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The Unjust Burden of Asthma

2010 November 8

By Suril Mehta

Painful wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath. I’ve seen friends and family alike suffer through asthma, which now plagues more than 24 million Americans. You’d think that such a common chronic disease would affect all ages and races equally. The unfortunate truth is that asthma most heavily burdens minority children from under served areas.

I witnessed this inequality while working with asthmatic children in East Harlem in New York City last year. East Harlem, also known as Spanish Harlem, is home to one of the highest childhood asthma rates and asthma-related hospitalizations in the country. What’s even more shocking is that a child living in East Harlem has almost three times the risk of asthma than a child living only ten blocks away.

As a recently-graduated environmental health epidemiologist, I wanted to figure out why children from this vibrant and culturally-diverse neighborhood are so heavily burdened by asthma.

I evaluated an effective city program which provides East Harlem asthmatic children services to better control their asthma. Most of the enrolled children belonged to poor Hispanic and African-American families. Prior to enrollment, many children had little access to healthcare services and no plan of action during an asthma attack.

Why is a neighborhood like East Harlem a high risk area for asthmatics?

Though we don’t exactly know what causes asthma, we do know what triggers asthma attacks. East Harlem is home to poor housing conditions. I had the privilege of visiting one of the enrolled child’s housing buildings, and the hallways of this low-income project smelled of mildew and cigarettes. Indoor environmental triggers such as mold, roaches, rats, pet dander, and smoke can all trigger asthmatic attacks. Additionally, these city-dwelling children were exposed to outdoor triggers such as air pollution and dust from construction work.

Every child, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, location, or poverty level deserves proper access to healthcare and healthy living conditions. What can we do to help reduce these differences in asthma rates in the US?

Even though asthma cannot be cured, children can control their asthma by avoiding triggers, using proper medications, and creating an asthma action plan.

It’s time to act on reducing disparities in asthma.

About the author: Suril Mehta works at the EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection on efforts to reduce environmental exposures of childhood asthma.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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10 Responses leave one →
  1. Carlos Cuevas permalink
    November 8, 2010

    In this days that the Goverment is looking for more Jobs and less Spending. It would be good if no only they provide housing for this families but, if the could create jobs for people in the community to educate and create groups to reduce this triggers. As I see it it would be much more efficient, cost less and will provide a better quality of life.

    Maybe if the Goverment does not do it. Non Profits could create such groups to educate about the potential problems, seek funding from different companies that provide solutions that could help (Cleaning products, dehumidifiers, Air Purifiers, etc…), and reclute volunteers from the community to provide the services needed to increase their own quality of life and their families and neighboors aswell.

    Hope I inspired someone, I will begin my efforts in my community.

  2. armansyahardanis permalink
    November 8, 2010

    An Unjust is Natural.
    I live here is completely: like and dislike. Like because feels perfectly. Dislike because our neighbor think the situations are unjustly. I don’t care because I know that We live are natural, that means, destiny. I think people,now, are weak, which product of WW II, who were The Veteran feel empathy to the victims of war. Our parents forgot our histories that live and let die are natural. Actually, all the people must be the soldiers. Ready for live and ready to die….

  3. Chris Ambrose permalink
    November 8, 2010

    Everything Suril Mehta wrote is correct. Support the EPAs efforts to educate. Our government does care, but a $strangled government cannot do what Carlos Cuevas would like. Ask your local, state & Federal representatives to fund our nation’s brains. It is good to get involved with non profits, if we all work together we can create a better place to live and a positive example for our children. Support your government, fight for The EPA, NOAA & NASAs right to exist and do their jobs.

    Climate change and the effects thereof can be mitigated to a point if we become an educated nation. Support STEM teaching in schools and we get a smarter nation. A smarter nation creates solutions and national pride. Bonus! More jobs too:)

    STEM= Science Technology Math Engineering

    Allowing this would create jobs here. Fight outsourcing of intellectual properties by corporations that get the wonderful spin-off created by our tax dollars. It’s insane and wrong.

  4. Jeff Prystupa permalink
    November 8, 2010

    Asthma is poorly understood and therefore poorly treated. A better program than knowing what to do when the asthma-causing conditions in the body are manifest or displayed. For example, it is more helpful for the child or patient to know how to prevent, interrupt and correct her body when it expresses asthma.
    Medicine is not driven to this perspective as they are driven to prescribe prescriptions, many of which contribute to the asthma-causing conditions.
    If one needs help with conditions that resist medical treatment, try Ayurveda or other non-Western (non-drug-taking) methods. Asthma is the result of a change in the acid/alkaline balance in the body. Treat cause not symptom.
    The body is not wrong to have asthma – it is wrong to force the body to have asthma. Said as a researcher, it is time to consider toxicity in all cases of disease and ill health. This is a prime example.

  5. Michael E. Bailey permalink
    November 8, 2010

    Athsma and many kinds of birth defects and developmental disabilities can result from or be made worse by exposure to environmental factors. And the worst environmental factors are usuaaly in the poorest communihties. And the poor communities mfany times are minority communihties. There must be a campaign of public education and outreach to communities that have a high incidence of athsma and/or developmental disabilities. But the campaign needs to be conducted in the languages and within the cultural considerations of each community in an impacted area. Information needs to be prepared in multiple languages and multiple formats. And community action teams made up of people from the community would present the information at schools, community centers, housing complexes, hospital conference halls, city halls. This is the type of program that might work well as a public-private partnership. Best wishes, Michael E. Bailey.

  6. nina veld permalink
    November 10, 2010

    The main reason of asthma is disturbance of function of pancreas and the lungs. The bad surroundings and food provoke these disturbances, which become apparent by allergic reactions. The use of herbs and homoeopathy, especially nosodes from nasopharynx’s secretion, gives the full recovery even in modern megapolis.

  7. vitamins permalink
    November 11, 2010

    Thanks for taking the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topic. If possible, as you gain expertise, would you mind updating your blog with extra information? It is extremely helpful for us.Keep up the good work :)

  8. Louis permalink
    December 1, 2010

    I have asthma and have found that the way it has been handled by the health service after diagnoses is good , I always get follow up letters reminding me to have a check up.
    But before i even new i had asthma there was never even a mention or though by any Doctor and i complained of shallow breathing many a time. The way i found out i had asthma will shock you , i actually had an asthma attack alone in my home and it nearly killed me ( no hype at all ). Yes i had very shallow breathing and i tight chest more than ever to the point where it took me to my knees. I just managed to make the emergency call . By the time the ambulance got there i was losing conciousness. I was lucky . So i would say there is a flaw in that system .

  9. Fadi permalink
    January 25, 2011

    Thanks for this very informative details!

  10. yummy vegan recipes permalink
    March 12, 2012

    I have been diagnosed with asthma and it stinks!

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