A record number of asthma sufferers are dying.
"It's the highest increase in the death rate from asthma in 20 years," said Kenneth Mendez, president and CEO of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. "It grew to over 4,100 people, and it's hovered around 3,600 in prior times."
A new report from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America ranked cities by asthma prevalence, ER visits and asthma-related deaths. It found 19 of the top 20 worst cities for asthma are in the eastern half of the U.S., or the Midwest. Detroit, Michigan ranked at the top.
Dr. Kathleen Dass treats patients there.
"Asthma is incredibly common actually," Dass said. "It's every other patient I'm seeing right now."
The major drivers are air quality, poverty and climate change.
"It's gotten a lot worse, and that's because of climate change and increased allergy seasons, greater pollution, more carbon dioxide — those are all irritants," Mendez said.
Experts tell Newsy asthma patients are breathing in more air pollution and carbon dioxide. Heat waves, wildfires, extreme thunderstorms and hurricanes are also making asthma patients sicker.
More flooding is causing more indoor mold, and warmer temperatures are triggering attacks more frequently. They're also causing higher pollen counts and a longer ragweed season.
Plus, more wildfires and their smoke means more tiny air particles will reach the lungs and enter the bloodstream. Wildfire smoke is much more toxic to children’s lungs than air pollution from other sources. One cumulative study found increases in ER visits were 10 times higher for air pollution from wildfire smoke than from other air pollution sources.
Pediatrician Dr. Naomi Bardach cares for patients in San Francisco, California.
"[What] I'm most concerned about all of the effects of climate change is actually we know it's going to impact our children's health now, and it will in the future," said Bardach, a pediatrician in California.
CDC data shows asthma is the most common pediatric disease. It accounts for half a million ER visits each year.
This third week of September is "Astha Peak Week," which is when asthma episodes, attacks and hospitalizations for both children and adults tend to spike, just as kids return to school with the beginning of fall.
Bardach says the standard treatment is inhaled steroid medication, and says that patients should follow up after an ER visit to help manage asthma, if they have access.
"There's other things people can do at home to try and control their asthma, but it's generally not going to be as effective as making sure that you have access to medications," Bardach said. "The easiest way to get that is through a primary care doctor, but I know there's a lot of barriers to being able to do that. It's also on insurance companies and hospitals and public health systems to try and help improve that care."
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