SALT LAKE CITY -- Asthma is on the rise in Utah and it's affecting some areas of the state more than others.
The Utah Department of Health released The Asthma in Utah Burden Report 2012 this week. It shows that the number of people with asthma has increased significantly since 2001, despite improvements in outdoor air quality and a decrease in cigarette smoking and secondhand smoke exposure.
Asthma is a chronic lung disease that can make it hard to breathe. Symptoms include breathlessness, coughing, wheezing and chest tightness.
According to the report, approximately 240,000 people in Utah suffer with asthma. In addition, the illness is causing at least 20 people per day to head to hospital emergency rooms for treatment. Residents of downtown Ogden, South Ogden and the Ben Lomond area have significantly higher emergency room rates compared to other places in the state, the report shows.
Layton, Farmington, Centerville and Bountiful have some of the lowest rates of emergency room visits. Layton also had one of the lowest rates of asthma compared to the rest of the state.
The probable causes for the increase are unclear, as is why asthma is more prevalent in some areas than others, said UDOH spokesperson, Kellie Baxter, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not been able to identify one concrete cause either.
More likely, Baxter said, it's a combination of many factors.
"Asthma is definitely increasing and more patients are suffering from it," said Dr. Douglas Jones, a physician at Rocky Mountain Allergy, Asthma and Immunology in Layton.
Jones agrees there are several reasons for the increase.
"The first is there has been a sharp increase in allergies. Allergies may lead to increased airway inflammation that causes asthma," Jones said. "The increased pollution and poor air quality can contribute to more asthma as well. All of the smoke from the fires over the summer has affected many people."
Jones said Utah has other unique factors that contribute to asthma, including its dry, cold climate, high elevation, and consistent poor air quality.
Some of the other key findings in the report showed that, in 2010, 6.9 percent of children and 9.1 percent of adults had asthma. Male children appeared to have a higher prevalence of lifetime and current asthma compared to female children. Adults who were obese had more asthma than those of normal weight. More than half of children and adults with asthma said they allow pets inside their home, and even though there has been a decrease in tobacco smoke, it is still a main factor in the development of asthma.
To coordinate local and statewide asthma efforts, UDOH has released the Utah Asthma Plan 2012-2016, which consists of five goals and 22 strategies focused on five areas: education, policy, environment, health care access and data and monitoring.
"We don't have a strategic community action plan, due to lack of funding," said Anna Guymon, Weber-Morgan Health Department tobacco prevention and control program specialist. "We do, however, work with community partners on some asthma education, since secondhand smoke is a major trigger for an attack."
Two years ago, the health department received a small amount of money from the UDOH Asthma program. When conducting the needs assessment, Guymon became concerned with the rates for asthma hospitalizations and emergency department visits.
"We decided to provide a mini-grant to Ogden-Weber Community Action Partnership Head Start to address asthma triggers and signs of an asthma attack with the highest-risk population in our area," she said.
The report showed a low incidence of death. Between 2001 and 2010, asthma claimed the lives of 327 Utahns; more than half of those individuals were older than 75.
Jones said The American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology has published statistics that show once a board-certified allergist takes over the asthma care of a patient, emergency room visits decrease by 76 percent, hospitalizations are reduced 77 percent, missed days from school and work decrease by 77 percent, and there are 45 percent fewer sick care office visits
"Asthma is a complex disorder that needs to be treated by a physician with specialized training in it," Jones said.
To see the complete report go to http://health.utah.gov/asthma.