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Asthma- Now a Major Public Health Problem

written by: ciel s cantoria • edited by: Niki Fears • updated: 8/26/2011

The growing number of asthma cases in the US for the past 20 years has made it evident that this respiratory disease is now a major public health problem. The disease is prevalent among children in the U.S. and in other parts of the world, thus it is feared to have reached epidemic proportions.

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    Current Statistics

    102px-AsthmaInhaler The previously estimated 23 million people afflicted with asthma in America alone has increased to 24.6 million in the 2009 statistical reports. The number of children affected increased to 7.1 million from the previous 6.80 million. The alarming growth despite the availability of medicines and modernity of other respiratory aid is true not only in America but all across the globe. Due to its rapid growth and seemingly uncontrollable occurrence, asthma is still a major public health problem.

    According to the report, it continues to be prevalent in young boys from a previous rate of 10% to an increased rate of 11.3%. The resulting statistics for young girls, barely changed at 7.8% to 7.9%; hence, the report intensified the nation's growing concern over this persistent health problem.

    However, statistics previously gathered from the last survey, in which the count for fatalities reached at least 5,000 deaths annually, has dropped to 3,447. Accordingly, deaths among child-sufferers have become rare, basing on 2007 reports.

    Understanding the Disease

    Asthma is a chronic respiratory disease that gravely affects the lungs, manifested by tight coughs and wheezing, and causing shortness of breath. The wheezing sound produced is due to the narrow airways that have become inflamed and swollen, making it difficult for an individual to let out air. The swelling and inflammation of the airways is the respiratory system's reaction against known allergens such as cigarette smoke, dust mites, and a host of other air pollutants found both indoors and outdoors. In other cases, the causes of asthma in children and adult include food additives and stress .

    To manage this disease, the asthmatic individual is administered with a broncho-dilatory medicine, a type of medication that can help the constricted muscles relax as it eases out the swelling of the airway linings. In extreme cases, sufferers are hospitalized and are administered with oxygen, since they tend to asphyxiate due to lack of air intakes..

    Among older individuals, this can also trigger the onset of high blood pressure because the arteries around the lungs harden, causing blood pressure to build up as blood circulation tends to push through the constricted blood vessels and arteries.

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    What is Causing the Continuous Increase in Its Incidence?

    Sure enough, cigarette smoke, dust mites, and air pollution are the leading factors that trigger asthma. However, the quality of these pollutants is apparently more than what the present day medications can handle. There is no specific cure, and medical researchers are still at a loss on how they could come up with a treatment that can effectively control the spread of the disease.

    Unless the quality of air we breathe is improved, the factors that irritate the airways continue to accumulate in a person's respiratory system. The condition worsens, until it reaches a level that will cause swelling, inflammation, and constriction that leads to asthma.

    As a person breathes-in, both indoor and outdoor air, he or she takes in allergens and particulate matter. Some of them are filtered while some of them stay inside one's respiratory system and will accumulate and build up over the years. In time, it will cause the swelling and inflammation of a person's air passages.

    In the succeeding days and years ahead, depending on how often we are exposed to these allergens or how weak our respiratory systems have become, some of us will become part of the growing number of the afflicted populace.

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    The Quality of Air We Breathe

    The following are some of the elements present in our atmosphere and becomes part of the air that we breathe:

    • The chemicals used during the past twenty years have been widespread, as they are found in building materials, to furniture, house paints, toy paints, synthetic accessories like carpets and rugs, detergents, cleaning materials, deodorizers, pets and household pesticides, and plastic bottles, just to name a few. These chemicals were infused as raw materials but have slowly eroded, and in the process have emitted or leached toxins and irritants, or have mingled in the indoor air that we breathe. Not all of these substances are present in our homes, but as one transfers location from home to school or to office or even in malls and other edifices, we continue to breathe-in these pollutants under a controlled air conditioning system.

    • Outdoor pollutants, which we all know come from the combustion of cars, trucks, trains, motor boats, airplanes and even in tractors common in farms and rural areas. The increased number of vehicles for the past 20 years likewise produced a corresponding increase in the amount of toxic air pollution. In fact, moving air is said to carry, even pollution that comies from remote places.
    • Radon, a toxic gas coming from radium, which is a natural element of the soil, was ascertained to be one of the indoor air pollutants that directly affect the respiratory system. Radon is also a leading cause of lung cancer, affecting smokers and non-smokers alike. As the gas is formed from under our houses, it enters through the fissures and cracks or is emitted as steam in household running waters such as showers and faucets. It accumulates inside our houses reaching a level considered as a great health risk.

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    What Has Been Done and What Needs to be Done?

    The Public Environmental Well-Being (PEW) Commission on Environmental Health summed up their findings with a bleak projection that by the year 2020, the number of asthma sufferers in the U.S. alone will reach 29 million unless actions to reverse the trend take place. In view of this, a system will be implemented to track down every case of asthma death as well as launch comprehensive public information campaigns about asthma and how to manage the disease.

    • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has provided information about parts of home or buildings, particularly schools that made use of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and Semi-Volatile Organic Compounds (SVOC's), which should be seriously considered for renovation.
    • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and Semi-Volatile Organic Compounds (SVOC's) represent a large group of raw materials that made use of carbon-based chemicals, and these chemicals poses health risks once they are inhaled. During the past twenty years, these materials have been widely used and pervaded the atmosphere of every room we're in.
    • Paints, boards, sealants, flooring, carpeting and other highly technical building installations, encapsulation, and ventilation all made use of VOC's. SVOC's on the other hand, take longer to erode but become dust particles in our indoor atmosphere.
    • The EPA likewise recommended that every house should test for radon and install a necessary radon reduction system, which can draw radon gas away from homes and buildings. These toxic hazards remain entrapped within our homes, thus, continue to fill up our respiratory systems with irritants that became the causes of asthma in children and adults.
    • EPA is also pushing for the use of biofuel as green energy to improve the quality of outdoor air. Companies and factories have shifted to green energy fuels as well as implemented energy-efficient procedures in their day-to-day operations. Even car manufacturers are now into producing energy-efficient cars that make use of green fuel. All of these are aimed at reducing carbon monoxide emissions that permeate in the air.
    • The medical communities on the other hand are active in disseminating information to the public, which are also addressed to doctors who may still be outdated with their methods in treating their asthmatic patients. Instead of prescribing treatments that produce short-term effects, medical practitioners are advised on the availability of drug medications that can provide longer therapeutic benefits.

    Asthma is a major public health problem and now that we are all aware of this, consider the need for proper nutrition and a healthier lifestyle as some of the ways by which its increasing prevalence could be prevented.

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