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The asthma epidemic levels off for most; not for poor children or kids in the South

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The “asthma epidemic” became a serious public health concern as more children were diagnosed with asthma in the last few decades, but those numbers may finally have plateaued for children overall, according to a new study. The news is not so great for children living in the South, for the poor or for preteens and teens.

The understanding of this trend comes from an analysis of National Health Interview Survey data, a government questionnaire that asks a nationally representative sample of parents about their childen’s health. Records from over 150,000 children were included in this analysis. The study runs in the January edition of Pediatrics. The authors write that they will need more years’ worth of data to see if the trend is truly a reverse in the epidemic or if this is a smaller change.

For now, what they understand is that the asthma rate actually doubled from 1980 to 1995 (from 3.6% in 1980 to 7.5% in 1995). The rate of increase slowed from 2001 to 2010 (from 8.7% in 2001 to 9.3% in 2010) and racial disparities increased as more African-American and Hispanic kids were diagnosed with asthma than white children. But from 2008 the numbers seem to plateau and then decline in the most recent years we have data. The latest data goes through 2013.

That’s the potential good news for children overall. When you break down the numbers by group, the trend is not as positive. The trouble spots still seem to be for kids who live in the South, for children between the ages of 10 and 17 and children who are poor. Each of these groups continue to see an increase in asthma rates.

There appears to be good news about the racial disparities in diagnosis. That seems to be leveling off largely due to the number of Mexican children diagnosed with asthma, which accounted for the big increase in years past. Those numbers seem to be leveling off.

The authors can’t explain what’s behind these trends. Earlier work theorized that the increase in children diagnosed with asthma may have been due in part to doctors’ better awareness about asthma. Children who were wheezing in earlier decades may have been diagnosed with some other kind of respiratory illness.

For an asthma patient, a doctors’ care is most important, but there are also some easy steps you can take to help reduce the risk of having an attack.

Doctors suggest you do whatever you can to keep your home and especially the bedroom dust and mold-free since both are big triggers for attacks. An allergen-proof pillowcase and cover for the mattress and box spring can reduce exposure. Washing the bedding weekly helps.

Keep clutter to a minimum. Stuffed animals, books, knick-knacks and carpeting are all great dust collectors. Put the clutter in sealed bins and remove carpet if possible. Glass-front bookcases also help. Furniture should be made of easy-to-clean materials like wood, plastic or leather. Upholstered furniture is a great breeding ground for dust mites. Keep pets out of the bedroom and if the cat or dog can stand it, a weekly bath helps reduce dander.

HEPA filters can help clean the air. House plants should be kept to a minimum, but if you like them, spread aquarium gravel over the dirt to reduce mold growth. A bathroom fan when you shower can reduce mold growth as can replacing shower curtains regularly. Seal cracks that let in mice and cockroaches. And Keep the temperature between 68 and 72, since mold spores and dust mites love to grow in hot and humid houses.