Archives for posts with tag: asthma

From Arizona Daily Star:

Infants and very young children in Tucson exposed to high levels of vehicle diesel pollution are more likely than other kids to suffer from early childhood wheezing, a potential asthma indicator.

That’s the finding of a new University of Arizona study, the first in Tucson to link vehicle air pollution to respiratory problems in children.

Based on a study of 700 people, it found a connection between the diesel exposures and what’s known as “transient wheezing,” which starts in infancy and goes away at about age 5 or 6, said Paloma Beamer, an assistant UA professor of environmental health sciences and a principal investigator and one of six researchers on the study.

The study compared children from census tracts with the highest diesel emissions, including areas along Interstates 10 and 19 and the Aviation Parkway, with kids in the entire metro area. The researchers got the diesel data from the Environmental Protection Agency. The main sources of the diesel emissions were trucks, buses and trains.

The study found that children with higher diesel exposure were 1 1/2 times more likely than other kids to have a respiratory illness that included wheezing in their first three years of life. They were nearly twice as likely to have transient wheezing in early childhood that went away by age 6, Beamer said.

In short, young kids who wheeze “are more likely to have diesel exposure than those who don’t wheeze,” said a second UA researcher who worked on the study, Anne Wright, a professor of pediatrics.

Wright is also a founder and a co-principal investigator of a much broader research effort known as the Tucson Children’s Respiratory Study from which the kids studied in the wheezing research were drawn. The larger respiratory study has monitored the health of a target group of Tucsonans since they were newborns back in 1980.

Wheezing is a constriction in the lungs that sounds like whistling and makes it hard for air to move in and out of the lungs. A majority of children have wheezing problems in the first few years of their lives due to viral infections, but for most of them it goes away later, Wright said.

Later in life, wheezing is more common among allergy sufferers and is a leading symptom of asthma for older people. For younger kids, wheezing patterns are more complicated, Wright said. A lot of kids who get asthma later in life will wheeze in their early years, but most kids who wheeze in their early years do not go on to have asthma, she said.

The association between diesel exhaust exposure and transient wheezing was stronger in kids whose parents don’t smoke, Beamer said. With kids of smokers, the smoking is a much bigger factor than the diesel emissions affecting the kids’ respiratory health.

Kids of mothers without at least a high school diploma also had a higher chance of being affected by the diesel particulate emissions, she said.

“Those households may already be under other types of socio-economic stress,” Beamer said.

Numerous university studies in the Los Angeles area have in the past decade linked a variety of health problems to living near and breathing fumes from freeways. They include respiratory ailments, autism, premature births and hardening of the arteries.

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From Los Angeles Times:

To understand the latest brouhaha about safe levels of ozone, it helps to understand the difference between science and policy.

First the back story. In 2008, the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Stephen Johnson, reduced the allowable level of ozone in the air from 84 parts per billion to 75 ppb. Johnson said the change would lead to cleaner air and improve public health.

However, the EPA’s independent advisory panel had recommended that the limit be set even lower, in the range of 60 ppb to 70 ppb. Critics, including scientists, environmental advocates and medical associations, such as the American Thoracic Society, accused Johnson and the George W. Bush administration of prioritizing the economic concerns of polluters over the interests of the general public.

Depending on your point of view, you may see things Johnson’s way or you may side with his critics. But the process worked exactly as it was supposed to, with scientists analyzing the data and policymakers exercising their authority to take other factors into consideration, says Dr. Roger McClellan, a toxicologist and former chairman of the EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee. “They were an advisory panel, not a standard-setting panel,” he says.

Fast-forward to the Obama administration. Lisa Jackson is now the EPA administrator, and she wanted to revisit the ozone standard. She asked the current members of the advisory panel to take another look at the data, and they agreed with the previous panel’s conclusion that lowering the standard to between 60 ppb and 70 ppb range would have beneficial effects on public health. In a 2010 regulatory impact analysis report, the agency estimated that setting the limit at 70 ppb would prevent about 2,200 heart attacks, 23,000 asthma attacks and between 1,500 and 4,300 premature deaths each year; a limit of 60 ppb would avert 5,300 heart attacks, 58,000 asthma attacks and 4,000 to 12,000 premature deaths.

