Asthma Childhood Increasing Incidence

As one of the most common chronic illnesses in children, asthma affects an estimated 10 to 12 percent of all children in the United States. While many health officials previously believed the most determining factor for the development of asthma was genetics, the rising rate of asthma worldwide is causing many to take a deeper look at environmental factors.

Asthma in Children

Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease affecting the airways that carry oxygen to the lungs. When the airways become inflamed during an asthma attack, children experience extreme difficulty breathing. An asthma attack can occur due to a variety of triggers, including outdoor allergens, pets, changes in weather or exercise.

In the presence of the triggers, the body’s airways swell and become filled with mucus. Additionally, the muscles that surround the airways contract, thus narrowing the airways even further. During an asthma attack, it is important for parents to administer prescribed emergency medication, such as an inhaler.

Although no cure for asthma exists, many are able to manage their illness with medication and avoidance of triggers. In addition, more than 50 percent of all children with asthma demonstrate less symptoms of asthma once they reach adolescence.

Asthma symptoms include:

  • chest tightness
  • coughing
  • difficulty breathing
  • fatigue
  • wheezing.

Many children demonstrate the first symptoms of asthma by the age of five. However, asthma can onset at any age.

Risk Factors for Children with Asthma

Several risk factors predispose children to asthma. Most risk factors involve the child’s genetics, including a family history of asthma. In addition, those who have allergies or other respiratory illness are more vulnerable to childhood asthma.

Recent studies have uncovered that males and those with African or Hispanic heritage have higher reported rates of children with asthma than the general population. This further links genetics to asthma.

Environment also plays a large role in asthma in children. Areas that have high amounts of air pollution can trigger asthma, as well as frequent exposure to secondhand smoke, household cleaners and pets. In some cases, increases in humidity or cold air can also cause an asthma attack.

Treating Asthma in Children

Fortunately, medical advancements help children with asthma to successfully manage their symptoms. Many are given inhalers or home nebulizers, which vaporizes asthma medication for inhalation. Others may need anti-inflammatory medications. In some instances, asthma can be controlled through avoidance of the child’s individual triggers.

Increasing Rate of Children with Asthma

The rate of reported asthma cases in children is dramatically increasing. A study conducted in the United Kingdom discovered that the rate of asthmatic children rose from 13 percent to 23 percent in eight years. In addition, the World Health Organization estimates that the number of Americans with asthma has increased more than 60 percent since the 1980s. Other reports cite that asthma rates among children in North America are four times higher than they were 20 years ago. These alarming statistics are causing many health care professionals to determine the environmental factors that are contributing to this trend.

Some believe the rise in reported cases of asthma in children is due to the increase in sedentary lifestyles. As a result, children spend more time indoors and are exposed to more indoor allergens, such as dust, household cleaners and pet dander.

Additionally, some suggest that smoking within the home is a contributing factor. Parents who smoke within their homes subject their children to secondhand smoke, a major risk factor for asthma.

Others believe the rise in outdoor air pollution is the main reason because of the high incidence of asthma in urban children. Children who live in large metropolises are subjected to more carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and lead. These pollutants can cause breathing problems for children.

As the rate of childhood obesity is on the rise, public health officials speculate that this also contributes to the increasing trend of childhood asthma. Obesity is a risk factor for asthma because it adds pressure to the airways.

Another theory states that children are not exposed to as many illnesses as children from previous generations. As a result, their immune systems are not as strong in fighting off bacteria and viruses.

All of these beliefs are possible reasons behind the rising trend of asthma in children. As research continues, health care professionals will be able to get to the root of this trend and prevent it from continuing.

Resources

BBC News. (2000). Asthma rates rising dramatically.’ Retrieved March 19, 2009, from the BBC News Web site: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/677423.stm.

CBS News. (2006). Asthma rates in children have jumped fourfold: Report. Retrieved March 19, 2009, from the CBS Web site: http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2006/01/27/asthma-report060127.html.

Donnersberger Jr., D. (2008). Rising asthma rate leaves cities short of breath. Retrieved March 19, 2009, from the Health Care Blog Web site: http://www.thehealthcareblog.com/the_health_care_blog/2008/02/rising-asthma-r.html.

Gelfand, Jonathan L. (2008). Asthma in children and infants. Retrieved March 19, 2009, from the WebMD Web site: http://www.webmd.com/asthma/guide/children-asthma.