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New baby boomer health hazard reported: asthma

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
asthma, baby boomers, seniors, air pollutants, obesity

The baby boomers, who were born following World War II, are now senior citizens and comprise almost 40% of the US population. As they enter their “golden years,” many are finding them to be tarnished by economic issues and healthcare concerns. In addition to cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and other common senior ailments, another healthcare issue is expected to be a major concern for baby boomers: asthma. The risk of baby boomers developing asthma was published in the June 2012 issue of the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, the scientific journal of the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI).

The study notes that the 3.1 million baby boomers and older adults suffer from asthma; this age population accounts for two-thirds of asthma related deaths. The researchers predict that that number will double within the next 25 years. Hardest hit will be seniors who are obese and exposed to traffic pollutants. These individuals are more likely to have poorly controlled asthma, resulting in serious consequences. Lead study author Tolly Epstein MD noted, “Obese patients aged 65-years and older are five times more likely than those of average weight to not have their asthma well controlled. Poor asthma control can lead to a decreased quality of life and an increased risk for emergency department visits, hospitalizations and death.”

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“The health effect of outdoor air pollutants on asthma in baby boomers as well as young children is substantial and underappreciated,” noted co-study author David Bernstein MD. He added, “Asthma is a serious disease that, if not treated properly, can be life threatening. Asthma patients under the care of an allergist are shown to have better outcomes with controlled symptoms.”

The researchers analyzed 104 patients and found that baby boomers with asthma may be more susceptible to traffic pollutant effects. They note that the reason for this is unclear; however, it may be due to potentially impaired responses to highly reactive molecules produced in their bodies as they breathe in air.

The ACAAI offers these tips for reducing exposure to environmental pollutants:

  • Avoid traveling and being outdoors during peak commuting times
  • Keep windows closed, especially if your home faces a highly trafficked road
  • If you have an attached garage, don't start the car and let it run; fumes can make their way into the home even when the garage door is open
  • Avoid smoke, dirt, gases and other pollutants that can trigger asthma flare-ups
  • Allergists can help asthmatics develop an action plan to recognize triggers and early warning signals of an impending attack.
  • The ACAAI is a professional medical organization headquartered in Arlington Heights, Ill., that promotes excellence in the practice of the subspecialty of allergy and immunology. The College, comprising more than 5,000 allergists-immunologists and related healthcare professionals, fosters a culture of collaboration and congeniality in which its members work together and with others toward the common goals of patient care, education, advocacy and research. For more information, click on this link

A limitation of this study is the small sample size and no mention of a control group.