Tuesday, March 06, 2001

Asthma's common triggers take toll

By Tim Bonfield
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Nearly 40 percent of children under 6 who suffer from asthma could avoid the disease if three common causes of allergy were removed from their homes: tobacco smoke, pets and the use of gas stoves for heat.

        More than 580,000 cases of asthma a year are triggered by these causes of allergy, resulting in an estimated $402 million a year in medical expenses, according to a study issued Monday by Children's Hospital Medical Center.

        Asthma is a chronic lung disease that causes wheezing and difficulty breathing when airways become inflamed. Nationwide, asthma affects more than 4 million children under age 15, causing more than 550,000 emergency hospital visits and more than 150 deaths a year.

        The study, by Dr. Bruce Lanphear, an environmental-health expert at Children's Hospital, is published in the March issue of Pediatrics.

        “Parents need to consider carefully the risks and benefits of owning a pet, particu larly during early childhood,” Dr. Lanphear said.

        Monday's study analyzed data from more than 8,200 children participating in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 1988 and 1994.

        Based on that analysis, Dr. Lanphear estimates that more than 350,000 cases of childhood asthma can be attributed to pet allergies; more than 177,000 cases to smoking; and an additional 59,000 cases to using a gas stove for heat.

        However, scientists continue to debate whether environmental controls would prevent asthma from developing or simply reduce the frequency of attacks.

        “We know that secondhand smoke triggers asthma attacks,” said Dr. Jeffrey Wald, an allergist from Kansas City, Mo. “But most of the kids we see would still have asthma if the smoking stopped.”

Study links pets, asthma in kids

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