Health Disparities and Asthma

As I was preparing for an interview for Spanish language radio on asthma awareness, I came across some worrisome statistics. There is a higher incidence of asthma among poor and minority children, particularly those of African American descent and Puerto Rican origin. In fact, Puerto Rican children (born on the Island or the mainland) have the highest rates of asthma at 20% while Mexican-American children have a 7% rate of asthma. Those statistics made me think of my own childhood. Growing up in Puerto Rico, I remember having relatives and friends who had asthma. I recall their stories of sleepless nights being unable to breathe. However, when I went to college on the mainland, I don’t remember any of my friends every mentioning anything about asthma. Now that I look back, the contrast is striking.

Asthma is a chronic pulmonary disease affecting 23 million people in the United States. This disease affects the quality of life of asthma patients and, if not managed correctly, it can be life-threatening. Whether it’s due to health illiteracy or lack of health care, some minority asthma patients do not always seek adequate care in a timely fashion. All too often, these patients resort to emergency rooms with full fledged asthma attacks, attacks that could have been prevented with proper asthma care. Furthermore, health disparities become even more evident when we talk about deaths due to asthma. For example, African-American children have a 500% higher mortality rate from asthma as compared with Caucasian children.

EPA has made an effort to educate the public on the environmental triggers that can trigger asthma attacks. These environmental triggers in indoor surroundings may include secondhand smoke, dust mites, cockroaches, pet fur or dander, household pests, mold, to name a few. Outdoor triggers include high levels of air pollution and pollen. It’s important to talk to your physician to learn what triggers your asthma attacks. If you or your child has asthma, ask your doctor to help create an Asthma Action Plan to prevent asthma attacks. Furthermore, eliminate potential asthma triggers from your home. With increased awareness, asthma patients and their families should be able to manage the disease.

To learn more successful approaches to asthma care, join community leaders and policy makers at the 2010 National Asthma Forum in Washington, DC next month.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.