May 4, 2011 in Nation/World

Smoking, pollution down, but asthma up

Thomas H. Maugh Ii Los Angeles Times
 

LOS ANGELES – About one in 12 people in the United States now has asthma, a total of 24.6 million people and an increase of 4.3 million since 2001, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.

The cost of medical care for these patients increased by about 6 percent between 2002 and 2007, totaling $56 billion in the latter year, according to information in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The increases come despite improved air quality throughout most of the country and widespread decreases in smoking.

“We don’t know exactly why the rate is going up,” Ileana Arias, principal deputy director of the CDC, said in a news conference. “But measures can be taken to control asthma symptoms, and exacerbations and many asthma attacks can be prevented,” she said.

Asthma is a chronic disease that is marked by wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness and nighttime and early morning coughing. Common triggers include tobacco smoke, mold, air pollution and infections such as influenza and colds. The disease is generally treated with two classes of medications: beta-agonists to provide quick relief when patients are having symptoms, and inhaled corticosteroids or a combination of steroids and long-acting beta-agonists to control persistent asthma.

Researchers have changed the way they measure the incidence of asthma in the population, so direct comparison to rates in the 1990s is not possible, said Paul Garbe, chief of the CDC’s air pollution and respiratory health branch. But there has been a continuing increase in the incidence over the last several decades, he said. “The trends are going up,” he noted.


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