About 25 million Americans, or 1 in 12 people, have asthma, a figure that is rising despite efforts to control key asthma triggers such as indoor smoking, U.S. government researchers said Tuesday.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an additional 4.3 million people were diagnosed with asthma from 2001 to 2009. The life-long disease causes wheezing, tightness in the chest, coughing and shortness of breath.
"Despite the fact that outdoor air quality has improved, we've reduced two common asthma triggers - secondhand smoke and smoking in general -- asthma is increasing," Paul Garbe, chief of the CDC's Air Pollution and Respiratory Health Branch, said in a statement.
"While we don't know the cause of the increase, our top priority is getting people to manage their symptoms better."
Asthma diagnoses increased among all demographic groups between 2001 and 2009, but children were hit hardest, with asthma affecting 9.6 percent of children, compared with 7.7 percent of U.S. adults.
The biggest increase in asthma rates was among black children, rising almost 50 percent from 2001 through 2009. Seventeen percent of non-Hispanic black children had asthma in 2009, the highest rate among racial/ethnic groups.
"Asthma is a serious, lifelong disease that unfortunately kills thousands of people each year and adds billions to our nation's healthcare costs," CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden said in a statement.
"We have to do a better job educating people about managing their symptoms and how to correctly use medicines to control asthma so they can live longer more productive lives while saving health care costs."
People with asthma can control symptoms and prevent attacks by avoiding triggers such as pollution and using prescribed medicine, like inhaled corticosteroids, as directed.
The cost of treating asthma rose about 6 percent to $56 billion in 2007, from $53 billion in 2002, according to the most recent figures. For patients, that's about $3,300 a year.
According to the study, about 2 out of 5 uninsured people with asthma, and 1 out of 9 insured people with asthma could not afford their asthma medications.
CDC experts said in a conference call that doctors needed to do a better job of educating people with asthma on how to avoid triggers that can cause an asthma attack.
Asthma triggers are usually environmental, such as tobacco smoke, mold, outdoor air pollution and infections linked to flu, cold-like symptoms, and other viruses.
The report was released to coincide with World Asthma Day, an annual event sponsored by the Global Initiative for Asthma.
Copyright 2014 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.