Are We Vanquishing Childhood Asthma?
May was Asthma Awareness Month, so a recent "good news" headline couldn't have come at a better time. Evidence released by the Centers for Disease Control suggests that asthma outcomes in children have improved markedly in the last 10 to 15 years. However, although things are definitely improving, asthma continues to be a critical threat to childhood health. We continue to have work to do to spread awareness of how to manage it well.
A Few Facts About Asthma in Kids
Just to review, asthma is a chronic condition of the airways, for which there is no cure. It is also extremely common. In fact, 1 in 13 people in the U.S., or about 25 million people, have asthma. Here are a few more facts:
- It's more common in kids, with 8.4% of kids having asthma as opposed to 7.6 percent of adults
- 6 million kids in the U.S. under the age of 18 have asthma
- Asthma has been increasing among all ages, sexes and races since the 1980s
- It's the leading chronic disease in kids
- Asthma is the top reason why kids miss 13.8 million school days a year
- It's the third most common cause of hospitalizations in children under age 15
- Kids are 4 times less likely to die from asthma than adults
It's easy to see that asthma continues to be a real public health problem. This is especially true where poverty and poor air quality exist. In addition, poor control of indoor allergens and a lack of patient education and adequate health care can have a profound impact on asthma outcomes in children.
So, Where's the Good News?
There is good news, I promise! The CDC released a report in February 2018 that looked at annual asthma data from an ongoing study called the National Health Interview Survey from 2001–2016. This survey reports on children aged 0–17 years and compares trends and demographic differences in health outcomes and health care use.
What they found was that the percent of kids who had one or more asthma attacks in the last 12 months had declined from about 62% back in 2001 to 54% in 2016. That's a hefty improvement! However, about half of kids with asthma still have had one or more flare-ups a year. So, clearly, we still have work to do.
The American Association of Family Practitioners (AAFP for short) summarized some of the other key findings from the CDC report:
- Boys, children ages 5-17, non-Hispanic black children, children of Puerto Rican descent and children from low-income families are more likely to have asthma.
- While asthma is less common among children ages 0-4 years than among older kids, asthma attacks, ER/urgent care visits, and hospitalizations tend to be higher in kids in the younger age groups.
- Asthma-related hospitalizations in children with asthma improved from 9.6 percent in 2003 to 4.7 percent in 2013.
This is all great news, but keep in mind that the CDC also reported that 1 out of every 6 children with asthma will still need asthma-related emergency care each year, and 5 percent will additionally be hospitalized.
What Parents of Kids With Asthma Can Do
Asthma control improves when asthma is well-managed. But as noted above, lack of access to adequate care, as well as lack of knowledge, often affect how well asthma is managed. So, anything we all can do to increase our own awareness about asthma, as well as to spread the word to our families, communities and schools can only reap positive benefits.
To help your own child, work closely with your pediatrician or family physician to find the right combination of approaches to treat your child's asthma. Take time to learn all you can about asthma and about your child's treatment plan. In general, a combination of the following has the most benefit:
- Working to avoid known triggers for allergies and asthma, such as pet dander, pollen, dust, molds and insect droppings
- Medication to relax and widen the airways, as well as to lessen allergy symptoms
- Having a written Asthma Action Plan to guide you in identifying when control is slipping and what to do about it
To help spread awareness in your communities, think about participating in the following:
- Share information about asthma in kids at your local PTA or school board meetings.
- Join a support group for parents of kids with asthma, either locally or online.
- Tell parents, schools and health care providers about the educational programs from the Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA). They offer training materials for both asthma and allergies.
- Share your child's story through social media or at local events.
- Donate to asthma awareness organizations, if you are able.
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