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Black Children In St. Louis Far More Likely To Visit The ER For Asthma Than Whites

Cenya Davis puffs on her inhaler earlier this month. The 8-year-old student at Gateway Elementary School in St. Louis has been to the hospital three times for breathing trouble starting in December. She now regularly uses the inhaler.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

The vast majority of St. Louis emergency room visits for asthma are from black children, according to report from Mayor Lyda Krewson’s office.

The Equity Indicators reportfound black children are 10 times as likely as white children to visit the emergency room for asthma-related health problems, making it the lowest-scoring indicator of the 72 measures studied by the city.

The report is part of the city’s larger Equity Indicators Project, which measures racial disparities in health care, education, employment and other areas.

Including childhood asthma in the report was a “no-brainer,” said Cristina Garmendia, who served as the Equity Indicators project manager.

“Asthma is the most common chronic disease children face, and it has a huge impact on their daily lives,” Garmendia said. “Just imagine having to think about whether it’s safe for you to breathe.”

When black children suffer from untreated asthma, it can make it harder for them to catch up in other areas where their white counterparts have an advantage, Garmendia says. The condition is one of the leading reasons why children miss school, and chronic asthma can keep kids from exercising or playing with other kids.

Asthma is a chronic condition that causes inflammation of the lungs. While it’s a genetic disorder, it’s exacerbated by environmental triggers such as air quality, mold and stress.

The single indicator assesses more than one problem, Garmendia says. It not only measures the prevalence of asthma, it also shows how severe or under-treated the condition is in the city’s black residents.

The findings aren’t surprising, said Marjorie Moore, director of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation’s St. Louis chapter. The foundation helps pay for prescriptions for low-income people with asthma, and Moore says the majority of the people they help are African-American children.

The struggles black children have with asthma indicate many black families can’t afford regular trips to the doctor and daily medications needed to treat chronic health issues, