FOCUS ON: Asthma

Asthma rates are skyrocketing. One in 10 US children has asthma, the most common chronic disease of childhood. Asthma can cause wheezing, breathlessness, coughing, chest tightness, disturbed sleep, school absences, curtailed physical activity, and hospital visits.

While the development of asthma seems to have a genetic component, outside factors are what set off, or trigger, asthma attacks in people who have the disease. Some common air pollutants that trigger asthma include ozone, diesel exhaust, nitrogen dioxide, particle pollution, sulfur dioxide, volatile organic compounds, and formaldehyde. Many of these triggers derive from the combustion of fossil fuels – whether in power plants, cars, or elsewhere.

Nearly two-thirds of those suffering from asthma live in an area where at least one federal air-quality standard is not being met. Even air pollution levels within EPA’s safety standards worsen asthma in vulnerable children, causing more frequent asthma symptoms and lower lung function in some children, especially those in dense urban areas.

Climate change is a serious concern for the 26 million Americans, including 7 million children, who currently suffer from asthma. Warmer temperatures promote the production of harmful ground level ozone, a known asthma trigger. Climate change is expected to increase dangerous ozone levels in many areas. This air pollution in turn will worsen asthma symptoms and trigger asthma attacks.

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