High percentage of N.C. children suffer undiagnosed asthma, new study shows

CHAPEL HILL -- A new first-of-its kind University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill survey of 122,829 children at 499 N.C. middle schools has turned up disturbing information about asthma, now the most common chronic childhood disease in the United States.

Asthma, which can include wheezing and sometimes frightening shortness of breath, appears to be much more prevalent than previously thought even if many children suffer milder forms than cases seem in doctors' office.

Eleven percent of children surveyed in homeroom, science classes or physical education -- 13,619 -- reported being diagnosed with the illness and had current symptoms. Another 21,184, or 17 percent, said they suffered asthma-like symptoms within the previous year but had not been diagnosed.

Odds are that countless children in other states are going undiagnosed and untreated as well, researchers say. Earlier studies have shown that asthma has become increasingly prevalent over the past 20 years in this country and abroad for unknown reasons, possibly exposure to environmental allergens or irritants.

"The effect of asthma-like symptoms on the lives of children with no diagnosis is considerable," said Dr. Karin Yeatts, research assistant professor of epidemiology at the UNC School of Public Health.

"Twenty percent missed a half day or more of school per month because of wheezing, 25 percent had limited activities because of wheezing once or more per month, 32 percent had sleep disturbances in the last four weeks, 7 percent visited the emergency department and 5 percent were hospitalized for wheezing or breathing difficulties," she said

Even if many of the cases are mild, such figures on health effects are far in excess of what healthy children experience, the scientist said.

Yeatts is lead author of a report on the study in the June issue of the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, an American Medical Association Journal. Co-authors are

Contact: David Williamson
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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