Murray, KY – Mayfield Pediatric Clinic physician Dr. Abid Hussain knows asthma. His own son developed the illness when the family lived in low-quality housing in New York. In his practice Hussain often sees patients with asthma or related problems. He remembers one instance in which a child was suffering from mold-caused asthma.
"And that child was sitting in my clinic every day. And then I said what's going on?' Till they told me yes, they have molds in their house and they already paid for six months and now they cannot afford to live somewhere else."
Hussain and his office staff were able to find an alternative living situation for the family and get the child out of the mold-infested environment that was triggering the asthma symptoms. But not all children are as lucky. Ten percent of Kentucky children under the age of eleven have asthma, with that percentage going up when kids hit middle school. That's according a report released this year by the state Public Health Department's Respiratory Disease Program. Purchase District Health Department Education Coordinator Kaylene Cornell.
"When they looked at Kentucky, they were seeing that we have high hospitalizations from children and adults and it is a concern. It's one of most common chronic illnesses, so that's why they're really looking at this."
Adults in the Commonwealth also show high asthma rates, with nearly nine percent suffering from the symptoms. Two major risk factors that contribute to adult asthma are diabetes and smoking. Cornell says health departments are already promoting diabetes treatment programs and smoking cessation classes across their service regions. Environmental factors like allergens and pollen also aggravate asthma symptoms. However, the report includes another factor that may be beyond health departments' reach.
"Families with income less than fifteen thousand annually compared with those of a higher bracket had a higher prevalence of asthma."
People with lower income are more likely to live in poor housing conditions. Doctor Hussain says they also don't always have the education to know how to protect themselves and their children from developing respiratory diseases.
"This is very, very unfortunate. Parents they think that if smoking outside and come back without washing their hand, without changing their clothe, their clothes are full of smoke, and they pick their child and that child is bad."
Low income residents also run into issues when paying for asthma treatment. Graves County pulmonologist Dr. Roberto Dos Remedios says a third of his patients have asthma. He knows costs for those without insurance can get expensive.
"A typical inhaler which will contain a cortical steroid and a bronchial inhaler which you would have to use continually, would set you back three-hundred dollars a month."
Unfortunately some patients will fail to seek treatment because of cost, but Dos Remedios says just a few visits to a physician can significantly reduce what patients spend on emergency doctor visits.
"You can't fix asthma, so you do two things. You control it and then you teach the patient how to live with it and how to control it on their own. So there actually are things like an asthma action plan, which is actually a guideline which you can give the patient which gives them very specific instructions. If this is how you feel then this is what you do."
Although action plans are widely available for people with asthma, officials agree the best solution is to address risk factors before a person develops respiratory problems. The state's Respiratory Disease Program is working with health departments to target rural areas and low-income residents with education campaigns to help control instances of asthma. Health officials agree people should stop smoking, eat well, and stay away from seasonal pollen. If the campaign to reduce asthma rates is successful, it means fewer people missing out on work and school because of bad health. It means a reduced burden on public health assistance programs, and it means a healthier future for Kentuckians.