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More Americans suffer from asthma | Timi Gustafson, R.D.
Asthma rates in the United States have been on the rise over the past decade and are now at an all-time high, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Almost 26 million Americans had asthma in 2010, the last time data on the disease were reported. Seven million of those were children and adolescents.
According to the CDC, asthma ranks among the leading chronic illnesses affecting young people. It is one of the most frequent causes of school absenteeism. About 10 percent of school children miss classes because of asthma at least once a year.
Especially low-income populations are at an increased risk. 11.2 percent of Americans living below the poverty line are reportedly affected. Females seem more prone to developing the disease than males.
Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disorder of the airways. This can include narrowing of the bronchial tubes, swelling of the bronchial tube lining and an increase of mucus secretion to the point where the airways become blocked. In case of a so-called asthma attack, a person’s airways are so obstructed that it becomes difficult to breath, which can lead to a life-threatening situation. Thanks to faster intervention and preventive treatments, death rates in connection with asthma have dropped by a third compared to 10 years ago.
Asthma is often misdiagnosed as allergies. Not all people who experience allergy symptoms have asthma. Like allergies, asthma is associated with exposure to allergens and also smoking, chemicals and air pollution.
Identifying and controlling potential triggers of asthma attacks is crucial for effective treatment. Although there is no known cure or even prevention of asthma, multiple steps can be taken to limit exposure to allergens and other irritants.
The CDC recommends the creation of more asthma-friendly environments such as schools by implementing policies and procedures that allow students to successfully manage their asthma. These can include providing access to asthma care clinicians and school nurses, educational and awareness-building programs, training of teachers and school staff, community outreach and so forth.
In the home, it is recommended to keep dust and dirt from accumulating. Dust mites are notorious asthma attack triggers. Ventilation and air filtering is equally as important. Pet animals can be a significant source of allergens and should be kept away from asthma sufferers. Exposure to a whole range of potential irritants, including tobacco smoke, wood and coal fire smoke, strong odors from cooking, household chemicals, paint fumes and cosmetic products should be avoided as well.
Even dietary precautions may be necessary. Some food-borne allergens can become triggers and it is crucial to identify and eliminate them as much as possible. Some people may be able to tolerate smaller amounts of foods they are allergic to. Only experience can determine the limits.
There is no medication that can cure asthma. But medications are available to control asthma symptoms. There are different types and they come in different forms such as pills, aerosol inhalers, powder inhalers, liquids and injections.
The two main types of medications are anti-inflammatories and bronchodilators. Anti- inflammatories reduce swelling and mucus production in the airways. They can lower the intensity of asthma symptoms and allow for better airflow. Bronchodilators relax the muscles around the airways, thereby easing breathing. Bronchodilators are especially effective during asthma attacks.
The primary purpose of taking asthma medications is to control and relieve. Most asthma medications must be taken regularly, often daily. So-called reliever or rescue medicines are only to be used during acute attacks.
How often an asthma patient has to take medications depends on the severity of his or her symptoms. Some are affected only during certain times of the year, e.g. in the spring. However, no one should experiment with asthma medication dosages without prior consultation with a doctor.
Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.