So this month, when President Obama put the kibosh on any reconsideration of the ozone standard, all those who railed before railed again.

The Clean Air Act mandates that the standards for certain pollutants, including ozone, be revisited every five years. So even as the advisory panel was digging into the old reports to answer Jackson’s queries, its members have also started reviewing more recent evidence for 2013, says the current committee chairman, Dr. Jonathan Samet, professor of preventive medicine at USC’s Keck School of Medicine.

Here’s a closer look at the scientific case against ozone.

What is ozone?

Ozone is the main component of smog and is created when certain volatile chemicals emitted from cars and factories react with sunlight. The ozone level in Southern California frequently is higher than the EPA standard, with the South Coast Air Basin out of compliance on 109 days last year, according to the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

How is ozone harmful to health?

Ozone is a gas that you inhale with the surrounding air. It can cause irritation and inflammation of the airways as well as coughing and shortness of breath. These effects depend on the concentration of ozone in the air you’re breathing, how rapidly and deeply you’re breathing and your own sensitivity to the pollutant.

Researchers have documented wide variability in people’s symptoms when they are exposed to controlled levels of ozone. These experiments usually have young, healthy nonsmokers breathing high concentrations of ozone — greater than 80 ppb and sometimes as high as 120 ppb — for six to eight hours. Subjects spend up to half of that time exercising, forcing them to inhale more of the pollutant.

The EPA panel said it was a “scientific certainty” that under these conditions, ozone decreases lung function (as measured by the amount of air a person breathes out when exhaling as hard as possible). The decline, of at least 10%, may sound small, but it is considered “clinically relevant,” according to the American Thoracic Society. Even when ozone levels were only 60 ppb, one study found that two out of 30 healthy subjects had at least a 10% decrease in lung function and six others showed symptoms of respiratory distress. That report was published in 2006 in the journal Inhalation Toxicology.

Who is most at risk?

The problem worsens for certain groups of people, notably children, seniors and those with asthma or other respiratory health issues.

* * *

What are the public health consequences of having too much ozone?

Researchers in real-world settings have correlated ozone-level spikes to increased mortality and greater numbers of emergency room visits for respiratory problems.

For example, Delfino and his colleagues studied more than 23,000 emergency room admissions at 25 Montreal hospitals in the summer of 1993. They found that on days after the ozone level was at or above the average of 36 ppb, the number of older patients with respiratory symptoms who came to the ER jumped by 21%. However, ER visits for patients younger than 64 with respiratory symptoms or for patients with other kinds of health problems did not vary with ozone level. The results were published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

“Hundreds of similar studies have been done throughout the world,” Delfino says.

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From CNN Health:

Catherine Garceau doesn’t go to the pool anymore. The former Olympic swimmer has trained at many fitness centers over the years that smelled strongly of chlorine. While most would assume that means the water is clean, Garceau now knows it’s just the opposite.

After winning bronze in 2000 with the Canadian synchronized swimming team in Sydney, Australia, Garceau was a “mess.” Her digestive system was in turmoil, she had chronic bronchitis and she suffered from frequent migraines.

Garceau retired in 2002 and began looking into holistic medicine. Experts suggested detoxifying her body to rid it of chemicals, including what fellow teammates used to jokingly refer to as “eau de chlorine — the swimmer’s perfume.”

“As part of my journey to determine the factors that affected my health, I delved into the possible effects of chlorine and discovered some shocking facts,” Garceau writes in the appendix of her upcoming book, “Heart of Bronze.”

Outdoor pool season is ending in many parts of the country, and competitive swimmers are heading indoors for their workouts and team meets. But how safe are the waters they’re diving into? Researchers are examining the longterm effects of the chemicals in pool water.

