Friday, October 08, 1999

Asthma plagues youngest

Air pollution can trigger attacks

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        This time it was a viral infection brought on by a cold. Before that it was pollen, mold, ragweed, cold weather or air pollution.

        Leaving Children's Hospital Medical Center Thursday after her son's two-day stay, Darla Johnson can't predict what will cause the 6-year- old's asthma to strike or when they'll take their next trip to the hospital.

        Researchers this week announced there is a correlation between air pollution and increased incidents of respiratory illness such as asthma.

        In addition, Children's officials said the disease was the leading reason youngsters were hospitalized at their facility in 1998.

        Since Kyle Johnson's diagnosis at 4 months old, he has been in and out of the hospital at least 40 times because of his asthma.

        “From day to day I never know what's going to happen,” said Mrs. Johnson of Crittenden, Ky. “On days with high ozone, we don't let him go outside. He understands his asthma. But because he can't see anything in the air he doesn't understand why he has to stay inside.”

        According to 1997 data in Tuesday's report — “Out of Breath: Health Effects of Ozone in the Eastern United States” from the Ohio Public Interest Research Group (Ohio PIRG), the Sierra Club and the American Lung Association —

        there were about 1,200 emergency room visits for asthma and other respiratory problems on high ozone days in the Tristate.

        “More and more studies are coming to this conclusion,” said Dr. Jonathan Bernstein, associate professor of medicine at the University of Cincinnati's Department of Internal Medicine division of immunology/allergy section. “It is a significant problem.”

        “The prevalence of asthma has been on the rise since the 1980s,” added Dr. Mark Michael, a board-certified allergy/immunology specialist with offices in Western Hills, Montgomery and Colerain Township. He estimated that half his patients are children and added that he sees between 10 and 12 children daily.

        “Asthma is a multifactorial disease,” he said. “We know that on high smog days to advise our patients to stay inside, but there are so many other triggers.

        “There could be a lack of proper diagnosis, undertreatment, a steroid phobia (many of the treatments are steroid-based medicines) or a lack of patient education about the correct way to take the medicine,” he said.

        “Some patients may be afraid that the medicine will negatively affect their child's growth,” Dr. Michael added. “There is no literature to support that. In my opinion, the disease itself, uncontrolled, could affect a child's growth because they don't eat and they don't sleep.”

        As children return to school, Dr. Bernstein added, there are also more chances for asthmatic episodes to occur.

        “On high ozone days, we always tell our asthmatics to stay at home, he said. “But it's a problem for kids because they are in schools. Most have no air conditioning. The win dows are open and a lot of these schools are havens for mold, dust mites and cockroaches.”

        As officials work out ways to clean up the outdoor environment, Dr. Bernstein suggested residents work on ways to clean their indoor environments that can also lead to asthmatic episodes.

        “Ducts cleaning and use of electronic air cleaners and ionizers are not proven to be effective ways of improving indoor air quality. They have been shown to emit ozone and can worsen asthmatic episodes,” Dr. Bernstein said.

        “Air pollution is a real problem, and a lot studies are showing corelations (with asthmatic episodes). We do have to have industry be more aware of air quality. But people also have to take responsibility for improving the indoor quality of air.”


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