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Asthma and its Prevention

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As environmental pollution increases and our exposure to toxic chemicals rises, so have the rates of asthma and respiratory diseases.

Before 1980, asthma in children was relatively rare and after that year it increased dramatically in all developed countries, and it has continued to rise. In 1980, the percentage of 0-17 year olds with asthma in the U.S. was 3.6 percent. By 1995 it was 7.5 percent. In 2009 it was 9.6 percent, which amounts to 7.1 million children. In addition, a further 17.5 million adults have asthma.

Far from being an irritating ailment, it is now one of America’s leading "childhood diseases" and is a major cause of childhood disability. There are an estimated 12.8 million school days lost due to asthma, so it also affects their education and potentially their career choices.

The number of visits to the doctor and the number of hospitalizations due to asthma is also increasing, which the medical profession thinks may mean the disease is becoming more severe. Since the 1990’s, asthma hospitalization rates for children reached a historic high. In 2004, around 3 percent of all childhood hospitalizations were the result of asthma.

The death rate among adults and children in the U.S. was 3,447 in the year 2007.
Since people in developed countries have access to good medical care, the situation is unsatisfactory. Many patients are no longer willing to simply "put up" with chronic ill health conditions for the rest of their lives. There are holistic ways to prevent and treat asthma.

Preventing Asthma

• Don’t smoke. Adults who smoke and children who breathe in second-hand smoke are more likely to suffer asthma and other respiratory diseases.

• If you are pregnant, don’t take acetaminophen. This was widely thought to be safe for use during pregnancy, but a review of six studies has found that acetaminophen use in pregnancy is linked to asthma development in children. The review authors concluded "The use of paracetamol (acetaminophen) during pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of childhood asthma. More research is urgently required to determine the impact of paracetamol during pregnancy on the risk of wheezing in offspring so that appropriate public health recommendations can be made."

• Breastfeed your baby. The beneficial effects of breastfeeding don’t just last the duration of feeding, but for years afterwards. If you breastfeed for a minimum of four months without introducing formula or solid food then your baby has a reduced risk of asthma and wheeze. If you continue to breastfeed after four months then the risk is reduced even more.

• Some studies have linked vaccinations with the development of childhood asthma. The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that 12 percent of children developed asthma after following the standard childhood immunization program starting at 2 months old, but if the first injections were delayed by two months or more, the percentage of children who developed asthma went down to 5.9 percent. In another study, 515 unvaccinated children were surveyed, as well as 423 partially-vaccinated children and 239 fully vaccinated children. The researchers found that those with fewer vaccines reported less asthma and hay fever and those with no vaccines reported less eczema and wheezing. They concluded, "Parents who refuse vaccinations reported less asthma and allergies in their unvaccinated children. Although this relationship was independent of measured confounders, it could be due to differences in other unmeasured lifestyle factors or systematic bias. Further research is needed to verify these results and investigate which exposures are driving the associations between vaccination refusal and allergic disease."

• Try not to give your child antibiotics in the first year of life, unless he has a severe or life-threatening infection. Antibiotic use in the first year of life has been associated with an increased risk of asthma. The asthma rate was significantly increased among children who had four or more courses of antibiotics. In a more recent study, antibiotic use was found to cause a 40 percent increase in childhood asthma, even if the child had no family history of the disease. The study authors wrote, "Very early microbial exposure, particularly in the intestinal tract, seems necessary for a mature and balanced immune system in childhood. Antibiotic use, especially broad spectrum antibiotics, may alter microbial flora in the gut, thereby causing imbalances in the immune system and a poor allergic response."

Research leader Dr Kari Risnes said, "The findings from our study should encourage doctors to avoid unnecessary antibiotic use, especially in low-risk children."

• Doctors think that a diet rich in fish oils may prevent asthma. In the Medical Journal of Australia, they wrote, "Our recent understanding of asthma as a chronic inflammatory airway disease has led to speculation that a diet rich in fish oil may also ameliorate asthma." Although evidence is weak, clinical trials are being undertaken. The University of Arizona Health Sciences Center also said that fish oils may prevent asthma.

• Exposure to bacteria, childhood infections, and animals in early life has found to have a protective effect against asthma. Bacterial infections can prevent the tendency of the immune system to produce allergic responses. Don’t over-clean your home and allow your children to get muddy. It’s good for them. If your child has an infection, please see a doctor as it may require treatment.

• According to MedicineNet, regular exercise may prevent asthma. One of the reasons for the increase in asthma may be due to increased use of televisions, computers and games consoles instead of walking or playing ball. Children are sitting down for longer periods of time and not getting fresh air or exercise as they play virtual sports on their computers rather than really playing sport. Exercise reduces obesity, which is a risk factor for asthma. It also stretches the lungs and bronchial tubes which may reduce resistance to breathing.

CDC Asthma Factsheet - http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/asthma.htm
The State of Childhood Asthma, United States, 1980–2005 – CDC Document. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/ad/ad381.pdf
Allergy and Asthma in the Southwestern United States, The University of Arizona Health Sciences Center - http://allergy.peds.arizona.edu/southwest/prevention.html
Paracetamol in pregnancy and the risk of wheezing in offspring: a systematic review and meta-analysis, Clinical and Experimental Allergy, 22nd February 2011 - http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2222.2010.03691.x/abstract;jsessionid=E1B6FA04D6DF1584A5D3C677B541DFBD.d03t02
J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2004 Oct;114(4):755-60 - http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15480312
The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, Volume 121, Issue 3 , Pages 626-631, March 2008 - http://www.jacionline.org/article/S0091-6749(07)02379-2/abstract
The Telegraph, 21st October 2008 - http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/3233550/Delaying-baby-vaccine-could-cut-asthma.html
The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, Volume 115, Issue 4, Pages 737-744 (April 2005) - http://www.jacionline.org/article/S0091-6749(05)00026-6/abstract
Increased risk of childhood asthma from antibiotic use in early life, 2007, 131(6):1753-9 - http://ukpmc.ac.uk/abstract/MED/17413050/reload=0;jsessionid=8FA5FB07B8EC8E255179A7634FD42EF3.jvm1
The Telegraph, 5th January 2011 - http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/8241625/Giving-antibiotics-to-babies-could-increase-asthma-risk.html
The Medical Journal of Australia - MJA 1996; 164: 135-136. http://www.mja.com.au/public/issues/feb5/thien/thien.html
Exercise Preventing Asthma? – Medicine Net, 15th February 2007. http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=16696

Joanna is a freelance health writer for The Mother magazine and Suite 101 with a column on infertility, http://infertility.suite101.com/. She is author of the book, 'Breast Milk: A Natural Immunisation,' and co-author of an educational resource on disabled parenting, in addition to running a charity for people damaged by vaccines or medical mistakes.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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