Chlorine inactivates most disease-causing germs within a fraction of a second. That’s why it’s found in our drinking water as well as 95% of pools in the United States, said Dr. Tom Lachocki, the CEO of the National Swimming Pool Foundation.

As Lachocki points out, access to clean water is what often separates first and third world countries. Without chlorine, swimmers are at risk of contracting many dangerous waterborne illnesses. But the chemical compounds formed in pools have some scientists worried.

“When you open up a tap and pour yourself a glass of water, you don’t normally put someone’s backside in it,” Lachocki said. “But in a pool there are people getting into that water. Every time a person gets in they’re adding contaminants.”

Those contaminants — sweat, hair, urine, makeup, sunscreen, etc. — combine with chlorine to form chloramines, said pool consultant and researcher Alan Lewis. Chloramines are what bathers smell when they enter a pool area; a strong smell indicates too many “disinfectant byproducts,” or DBPs, in the water.

Indoor pools create an additional a danger because of the enclosed atmosphere. Volatile chemicals from the water are transferred, often via vigorous activity like a swim team’s kicks, to the air. Without a proper ventilation system, the chemicals can hang around to be inhaled by coaches, lifeguards or spectators.

Some DBPs, like chloroform, are known as trihalomethanes, and are considered carcinogenic, Lewis said. They’ve been linked specifically to bladder and colorectal cancer.

Dr. Alfred Bernard is a professor of toxicology at the Catholic University of Louvain in Brussels and one of the world’s leading researchers on aquatic environments. He has published a series of studies documenting the effects of chlorine and its byproducts in swimming pools.

In June, Bernard published a study in the International Journal of Andrology linking chlorine with testicular damage. Swimming in indoor, chlorinated pools during childhood was shown to reduce levels of serum inhibin B and total testosterone, both indicators of sperm count and mobility. Bernard notes in the study summary that the “highly permeable scrotum” allows chlorine to be absorbed into the body.

Bernard has also substantiated previous studies’ claims of a link between swimming in indoor chlorinated pools and the development of asthma and recurrent bronchitis in children. His 2007 study showed airway and lung permeability changes in children who had participated in an infant swimming group.

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From Newcastle Herald:

Overwhelming evidence exists that coalmining and the burning of coal is harmful to health and can have a significant effect on communities, a medical study to be published today has found.

The Medical Journal of Australia article also declares that to persist in mining and burning coal will condemn future generations to catastrophic climate change, which the study’s authors say is the biggest health problem of the future.

The Hunter Valley is singled out as cause for concern, with a parallel drawn between coalmines opening and the region’s inhabitants developing depression, anxiety and ill health.

The authors, William Castleden, David Shearman, George Crisp and Philip Finch, are from Western Australia’s Fremantle Hospital, Perth Pain Management Centre and Murdoch University, and South Australia’s University of Adelaide and Doctors for the Environment Australia.

They said concerns about the expansion of coalmining were growing.

As a result, doctors were being asked about coal and its effects on health.

The article said Australian work on the subject was lacking, but limited evidence suggested health effects were similar to those reported in other developed countries, such as the United States.

Deaths and injuries to miners, lung disease, and coal transport’s traffic accident risk and greenhouse gas emissions are raised in the article.

So too potential environmental damage to water supplies and air pollution.

The Hunter Valley is highlighted in regard to social and mental health concerns.

‘‘Coalmining can change the lifestyle and character of a community,’’ the article said. ‘‘Medical practitioners in coalmining areas have reported that increases in asthma, stress and mental ill health have become more common.

‘‘As more coalmines are opened, as has occurred in the Hunter Valley in NSW, the social fabric of a region changes, the role and function of a township alters, and many inhabitants of these regions have developed depression, anxiety and ill health.’’

Also flagged in the study were the potentially heightened risk of premature death for people living near coal-burning power plants, and release of toxic elements with coal combustion, such as arsenic, mercury and lead.

