It’s still Asthma Awareness Month! Although I’ve discussed this topic before, this time I’d like to focus on asthma in the African American community.
Asthma is a chronic disease of the lung airways. With asthma, the airways are inflamed (swollen) and react easily to certain triggers, like smoke or dust mites. When the inflamed airways react, they get narrow and make it hard to breathe. Common asthma symptoms are:
- Coughing, especially at night
- Wheezing — a whistling or squeaky sound when you breathe
- Shortness of breath (feeling like you can’t get enough air)
- Chest tightness, pain, or pressure
- Faster breathing or noisy breathing
There is no cure for asthma, but asthma can be managed with proper prevention and treatment. Anybody can get asthma, but it is seen more often in African-Americans. More than 3 million African-Americans have asthma. African-Americans go to the hospital emergency room more than whites because of asthma. They also are almost three times more likely to die from asthma-related causes than whites. Asthma most often starts in childhood, and it is a top health problem for African-American children. Asthma is a leading reason why kids miss school.
Here are some discouraging facts about African Americans who suffer from asthma:
- Asthma has a genetic component. If only one parent has asthma, chances are 1 in 3 that each child will have asthma. If both parents have asthma, it is much more likely (7 in 10) that their children will have asthma.
- Ethnic differences in asthma prevalence, morbidity and mortality are highly correlated with poverty, urban air quality, indoor allergens, and lack of patient education and inadequate medical care.
- African Americans are three times more likely to die from asthma. African American Women have the highest asthma mortality rate of all groups, more than 2.5 times higher than Caucasian women
- African American women have the highest asthma mortality rate of all groups, more than 2.5 times higher than Caucasian women
Asthma is more common and more severe among children; women; low-income, inner-city residents; and African American and Puerto Rican communities. In general, these disadvantaged and at-risk populations experience above-average rates of emergency department visits, hospitalizations, and deaths that are much higher than differences in asthma prevalence would suggest.
The reasons for these disparities are complex, but cannot be attributed to genetic differences alone. Economic, social, and cultural factors—ranging from lack of access to quality health care to differences in health beliefs between patients and their doctors—add to the greater asthma burden among these groups. Individuals within disadvantaged populations also may face substandard housing and work conditions that place them at greater risk for frequent and prolonged exposure to environmental allergens and irritants that worsen asthma.
Bridging this disparity gap is a challenge. It will require innovative and sustained efforts at multiple levels to translate, tailor, and deliver effective asthma care to diverse populations in line with the recommendations of the EPR-3 guidelines and its companion GIP Report.
All stakeholders involved in controlling asthma have a role to play in reducing asthma-related health disparities.