Asthma in Children on the Rise

Asthma Children

The American Lung Association states that asthma is the most prevalent chronic condition among children

The American Lung Association states that asthma is the most prevalent chronic condition among children – it affects upwards of 6.1 million children under the age of 18.  It is also the third leading cause of hospitalizations in children under the age of 15.

When reviewing the data for all ages, one in 12 people in the United States has asthma, which is approximately 25 million Americans.  

The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that between the years of 2001 to 2011, the incidence of asthma increased by 25 percent.  According to the CDC, “the greatest rise in asthma rates was among black children (almost a 50 percent increase) from 2001 through 2009.”

There are several theories as to why the rates of asthma are increasing.

Hygiene Hypothesis

Perhaps the leading theory as to why there is a rise in asthma incidence is the hygiene hypothesis.  Basically, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, “…living conditions in much of the world might be too clean and that kids aren’t being exposed to germs that train their immune systems to tell the difference between harmless and harmful irritants.”

Studies indicate that those who live on farms experience fewer allergies and allergic diseases. Researchers theorize that farm animals increase exposure to germs and endotoxins. When people who live on farms are exposed to endotoxins, immune response is spurred, decreasing allergic inflammation.

Medications

There are several studies that link the use of certain medications to the uptick in asthma. For example, the use of excess antibiotics seems to parallel the rise of allergies and asthma.  Why? Researchers believe that antibiotic use changes the flora of the gut, so when antibiotics are used excessively, this could increase the chances of developing certain chronic conditions.

There are also studies that link the use of acetaminophen (Tylenol) in children with the development of asthma and allergies.

Obesity

Carrying excess weight seems to increase the chances of developing many chronic conditions – including asthma.  The link is likely due to the lifestyle changes that occur from obesity, such as a change in dietary habits and lifestyle.

Vitamin D Deficiency

Adequate vitamin D supports the lungs and immune health, so it stands to reason that a vitamin D deficiency may be linked to disorders of the immune system and the lungs.  Children are also spending less time outdoors than other generations – and the sun is the best way to get vitamin D.

The Real Answer…

No one really knows.

The hygiene hypothesis seemed to really “work” as a starting point, but asthma rates are rising at an alarming rate in urban areas.  Urban areas generally are not hygienic, which dispels the hygiene hypothesis with very little research. Neal Pearce of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine states, “There is something about westernization that means people’s immune systems function in a different way.  But we don’t know what the mechanism is.”

Likely identifying the reason for the increase in asthma will also require finding better ways to diagnose the type of asthma.  The National Institutes of Health have begun to catalog details of thousands of individuals’ symptoms and treatments so that eventually researchers can identify causes.

Asthma Symptoms

Wondering if your child has asthma?  Asthma can only be diagnosed by a healthcare provider, so you should make an appointment with your child’s provider.

Common symptoms of asthma include:

  • Coughing – especially overnight
  • Frequent colds that affect the chest
  • Wheezing
  • Trouble breathing and breathing that is rapid

Emergency symptoms include:

  • Severe shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness and pain
  • Severe coughing and wheezing
  • Low peak expiratory flow (PEF) readings
  • Symptoms that do not respond to a quick-acting inhaler

These symptoms typically require emergency treatment.

Resources

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology.  (2014). Asthma in children – overview.  Retrieved from https://acaai.org/asthma/asthma-101/asthma-in-children

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology.  Increasing rates of allergies and asthma.  Retrieved from https://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/library/allergy-library/prevalence-of-allergies-and-asthma

American Lung Association.  (2018, May 24). Asthma and children fact sheet.  Retrieved from https://www.lung.org/lung-health-and-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/asthma/learn-about-asthma/asthma-children-facts-sheet.html

Greenwood, V. (2011, April 1).  Why are asthma rates soaring? Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-are-asthma-rates-soaring/

Juarez, Disly.  (2013, November 3).  Asthma and allergies on the rise in the U.S.  Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health-news/children-allergies-and-asthma-on-the-rise-110813#1

Mayo Clinic.  (2016, October 20).  Asthma attack.  Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/asthma-attack/symptoms-causes/syc-20354268

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