Studies link poverty with increased risk for asthma

Posted at: 01/03/2014 1:40 PM
By: Erika Edwards, NBC News

Photo: NBC News

(NBC News) -- The water runs non-stop in Joy Dawson's tiny one bedroom apartment. The result? Mold.

It's one of the many things in the living environment that makes it hard for Joy and her daughter, Savana, to breathe. Both have severe asthma. The chronic disease inflames and narrows airways.

The Dawsons live in one of the poorest sections of Washington, D.C., where they're not alone in their struggles with asthma.

The disease disproportionately affects people living in poverty, especially children. Children living in poverty are 60-percent more likely to have asthma than children whose families have higher incomes.

"It's been demonstrated many times that environments where you have poor nutrition, where you have violence, where you're constantly exposed to environmental factors such as air pollution, then you're going to have increased incidence of asthma," notes Dr. Michael LeNoir, president of the National Medical Association.

Dr. LeNoir has worked extensively with asthma patients in poor areas.

He says cigarette smoking, so prevalent in low-income and urban housing, also worsens symptoms.

"The environment itself with increased incidence of house dust, with cockroaches and a lot of allergens around also contribute to that whole factor," he said.

Another major obstacle is getting to the right doctor.

Kids living here in southeast D.C. have the highest asthma rates in the entire city, yet there are very few if any doctors who specialize in treating asthma in the community.

Joy and Savana must travel ten miles to see Dr. Elena Reece at Howard University Hospital.

Patients need continuous care to control their asthma.

"They'll see the children getting better and just stop coming," Dr. Reece said, "and then they'll come back when things have deteriorated."