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ER visits for asthma attacks surging for KC kids. Could climate change play a role?

Andy Marso, The Kansas City Star on

Published in Parenting News

Kansas City Health Department director Rex Archer knows first-hand how scary it is to have a serious asthma attack.

Archer has had asthma since he was a kid and decades later, he still clearly remembers his chest tightening up after his football team suffered a rare loss.

"I didn't get that normal psychological adrenaline surge of having won," Archer said. "My lips turned blue and I had to go and get the equivalent of the bee sting kit to open up my airways."

Archer ended up in the emergency room that day -- an experience that more and more Kansas City kids seem to be having.

Data collected by Archer's agency showed asthma-related pediatric emergency room visits trending up from 2006 to 2015, with children of color disproportionately affected.

From 2006 to 2009, Kansas City kids never had more than 1,653 emergency room visits due to asthma. In 2010 that number spiked to 1,988 and has stayed at 1,871 or above ever since. From 2012 through 2015, it was above 2,000 visits every year but one.

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The health department doesn't yet know why, but it has some theories:

-- Climate change is creating more ozone alert days and longer allergy seasons, both of which may be triggers for asthma attacks.

-- The push to make homes more airtight for energy efficiency may be trapping indoors increased concentrations of asthma attack triggers like dust, mold, pet dander and second-hand smoke.

-- The "hygiene theory," which suggests kids aren't exposed to germs outdoors enough when young, preventing their immune systems from becoming properly attuned to them and worsening reactions.

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