Asthma has been on a sharp incline in the United States over the past 30 years, rising by more than 60 percent since 1980. Think back to when you were in grade school: How many children with asthma did you know? Your answer is likely one or two total, if any. Today, there are 6.8 million school-age children with asthma, which means an average of three children per classroom have asthma. This has become the leading chronic condition for children in the United States.
The latest data and statistics (published in 2009) reports that there are 25.9 million Americans suffering from asthma (8 percent of adults; 10 percent of children), and over 230 million people worldwide. At the same time, the asthma rates are about 50 times higher in Western countries than, for example, rural Africa. Why are these numbers so high? Experts aren't exactly sure, and there's likely no one answer or cause, but there are some leading theories that researchers tend to agree on.
What is Asthma?
Thought to be caused by a combination of environmental and genetic factors, asthma is a chronic lung condition that inflames and narrows the airways that bring air from the nose and mouth to the lungs. Symptoms include difficulty breathing, wheezing, coughing and tightness in the chest. Asthma can be deadly.
Leading Theories in the Rise of Asthma
Introduced in 1989, the "hygiene hypothesis" has long been considered a leading theory in the increase of asthma and allergies. The hypothesis states that an increase in the cleanliness of our living conditions may suppress the development of the immune system, leaving children more vulnerable to autoimmune diseases like asthma and allergies. New research suggests that this theory doesn't fully explain the rising rates; there are other theories experts are currently exploring:
Increase in acetaminophen use (in place of aspirin) for children. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) lowers levels of antioxidant glutathione, which can protect against lung damage caused by antioxidants. In a massive study involving 200,000 6 and 7-year-olds, researchers found that acetaminophen use in the first year of life is correlated with a 46 percent increase in the prevalence of asthma symptoms.
Rise in sedentary lifestyle and obesity. Sedentary lifestyle may have an effect on lung strength. Also, obesity increases inflammation in the body, which experts theorize may also play a role.
Widespread vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D is linked to lung and immune system development in utero, and a deficiency in the mother may impact lung growth after birth.
Use of spray cleaners. The spray mist from household cleaners and air fresheners can irritate the lungs when inhaled, which increases risk of asthma. Studies have shown that weekly use of cleaning sprays increased risk of adult asthma by 50 percent.
The Chiropractic Connection to Asthma
Several studies have explored the connection between spinal manipulative therapy (the chiropractic adjustment) and improvement in the symptoms of asthma. Both parents and children have reported lowered severity of asthmatic symptoms following a treatment using chiropractic adjustments. Additional case studies have also shown a link between chiropractic adjustments and a decrease in asthmatic symptoms.
Make an appointment to talk to a chiropractic doctor about chiropractic and asthma.
Read on to learn more:
Why Are Asthma Rates Soaring?, Scientific American, Mar. 2011
New Risks Linked to Asthma Rise, The New York Times, Feb. 2009
What is Causing the Asthma Epidemic?, American Chiropractic Association, accessed Jun. 2015
Increasing Rates of Allergies and Asthma, American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, accessed Jun. 2015
The Use of Household Cleaning Sprays and Adult Asthma, American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, Jun. 2007
Vitamin D deficiency at 16 to 20 weeks' gestation is associated with impaired lung function and asthma at 6 years of age, Annals of the American Thoracic Society, May 2014
The hygiene hypothesis in allergy and asthma: an update, Current Opinion in Allergy and Clinical Immunology, Feb. 2013
Association between paracetamol use in infancy and childhood, and risk of asthma, rhinoconjunctivitis, and eczema in children aged 6-7 years: analysis from Phase Three of the ISAAC programme, Lancet, Sept. 2008
Chronic pediatric asthma and chiropractic spinal manipulation: a prospective clinical series and randomized clinical pilot study, Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, Jul. 2001
Chiropractic Care of a Pediatric Patient with Asthma, Allergies, Chronic Colds & Vertebral Subluxation, Journal of Pediatric, Maternal & Family Health, 2009
Chiropractic care for patients with asthma: A systematic review of the literature, The Journal of Canadian Chiropractic Association, Mar. 2010