Some 24.6 million Americans had asthma in 2009, up from 20.3 million at the beginning of the decade, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Asthma, a chronic respiratory disease, affected 8.2% of all U.S. residents in 2009, up from 7.3% in 2001, an increase of 12.3%, the CDC said. Children were more prone than adults to have asthma, and women more than men. African-Americans were affected at higher rates than other ethnic groups. About half of persons with asthma reported having an asthma attack in the preceding 12 months, the CDC said.
The cause of asthma isn’t clear, and federal health officials said they aren’t sure why the rates increased over the last decade. The condition is characterized by episodic and reversible attacks of wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath and coughing.
The CDC said its priority is getting people to better manage their asthma, which it said can be controlled in most cases with medication and by limiting exposure to environmental irritants like smoke, dust, mold and pollen.
“Asthma attacks are not inevitable,” said Ileana Arias, the CDC’s principal deputy director. “Asthma can be controlled.”
One of the biggest jumps in asthma prevalence was in non-Hispanic black children, of whom 17% were reported to have asthma in 2009, up from 11.4% in 2001. For all children the rate of asthma rose to 9.6% from 8.7% in the decade. For girls the rate was 7.9% and for boys it was 11.3% in 2009.
The asthma rate in adults rose to 7.7% in 2009 from 6.9% in 2001. Men had an asthma rate of 5.5% in 2009; for women the rate was 9.7%. Asthma rates were higher among those considered “poor” and “near poor,” according to the federal poverty threshold, compared to people who weren’t deemed poor, the CDC said. Rates also were higher in the Northeast and Midwest than in other regions.
Although asthma rates have climbed, the death rate from the disease has been dropping for the past several years, according to other reports that look at annual death rates and causes.
Doctors are more frequently diagnosing the disease, the CDC said. Also, more than two-thirds of people with asthma reported being taught how to respond to early signs and symptoms of an asthma attack, it said.
Paul Garbe, the chief of CDC’s air pollution and respiratory-health branch and an author of the new asthma report, said that at least two-thirds of people with asthma have what is considered persistent asthma and should be on a long-acting medication. However, a much smaller proportion—about one-third of children and adults with asthma—were using such medications, such as inhaled corticosteroids, which are designed for long-term control of asthma.
Short-acting inhaled medicines are used to treat asthma attacks.