Childhood asthma rates declining, but not for all
Today, nearly 6.8 million children in America live with asthma. Asthma is responsible for more than 10.5 million missed days of school and costs the United States $27 billion each year. Childhood asthma rates rose steadily in the 1980’s, but a new study suggests asthma rates may be improving.
“The growing prevalence of childhood asthma has been a challenge for physicians and families, so this is potentially very good news,” says Dr. Krishna Sunkara, pulmonologist on staff at Advocate South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest, Ill. “Asthma is a complicated and somewhat mysterious condition, so prevention can be difficult. It will be interesting to see how the rates change in coming years, and whether we can determine which of our efforts are responsible for the improvements.”
Although there was an overall decline in asthma rates in 2013, the trends vary when broken down by race, age and location. While children in the Northeast and West saw no change in prevalence, asthma rates grew for poor children and those living in the South.
Rates also increased for older children 10 to 17 years old, but plateaued for those 5 to 9 years old. Similarly, white and Puerto Rican children saw no change, while growing asthma rates for black children plateaued in 2013.
“Historically, black children have been twice as likely to be diagnosed with asthma as white children despite prevention efforts,” says Dr. Sunkara. “While any decline is good news, it is vital that we continue to work toward closing this gap.”
There is no cure for asthma, so people with asthma have to manage their disease and try to avoid known triggers. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, nearly 60 percent of children have an asthma attack in any given year.
“Preventing the disease is ideal, but it’s not always possible to avoid,” says Dr. Sunkara. “Once diagnosed, families should work very closely with their children’s doctor and school to ensure their child’s asthma is under control.”
Additionally, Dr. Kimberly Watts, a pediatric pulmonologist at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill., suggests for parents to have an asthma action plan in place to quickly address an asthma attack.
Dr. Watts says to identify any triggers that can cause asthma symptoms and to have an emergency contact in place,
“Informing caregivers, teachers and those around you on a regular basis of your child’s asthma condition is best,” Dr. Watts says. “In case of an emergency they can speak to your condition.”