Asthma numbers grim — particularly for kids

A recent CDC report gets to the heart of why we should care about asthma.

The federal health agency reported last week that the prevalence of the chronic airway disorder reached an all-time high of 8.4 percent in 2010.

And the children of Georgia have a higher rate of the chronic airway disorder than the national average.

It’s a costly chronic disease that affects 25 million Americans, including 7 million children. That’s one in every 12 Americans.

The financial toll in the United States, the CDC reported, is $56 billion annually, which includes medical expenses and loss of productivity from missed school days and workdays.

The cause of asthma is unknown, and there is no cure. Symptoms include coughing, shortness of breath or trouble breathing, wheezing, and tightness or pain in the chest.

In Georgia, according to 2008 statistics, adults have roughly the same rates as the national average. But the state’s children have a higher asthma rate, with a current prevalence of 12.1 percent, compared with other states’ rate of 9 percent.

And there are significant racial health disparities with the disease as well.

Nationally, and in Georgia, the prevalence of asthma among African-Americans is much higher than for whites.

ER visits and hospitalizations for asthma occur at four times the rate for black children than whites, notes Dr. Kelvin Holloway, an allergy and asthma physician and an executive with Grady Health System in Atlanta.

Fewer African-Americans — even those with health insurance — are reported to be receiving appropriate control medication for asthma than whites.

Broader community awareness among providers, patients and families can help close this gap, says Holloway, also an associate professor of pediatrics at Morehouse School of Medicine.

“Ninety-nine percent of asthmatics could lead a normal, active and productive life’’ with appropriate diagnosis, use of medications and follow-up care, he says.

The CDC report found that what professionals call “asthma health care encounters’’ have been stable for emergency department (ED) visits and hospitalizations, while asthma death rates per 1,000 persons with asthma declined.

Still, rates of ED visits, hospitals and deaths were higher for blacks than whites.

“A key component for adults and children is to create and follow an asthma action plan,’’ said Christopher Portier, director of CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, in a statement last week.

“Significantly,’’ he added, “this analysis reveals that more than half of all children and more than two-thirds of all adults with asthma do not have an individualized action plan. CDC encourages those with asthma to work with their doctors to take control of this disease.”

Triggers of asthma attacks include allergens such as pollen, mold, animal dander, and dust mites; exercise; tobacco smoke; airway infections; and air pollution.

Air pollution, of course, is a major problem in Atlanta and elsewhere in Georgia.

Atlanta and Columbus are rated among the worst metro areas for air pollution in the United States, according to the American Lung Association’s annual report on air quality.

Interestingly, a study of traffic during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta found that the decreased traffic density that was mandated during the Games, especially during the critical morning period, was associated with a prolonged reduction in ozone pollution — and significantly lower rates of children’s ER visits for asthma.