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From ProPublica:

On a summer evening in June 2005, Susan Wallace-Babb went out into a neighbor’s field near her ranch in Western Colorado to close an irrigation ditch. She parked down the rutted double-track, stepped out of her truck into the low-slung sun, took a deep breath, and collapsed, unconscious.

A natural gas well and a pair of fuel storage tanks sat less than a half-mile away. Later, after Wallace-Babb came to and sought answers, a sheriff’s deputy told her that a tank full of gas condensate — liquid hydrocarbons gathered from the production process — had overflowed into another tank. The fumes must have drifted toward the field where she was working, he suggested.

The next morning Wallace-Babb was so sick she could barely move. She vomited uncontrollably and suffered explosive diarrhea. A searing pain shot up her thigh. Within days she developed burning rashes that covered her exposed skin, then lesions. As weeks passed, any time she went outdoors, her symptoms worsened. Wallace-Babb’s doctor began to suspect she had been poisoned.

“I took to wearing a respirator and swim goggles outside to tend to my animals,” Wallace-Babb said. “I closed up my house and got an air conditioner that would just recycle the air and not let any fresh air in.”

Wallace-Babb’s symptoms mirror those reported by a handful of others living near her ranch in Parachute, Colo., and by dozens of residents of communities across the country that have seen the most extensive natural gas drilling. Hydraulic fracturing, along with other processes used to drill wells, generates emissions and millions of gallons of hazardous waste that are dumped into open-air pits. The pits have been shown to leak into groundwater and also give off chemical emissions as the fluids evaporate. Residents’ most common complaints are respiratory infections, headaches, neurological impairment, nausea and skin rashes. More rarely, they have reported more serious effects, from miscarriages and tumors to benzene poisoning and cancer.

ProPublica examined government environmental reports and private lawsuits, and interviewed scores of residents, physicians and toxicologists in four states — Colorado, Texas, Wyoming and Pennsylvania — that are drilling hot spots. Our review showed that cases like Wallace-Babb’s go back a decade in parts of Colorado and Wyoming, where drilling has taken place for years. They are just beginning to emerge in Pennsylvania, where the Marcellus Shale drilling boom began in earnest in 2008.

Concern about such health complaints is longstanding — Congress held hearings on them in 2007 at which Wallace-Babb testified. But the extent and cause of the problems remains unknown. Neither states nor the federal government have systematically tracked reports from people like Wallace-Babb, or comprehensively investigated how drilling affects human health.

“In some communities it has been a disaster,” said Christopher Portier, director of the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and the National Center for Environmental Health. “We do not have enough information on hand to be able to draw good solid conclusions about whether this is a public health risk as a whole.”

Exemptions from federal environmental rules won by the drilling companies have complicated efforts to gather pollution data and to understand the root of health complaints. Current law allows oil and gas companies not to report toxic emissions and hazardous waste released by all but their largest facilities, excluding hundreds of thousands of wells and small plants. Many of the chemicals used in fracking and drilling remain secret, hobbling investigators trying to determine the source of contamination. The gas industry itself has been less than enthusiastic about health studies. Drillers declined to cooperate with a long-term study of the health effects of gas drilling near Wallace-Babb’s town this summer, prompting state officials to drop their plans and start over.

These factors make a difficult epidemiological challenge even tougher. Doctors and toxicologists say symptoms reported by people working or living near the gas fields are often transient and irregular. They say they need precise data on the prevalence and onset of medical conditions, as well as from air and water sampling, to properly assess the hazards of drilling.

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From Leadership:

Why are some people predisposed to being anxious, overweight or asthmatic? Why are some of us prone to heart attacks, diabetes or high blood pressure? You may say it’s our genes. Or our childhood experiences: How we were treated especially during those crucial first three years. Or maybe our well-being stem from lifestyle choices we make as adults, like our diet and how much exercise we get.

