Asthma is a chronic medical condition that affects the lungs. Patients can experience frequent cough, shortness of breath, and chest pain or tightness on a regular basis. Occasionally a patient with asthma will suffer an “asthma attack.” During an attack the airways in the lungs become inflamed, make excess mucous, and become constricted. An asthma attack causes significant trouble breathing and can lead to an emergency room visit, a hospital stay, or even death. Infections, allergies, and irritants, such as cigarette smoke and pollution, can lead to an asthma attack. Attacks can easily be prevented with regular doctor visits and effective and inexpensive medications.
7.1 million American children suffer from asthma, which is about 8% of all children, making it one of the most common chronic medical conditions of childhood. Here in the Chattanooga area, however, 12.5% of our children have asthma, over 50% higher than the national average. In fact, Chattanooga is the fifth worst city in the country for asthma according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. WedMD places Chattanooga second. These poor rankings are due to low air quality and high cigarette smoke exposure. Such a staggeringly high rate of asthma in a city conducive to asthma attacks brings the scope of this local problem into focus when considering the following nationwide facts:
- Asthma is the number one reason children miss school
- Asthma is third most common reason for a child to spend the night in the hospital
- Asthma costs our nation 56 billion dollars annually
- 157 children died from asthma in 2009
The most frustrating aspect of these alarming statistics lies in the relative ease in which asthma is treated and attacks are prevented. Regular doctor visits and readily available medications virtually eliminate symptoms and prevent attacks. In fact, a recent medical study showed that even 8% of elite athletes from the last five Olympics suffered from asthma. These athletes have doctors, take their medicine regularly and are able to compete at the highest level of their sport. Yet, in Chattanooga, one in five children does not have a primary care doctor. 7% of Hamilton County’s children have no insurance at all. 20% of babies in Chattanooga grow up breathing second hand cigarette smoke. This area has childhood obesity rates 25% higher than national averages. These factors all play a detrimental role in the lives of Chattanooga’s asthmatic children.
The Pediatric Healthcare Improvement Coalition—Tennessee Valley (PHIC—TV) is a community health partnership striving to decrease the negative impact of asthma on all Tennessee Valley children. PHIC-TV is currently implementing a strategic initiative to define the asthma challenges for children and organize the means to address them. Please invest in the ongoing work of PHIC-TV and get more information at healthychattanoogakids.blogspot.com.
Matthew Good, MD, FAAP
Chief of Staff, Children’s Hospital at Erlanger
Pediatric Healthcare Improvement Coalition – Tennessee Valley
P.O. Box 96
Signal Mountain, TN37377