Adding Up the Cost of Asthma

Asthma cost America 56 billion dollars in 2010

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

Across America, asthma is on the rise. With more asthma cases than ever, it is important to understand the cost of asthma and what you can do about it.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 4.3 million more people were diagnosed with asthma between 2001 and 2009. That means close to 25 million Americans had asthma in 2009. That number will probably increase the next time a new report is published in the future.

With such a large population of asthma sufferers, new ways are needed to better educate the population about asthma.

Asthma's Origins

dailyRx had the chance to discuss asthma with Dr. Zab Mosenifar, M.D., Director of the Women's Guild Lung Institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. “Asthma is an obstructive disease but a totally different disease than COPD,” says Dr. Mosenifar.

It is an inflammatory disease that affects lung function and is triggered by a sensitivity to allergens and irritants. Pollen, dust mites and cockroaches are some of the most common irritants that trigger asthma symptoms.

Dr. Mosenifar believes that allergen exposure in early childhood is important to the development of asthma. “There is this concept of exposure to allergens in early childhood because there is evidence that kids who are brought up in congested neighborhoods, in congested households have a much higher rate of asthma,” says Mosenifar.

One main reason for this higher rate of asthma could be because of cockroaches. Households that are unclean may have cockroaches or dust mites. A recent study from the University of Columbia supports this belief.

According to the study, higher rates of asthma development in New York City children were linked to higher exposure to cockroaches. The study compared high asthma prevalence neighborhoods and low asthma prevalence neighborhoods and was led by Matthew Perzanowski, Ph.D., from the Department of Environmental Health Sciences, Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University.

This study, along with Dr. Mosenifar's opinion, was further corroborated in a study from the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center in Ohio. dailyRx reported on this study that linked mice and roach sensitivity to asthma in children. Close to 33 percent of hospitalized children were sensitive to mice or roaches.

Asthma = $$$

With asthma medication being used more than ever, the cost of asthma medication is something that concerns any asthma sufferer or household. Asthma medicine can include inhaled corticosteroids, anti-inflammatory drugs, bronchodilators or quick-relief asthma medicine.

The Institute for Healthcare Informatics released figures for prescription medicine in 2010. Asthma medication resulted in $730 million in new growth for respiratory drugs. Advair was the fourth highest grossing prescription drug, generating $4.7 billion in sales. Singulair was the seventh highest selling prescription drug, with $4.1 billion in sales.

The United States spent 56 billion dollars on asthma medicine according to the CDC. That breaks down to around $3,300 a year for an asthma sufferer.

While $3,300 is an average, asthma sufferers near busy roads are paying much more than that. As dailyRx reported, asthma cost a household in Riverside between $4,684.61 to $5,353.84 a year while a household in Long Beach paid between $3,623.76 and $4,141.44 a year.

Because of the high cost of asthma, finding ways to reduce the risk of asthma is necessary. Luckily there is plenty of help out there.

Reducing the Risk of Asthma

One simple way to reduce the risk of asthma is to reduce the exposure. The communities of Riverside and Long Beach are near very busy roads. That leads to a lot of air pollution. According to the lead author of the study, Dr. Sylvia Brandt from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the economic impact of these pollutants is one that needs to be addressed.

“The economic take-home message is that if we fail to act to reduce these pollutants, American families will continue to face burdens in terms of asthma attacks, increased health care utilization, lost work days, school absences. These impacts have real costs for families,” concludes Dr. Brandt.

Public policies are needed to address the economic burden of asthma. “Policy debates often pose environmental regulations as a barrier to economic growth,” states Dr. Brandt. Environmental concerns can prevent new projects from being started, which prevents economic growth. That's not the case for asthma. Dr. Brandt continues, “what our study shows is that there is a substantial cost to families from air pollution. By reducing these pollutants, American families directly benefit from improved quality of life and reduced health care costs.”

Dr. Mosenifar believes reducing the exposure to mice or roaches can help manage asthma. "There is evidence to suggest that if you decrease exposure to these high-volume allergens you can manage asthma," says Dr. Mosenifar. Making sure the house is clean is a good start to reducing allergen exposure. 

There is also the idea of possibly vaccinating a child to allergies. "Ironically, there's a suggestion that small amounts of antigens might be okay to be exposed to," notes Dr. Mosenifar, "It's almost the microbial theory, it's almost like you are vaccinating against larger exposures." 

Close to 50 percent of adults who were shown how to avoid asthma triggers did not follow this advice. Educating about allergy risks and triggers is important but carrying out this learning is equally as important.

The CDC recommends better education to reduce the risks of asthma. This can include an asthma patient and their physician working together to create a plan for their asthma. This can include ways to avoid asthma triggers and when to take asthma medication.

Every state has an asthma program that helps educate but may also provide support for asthma medication. New York, for example, has an asthma initiatives for children and adults and regional coalitions that work within the community to improvement asthma care and quality of life. There are also state programs to help aid in the cost of asthma. A quick search for asthma programs in your state can not only improve asthma understanding but put money back in your wallet.

Review Date: 
January 26, 2012