers programs for the homeless, whose constant exposure to the elements and other irritants puts them at high risk for asthma and allergies.
Providing tools for survival "can be a great comfort" in the face of a terrifying condition, she said. Asthma is about breath, after all. "Without breath, we have no life. It's at our core as human beings." 5:30 p.m., $10. 510-595-0302 or EmeryvilleHealthWellness.com