Asthma is one of the most common chronic medical disorders. It affects one in ten of the population. For a small minority of the population, asthma has become a severe lifelong problem. It is a disorder of the breathing tubes. The bronchi are a series of branching tubes in which air is carried from the main windpipe to lung tissues. Oxygen gets absorbed into the bloodstream. In asthma inflammation occurs in the lining of the bronchi tube. It becomes swollen and narrowed. As a result less air passes through the tubes, therefore breathing becomes more difficult. Coughing and breathlessness develops, wheezing noises are heard because the air is traveling through narrowed tubes. Asthma affects almost five million children under the age of 18 in the United States. From 1980-1998, the incidence of asthma has nearly doubled.
Over 17.3 million Americans were affected by asthma in 1998. Five thousand fifty deaths occur from asthma each year in the U.S. Asthma requires daily treatments, however many patients do not follow the regimen given to them by the doctor. Deaths can be prevented in most patients if they would follow the script. Statistics from the American Lung Association have found that asthma is 26% more prevalent in African American children than in Caucasian children. This is one of the reasons for high absenteeism among school children. Approximately 10 million children are absent from school on a yearly basis. Asthmatic people have an abundance of restricted days of activity each year. The cost from this illness has exceeded four million dollars per year.
Asthma creates a heavy burden on the health care community. Approximately over 8.7 million prescriptions are written for children under the age of 18 per year. Visits to the emergency room for children under 15 have reached 570,000 yearly. There were 170,000 hospitalizations for asthma in 1995. The cost for asthma treatments were $387 million dollars. There are 3 million children who visit their physicians due to asthma.
In order to diagnose asthma in children, a detailed history of symptoms and a physical examination are extremely important. Diagnosing asthma in infants is very difficult. Under diagnosis and under treatment are problems in this age group. Childhood asthma is a disorder with genetic predispositions and a strong allergic component. Approximately 70-80 children with asthma have significant allergies.