But what about your life in the womb? The nutrition you received; the pollutants, medicines and infections you were exposed to; your mother’s health, stress and state of mind while she was pregnant with you – pioneers in the controversial field of fetal origins say these factors shaped you as a baby – and for the rest of your life.

They assert the nine months in the womb permanently influence the wiring of the brain, the functioning of organs such as the heart, liver and pancreas, how prone we are to disease, our appetite and metabolism, our intelligence and temperament.

Much of what a pregnant woman encounters in her daily life – the air she breathes, the food and drink she consumes, the chemicals she’s exposed to, even the emotions she feels – are shared with her fetus. It incorporates these into its own body, making them part of its flesh and blood.

Research on fetal origins, also called the developmental origins of health and disease, is prompting revolutionary shifts in thinking about where human qualities come from and when they develop.

* * *

Two decades ago, a British doctor named David Barker noticed an odd . pattern on a map: The poorest regions  of England and Wales had the highest rates of heart disease. But heart disease was supposed to be due to a sedentary lifestyle and rich food?
After comparing the health of 15,000 adults with their birth weights, he discovered an unexpected link between small birth size, often an indication of poor prenatal nutrition, and heart disease in middle age.

Dr Barker theorized that when a fetus does not get enough nutrition, it diverts nutrients to the brain, while skimping on other parts of its body. This shows up in later life as a weaker heart.

When he presented his findings to colleagues, he was mocked. “Heart disease was supposed to be all about
genetics or adult lifestyle,” says Dr Barker, now 72, and a professor at the University of Southampton in  England and at Oregon Health and Science University. “People scoffed at the idea that it could have anything to do with intrauterine experience.”
For years, the idea was just known as the Barker hypothesis. But in time, it began to win converts. Dr Janet Rich-Edwards, an epidemiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston analysed findings from the Nurses’ Health Study, a long-running investigation of more than 120,000 nurses in the US.

* * *

The good news is that fetal researchers are also finding out that life in the womb can make things go better for your child in later life.

* * *

Take your weight. Two studies by researchers at Harvard Medical School suggest your mother’s weight affects  yours. One study found that the more weight a woman gains during pregnancy, the more likely her child is to be overweight by age three.

* * *

“The bodies of the children conceived after their mothers had weight-loss surgery process fats and carbohydrates in a healthier way than the bodies of their brothers and sisters  who were conceived at a time when their mothers were still overweight,” says John Kral, a professor of surgery and medicine and a co-author of both papers.

“It may be the intrauterine or womb environment is more important than genes or shared eating habits in passing on a tendency to be obese,” says Professor Kral. If that’s so, helping women maintain a healthy weight during pregnancy may be the best hope for stopping obesity before it starts.

* * *

How does air pollution affect a baby in the womb? More than 30 years ago, [Upstream Contributor] Dr. Frederica Perera, the director of the Center for Children’s Environmental Health at Columbia University, was researching air pollution and cancer in adults. “I was looking for control subjects to compare to adults. I wanted individuals completely untouched by pollution,” she says.

She decided to use babies just out of the womb as her controls. So she sent samples of umbilical-cord blood and placental tissue to a laboratory to be analysed. When she got the results back, “I was shocked. These samples already had evidence of contamination.”

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From Los Angeles Times:

We’ve all heard that the overuse of antibiotics is making them less effective and fueling the rise of dangerous drug-resistant bacteria. But did you know it may also be fueling the rise of obesity, diabetes, allergies and asthma?

So says Dr. Martin Blaser, microbiologist and infectious disease specialist at New York University Langone Medical Center who studies the myriad bacteria that live on and in our bodies. He explains his theory in a commentary published in Thursday’s edition of the journal Nature.

In recent years, scientists have developed a growing appreciation for the “microbiome,” the collection of mostly useful bacteria that help us digest food, metabolize key nutrients and ward off invading pathogens. Investigators have cataloged thousands of these organisms through the National Institutes of Health’s Human Microbiome Project, begun in 2008.

