Diseases & Infections

Asthma Attacks

AsthmaThe blooming trees and flowers that accompany warmer weather are pleasing to most of us. But these sights can fill asthma sufferers — especially children — with a feeling of dread.

Asthma is the third most common chronic childhood disease, affecting more than one in 20 children. It's estimated 4.8 million children suffer from it.

Allergies are the most common trigger of asthma, showing up in 90 percent of all childhood asthma cases.

  • Among children ages 5 to 17, asthma accounts for an annual loss of more than 10 million school days per year and more hospitalizations than any other childhood disease.
  • There were fewer than 7 million asthma patients in 1980. Today, there are between 14 and 15 million. Asthma kills more than 5,000 Americans per year.
  • For adults, asthma is the fourth-leading cause of work loss, resulting in 9 million lost work days each year.
  • More than 7 million physician visits and nearly 2 million emergency department visits each year are asthma-related. Health care expenditures for asthma are estimated to be in excess of $6.2 billion — nearly 1 percent of total U.S. health care costs.

"Asthma remains an increasingly common disease in our population, whose severity and death rates continue to rise," says Rita Cydulka, M.D., of the Metro Health Center in Cleveland and an asthma expert.

Asthma is a chronic lung disease that causes people to have inflamed, supersensitive airways. Swelling, mucus and/or muscle constriction occur after exposure to a "trigger." Often worse at night, an acute attack comes on quickly when the bronchial tubes suddenly narrow. In chronic asthma, the symptoms are continually present.

Asthma symptoms include cough, shortness of breath and wheezing. The severity of symptoms can range from a mild nuisance to life-threatening.

Currently, there is no cure. Treatment includes anti-inflammatory medicines and bronchodilators. But with the right medical care and education, asthma symptoms can be controlled. To prevent attacks, it is important to take medicine as directed and stay away from the asthma "triggers."

According to the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), 17 percent of children who are seen in hospital emergency departments are there for an asthmatic episode.

ACEP was involved in developing new asthma guidelines released from the National Asthma Education and Prevention Program of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. The guidelines call for earlier treatment and more aggressive therapies to help the growing number of Americans with asthma and reduce the number of deaths.

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