The incidence of asthma has more than doubled – from 3% to 7.5% since 1980. Believe it or not, nearly 25 million people in the United States are asthma sufferers. And while there’s no shortage of theories about why asthma is becoming a major health concern, there is a shortage of definitive answers. Which has led many people to ask why is asthma on the rise, especially in urban neighborhoods, and are there any new asthma treatments?
The two questions actually go hand in hand. Many new asthma treatments have been developed based upon the various theories doctors have come up with to explain asthma’s rise. In this light, this article is a look at some of the answers to “why is asthma on the rise and are there new treatments?”
Let’s start off with a theory that might sound odd the first time you hear it. Some doctors have come to believe asthma’s growing prevalence is actually due to our better health. Because there are far fewer major diseases requiring the attention of our immune systems, these doctors believe our immune systems overreact to minor stressors such as allergens, which trigger histamines and other inflammatory agents in the lungs. Once the lungs become inflamed, bringing the condition under control again can be a major effort.
There are other theories, of course. Even though air quality in general has improved, there are more people than ever living in urban settings where they’re overly exposed to the allergens that commonly trigger asthma – cockroaches, dust mites, mold and secondhand smoke. Add to that the fact that children lead far more sedentary lives than they used to, and spend far more time indoors where they’re exposed to allergens, and we can begin to see that one reason asthma is on the rise maybe because children are exposed to the allergens far more often these days.
New asthma treatments go beyond medicine to a whole new way of looking at this disease and its management. Rather than focusing on crisis management of acute asthma attacks, new asthma treatments emphasize managing the disease by controlling the environment and daily medication to reduce the risk of acute attacks. These new treatments include once a day oral medications for children with chronic asthma, daily maintenance inhalers, education about asthma triggers and allergens for those dealing with asthma and outreach efforts that involve entire communities.
While there’s been a great deal of research on asthma and asthma medications over the past twenty years, there have been few new drugs developed for treatment. This is primarily due to the success of the current inhaler drugs. They work extremely well as long as they’re used everyday as prescribed. However, because so many asthma sufferers tend to ignore their doctor’s instructions, a major component of this new approach to treating asthma is to educate patients and families about what asthma is and how to prevent asthma attacks.
The good news is that according to the Centers for Disease Control, this new approach to treating asthma with education as well as medication does pay off. In a recent study conducted by the National Institute of Environmental Health Services, researchers found that children whose families were taught about asthma and how to manage asthma through environmental control had 37.8 more days per year without any symptoms than those who were treated in the hospital, given a prescription, and sent on their way.