It’s spring in New York. I know because despite the cold and rain, my annual allergies have arrived with a vengeance. The symptoms: coughing, sneezing, nasal congestion even to the point that it’s hard for me to sleep.
In most people these discomforts would get suffered in silence. But given my tendency toward hypochondria, I a) tell my friends who are of little help, then b) compulsively search the internet and c) inevitably shudder to imagine that, somehow, my entire list of complaints pop up in stories about asthma.
As it turns out, I don’t think I’ve got asthma because, according to my semi-obsessive Google investigations, I don’t fall into any of the high-risk groups. Do you?
Heredity: You definitely inherit the predisposition to asthma. In fact, docs think that 60% of all asthma cases are rooted in heredity. According to a CDC report, if one of your parents has asthma, you’re 3-6 times more likely to get it than someone without this genetic link.
Gender: In kids, asthma is more common among boys than girls. Once we reach our 20’s, the ratio equalizes. And by age 40, more women have it than men.
Cigarette Smoke: Several studies confirm that smoking increases risk. There’s also research indicating that if you smoked when you were in your teens, you’re at increased risk later on. Even more findings link exposure to secondhand smoke with development of asthma in kids. And finally, if your mom smoked while she was pregnant with you, then you are at increased risk for having been born prematurely and with lower lung function—both of which are linked to developing asthma.
Weight: Seven unrelated studies find that asthma is nearly 40% more common in overweight adults (those with a BMI greater than 25 but less than 30) and almost twice as common in those with a BMI of 30+).
Socioeconomic Background: Asthma is more common in economically disadvantaged communities, so it’s not surprising to learn that in Los Angeles (where one study was conducted) three times as many African-American school children are hospitalized annually for asthma as are white kids. Twice as many Latino kids are hospitalized compared to whites.
Indoor Allergies: Indoor allergies are definitely an asthma predictor. These include dust mite allergies, cat allergies and dog allergies. One nationwide study showed that levels of indoor allergens directly linked to asthma symptoms and inhaler use. Another showed that kids living in homes with high concentrations of these allergens are 5 times more likely to develop asthma.
So I’m grateful that my parents are asthma-free, glad I’m a woman, relieved that I’ve never smoked, weighed in at a chubby 7lb 4 oz at birth, proud I try to stick to a pretty healthy diet (except around pasta!), and have learned to use all-natural allergy products to lower the levels of indoor allergens in my apartment.
Now, if I can just find something to help with my hypochondria. That can’t be fatal, can it?