Asthma prevalence and severity remains far higher in African-American and Latino communities. It also continues to rise among poor families in urban areas. And, according to the National Institutes of Health, African-Americans are far more likely to go to the emergency department, be hospitalized or die from asthma than Caucasians.

The root

One reason for asthma disparities in inner cities may be increased exposure to environmental allergens and irritants. People with asthma living in older homes are exposed to poor indoor air quality caused by mold, dust mites, cockroaches and sometimes cigarette smoke. Outside, diesel exhaust from vehicles on traffic-clogged highways and streets—not to mention common outdoor allergens such as grass and tree pollen—can cause asthma symptoms.

"Some hospitals and nonprofit health care organizations have developed programs to aid urban families."

Another factor in asthma severity is economic hardship, which can affect access to health care and preventative medications. The percentage of people taking daily medication to control asthma symptoms is lower among African Americans (25.1 percent) and Latino Americans (23.2 percent) than Caucasians (35.1 percent). Severity impacts quality of life, with more missed school days for children and more missed workdays for their parents.

Taking care

It’s critical that all people with asthma see a doctor about their condition and discuss how to avoid asthma triggers and prevent flares. When traveling to an appointment is a challenge, or paying for prescription medications is too costly, families with asthma should talk through their options with a doctor, nurse, respiratory therapist or asthma educator.

Some hospitals and nonprofit health care organizations have developed programs to aid urban families. In Chicago, the Mobile C.A.R.E. Foundation operates Asthma Vans that visit neighborhood schools and provide free care in underserved areas. To improve medication effectiveness, people with asthma should review correct use of their inhaler with a health care provider and understand when and why they are taking the medication.

Organizations such as the Baltimore-based Green & Healthy Homes Initiative (GHHI) conduct home interventions in urban areas across the country. GHHI counselors and contractors visit homes and apartments to evaluate indoor air quality and fix structural defects such as leaky pipes that can lead to mold.