Blaser is interested in why so many bacteria have colonized the human body for so long – the simple fact that they have strongly suggests that they serve some useful purpose. But these bacteria have come under attack in the last 80 or so years thanks to the development of antibiotics. The drugs certainly deserve some of the credit for extending the U.S. lifespan, Blaser notes – a baby born today can expect to live 78 years, 15 years longer than a baby born in 1940. But in many respects, an antibiotic targets a particular disease the way a nuclear bomb targets a criminal, causing much collateral damage to things you’d rather not destroy.

“Antibiotics kill the bacteria we do want, as well as those we don’t,” Blaser writes. “Sometimes, our friendly flora never fully recover.”

And that can leave us more susceptible to various kinds of diseases, especially considering that the typical American is exposed to 10 to 20 antibiotics during childhood alone. Blaser points out that the rise (let along overuse) of antibiotics coincides with dramatic increases in the prevalence of allergies, asthma, Type 1 diabetes, obesity and inflammatory bowel disease. That isn’t proof that the two are related, but it’s a question worth exploring, he says.

Take the case of Helicobacter pylori. As Blaser explains, this bacterium was “the dominant microbe in the stomachs of almost all people” in the early 1900s. But 100 years later, it is found in less than 6% of American, Swedish and German kids. One likely reason is that a single course of amoxicillin or another antibiotic to treat an ear or respiratory infection can wipe out H. pylori 20% to 50% of the time.

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From Houston Chronicle:

rom Dana Janczak’s home in a secluded rural area east of Cleveland, it’s a 40-mile ride to the nearest asthma doctor in Kingwood, so she tries to keep trips to a minimum by stocking up on nebulizers: four in her house and two in her car.

Janczak is one of 25 million Americans who suffer from asthma, but what distinguishes her and other rural residents in the Houston region — which has the highest prevalence of asthma in Texas — is that, despite her best efforts, she still has ended up in the hospital three times.

A Houston Chronicle analysis of state health records found that rural Cleveland in Liberty County has the highest rate of hospitalization for asthma-related conditions in the 10-county region. In the Houston area overall, nearly 10,000 people were hospitalized between 2007 and 2009 for asthma, according to data provided by the Texas Department of State Health Services.

“We had to live in the ER for a while,” Janczak recalls of her most serious attack in 2007. “I felt like my airway was closed. I heard my husband’s voice was getting farther and farther away.”

Liberty County health professionals say several factors contribute to the elevated hospitalization rate, such as a high percentage of smokers and the fact that much of the area is densely covered by woods and their naturally aggravating allergens. But the primary factor, they say, is likely the lack of access to medical care.

“We have few pediatricians in Liberty,” said Alexis Cordova, president of the Liberty County Health Awareness Coalition. “We have limited health care, which means people don’t take their children to doctors as often so their respiratory problems become more serious.”

Other rural areas such as Coldspring and Shepherd in San Jacinto County also had significantly elevated hospitalization rates. Experts attribute that mainly to one thing: Urban areas, with more health care options, are better equipped to treat the respiratory disease that kills almost 4,000 people and puts 456,000 Americans in hospitals every year.

“(Asthma) specialty services are really concentrated in urban areas,” said Dr. William Calhoun, a lung disease professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. “In Central and West Texas, up to the Panhandle, there are entire counties that don’t have pulmonary or allergy specialists.”

* * *

Uniformly, though, the areas in the greater Houston region that also have elevated hospitalization rates for asthma are all in pockets where the median household income is lower than the average.

Sunnyside, mere miles from the Texas Medical Center and its dense knot of top-notch medical clinics, ranked second-highest in its hospitalization rate in the Chronicle analysis. With a household median income level of $17,000, however, it is much poorer than the rest of Harris County where the median income is nearly $43,000, suggesting poverty may be the greatest single contributor.

* * *

Generally, the east side of Houston – with the Ship Channel and an array of oil refineries – has a higher rate of asthma hospitalizations than the west.

