Prather Pediatric and Allergy Center - Ask Doctor Brent

Printer Friendly Version

Title: Increase Asthma Cases, Suffering and Death Over Past Decade in Children

Category: Asthma and Allergy


Dr. Kevin Weiss, from the George Washington Medical School in Washington D.C. and the National Institute of Health, gave a major speech at the American Academy of Pediatrics summarizing the ten year increase in asthma in children. His statistics clearly showed a general increase in the prevalence (or number of cases), morbidity (or amount of suffering), and mortality (or percentage of deaths) over the past ten years. Why is this occurring when we know so much more about asthma and we have so much better medicines available than ten years ago?

While no one is exactly sure, there are probably several reasons why this is happening. Dr. Weiss summarized the major theories. The first reason we are seeing more asthma is thought to be due to poverty, crowding and less access to medical care. This explains the 20 fold higher rates of asthma and asthma deaths in specific areas of the country, particularly the northeast and north central part of the United States. In two particular areas, the Harlem section of New York City and the Cook County section of Chicago, the rates are up to 20+ times higher than in neighboring counties and up to 50 times higher than in other parts of the country where medical access is better and poverty and crowding is less. I personally think that this is probably the number one reason why our asthma statistics look so bad in our society and why we are doing worse than several other modern industrial countries around the world over this period of time.

Other reasons may include a change in pollution which would reflect higher levels in inner cities where there are more industrial pollutants in the air and crowded conditions. There has been a generalized increase in asthma prevalence throughout the world over this period of time and perhaps there is some global climatic condition which we have not been able to clearly identify causing this. Besides outdoor pollution, indoor pollution may also be a factor in that we are building more airtight houses, resulting in high percentages of indoor dust and particularly dust mite. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine about a year ago showed a direct linear correlation between the percentage of mites in ones home and the age of onset of asthma. In other words, the higher the mite count the earlier the age of asthma onset in a person who has a genetic tendency to develop asthma.

One of the most alarming statistics to me as a pediatric allergist was the emphasis Dr. Weiss placed on the zero to five year age group which looks particularly bad over the past ten years. A lot of the increase in childhood asthma is reflected in this early age group. Certainly anyone whose child has asthma should take it seriously and should work out a specific plan of medical care with their physician. Get all the knowledge you can on the subject to handle any crises and best control your child's day to day and week to week life style. With understanding and proper medical control you can help your child live a full life without any restrictions physically and emotionally because of the asthma. This is a goal which I know is absolutely attainable in 99.9% of all children with asthma and with proper medical and social support it should be easy to obtain.