North Pasadena, La Porte, Highlands and Baytown – which are all along the Ship Channel – have higher than average rates. So do La Marque and west Texas City, near the oil and gas facilities in Galveston County.

“You’re right in the road of refineries and that is a very significant source of pollution, and pollution is documented to trigger asthma,” said Dr. Harold Farber, a professor and pediatrician at Texas Children’s Hospital. “I know some pediatricians have said when the wind from the refineries is blowing in our direction, you get more kids coming into the office with asthma.”

* * *

Medical research shows that environmental factors can trigger asthma attacks, including air pollution, secondhand smoke, dust mites and even cockroach allergens. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that higher levels of the ozone pollutant is a significant risk to asthma patients, and the Houston region is classified as being in “severe nonattainment” by EPA standards.

* * *

The CDC says the asthma rate has been increasing steadily over the past decade: while about 20 million people, or 7 percent of the population, had asthma in 2001, 25 million had it in 2009.

In 2007, the total charges for asthma hospitalizations in Texas were more than $446 million, according to the report conducted in 2009 by the state health department. While a third of that is paid by private insurance firms, more than half falls to Medicare and Medicaid.

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From Maine’s Sun Journal:

Brystal doesn’t know exactly what asthma is, but she knows, “I can’t breathe.”

This personable little girl has been hospitalized at least a dozen times to treat her lung disease, the first time when she was five months old.

She was so sick in infancy, wheezing and gasping for air, that her family thought she might die several times during one particular month-long stay at Central Maine Medical Center.

Instead, with careful attention to treatment, she has thrived.

And, according to her mother, Loretta Pinkham, “She keeps busy no matter how miserable she feels.”

Last year, when Brystal was hospitalized, Loretta remembers her daughter saying, “I’m sorry I’m sick, Momma.”

It breaks her heart, Loretta said, seeing her daughter “struggling and there’s nothing I can do to make this better … until the meds kick in.”

“She could grow out of it,” Loretta said. “There’s a chance she could get worse. We don’t know at this point.”

*     *     *

Brystal, who lives with her parents and older sister Brianna Jordan in Poland, is one of an estimated 25,877 Maine children living with asthma, and is among the most seriously ill who account for an estimated 2,562 emergency-room visits and 414 hospital stays each year.

In recent years, the number of people here afflicted with asthma has increased.

Last year, the number of adults in Maine living with asthma was 106,273, with the highest rates of disease in Cumberland, York, Penobscot, Kennebec and Androscoggin counties.

In 2000, the asthma rate in Maine was 7.3 percent of the population. By 2005, that figure had grown to 8 percent, according to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. The asthma rate in Maine now stands at 10.8 percent, which is the third-highest rate in the country and more than two points higher than the U.S. average. Oregon has the highest rate, followed by Arizona.

In Maine, the rate among women is 13.4 percent; the rate for men is 8 percent. And, according to DHHS, children have higher prevalence rates and higher rates of emergency department visits and hospitalizations than adults.

Every year, according to DHHS, half of all asthma patients suffer an asthma attack, which happens when bronchial muscles tighten suddenly in response to an irritant, such as pollen, smoke, pollution, temperature or exercise. When that happens, bronchial airways swell, which limits airflow and induces wheezing, rapid breathing and coughing. Left untreated, a severe attack can result in death as a person’s oxygen supply is strapped.

Dr. Andrew Carey of the Adult and Pediatric Asthma and Allergy Treatment Center in Lewiston is Brystal’s pulmonologist. He has been in practice for 19 years and says he’s seeing more asthma cases now than ever before.

Dr. Neil Duval, managing physician at Central Maine Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine in Lewiston, is also seeing an increase in the number of adult asthma patients.

In practice for the past two decades, Duval said, “The numbers have been climbing back as far as I can recall.” There are a number of reasons for it, he said.

One is that doctors are increasingly recognizing symptoms and diagnosing the disease but, he said, “Even if you account for that, there is a definite rise in the incidence of asthma, as well as the prevalence.”

In April, a coalition of Health Care Without Harm, the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments and the National Association of School Nurses issued a report about what researchers called “the staggering human and financial toll of asthma in Maine,” and the likelihood that the toll would increase if Congress does not act to update the Clean Air Act.

The report, “The Economic Affliction of Asthma and Risks of Blocking Air Pollution Safeguards,” outlines the cost of asthma across the country, estimating that the “direct costs of treating Maine’s worsening asthma epidemic” already exceed $265 million for medical treatment. Millions more are spent in indirect costs, such as lost productivity at work, missed school days and premature death.

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From EarthJustice:

Millions of Americans suffer from asthma, however most people don’t know how brutal it is to live with the disease. Breathing is a fundamental right, yet every day air pollution is affecting millions of American’s Right to Breathe.

From documentary website:

Can air pollution cause long-lasting effects on children’s respiratory health? In 1992, the California Air Resources Board funded a study to try to answer questions on the long-term health effects of air pollution on children. The video describes the results of the Children’s Health Study, which was conducted by a team of scientists at the University of Southern California. Scientists looked at 5,500 children from 12 communities in Southern California with differing types and levels of air pollution. The scientists followed children from each of these communities and then compared their respiratory health with the pollution levels in their communities.

From Environmental Science & Technology:

The old adage that people are known by the company they keep probably doesn’t refer to the trillions of microbes living on the human body—but it might as well. Although you may be influenced by the thousands of individuals you will meet in your lifetime, at this very moment there are more bacteria hanging out just in the palms your hands than there are humans on Earth. And the astonishing diversity of microbes that inhabit every inch of your skin as well as your gut profoundly influences your quality of life—mostly for good—from the moment you are born until the day you die.

Humans rely on our human microbiome to perform essential functions, such as protecting us from persistent pathogens, building essential vitamins, and providing us with digestive enzymes that we need to break down plant fibers for energy. Many seemingly human characteristics are also partially shaped by our bacterial shell, such as whether we are skinny or fat and how we smell. The microbes cohabitating our body outnumber human cells by a factor of 10, making us actually “superorganisms” that use our own genetic repertoire as well as those of our microbial symbionts, says Julie Segre, who works on the Human Microbiome Project at the National Human Genome Research Institute, in Bethesda, Md. We just happen to look human because our human cells are much larger than bacterial cells (C&EN, July 20, 2009, page 43).

In the past three years, several large-scale projects to map the diversity and activities of our microbial family began, in hopes of finding connections between our microbiome, health, and disease. The National Institutes of Health’s Human Microbiome Project and the European Union’s Metagenomics of the Human Intestinal Tract (MetaHIT) program are probably two of the best known. These and other projects are starting to reveal that “every part of the body has its own ecosystem,” says Rob D. Knight, a biochemist at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Our bodies provide microbes with a diversity of habitats, much like the multitude of landscapes on Earth. The damp rainforest of our armpits, the anaerobic swamp of our gut, and the dry surface of our elbows recruit unique populations of bacteria. As researchers investigate the microbes in these uncharted territories, they are learning about humanity’s rapport with our microbial cohabitants and how that relationship affects obesity, attraction, diet, drug metabolism, and ailments as diverse as Crohn’s disease and psoriasis.

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From livingecho:

NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) Staff Scientist Sarah Janssen is interviewed by Ken Spector of LivingECHO.com about BPA (Bisphenol A) in plastics. – Warning – linked to asthma, cancer – Part 1 is above, and Part 2, below.

From cpiweb:

Joe Kiger, a Parkersburg, W.Va., school teacher suffering from liver disease, describes the class-action lawsuit he filed in 2001 alleging he and thousands of citizens were being poisoned by DuPont’s C8 in their drinking water. His suit ended in a multimillion-dollar cleanup effort and a medical study funded by the company for area residents devastated by cancer and other ailments.

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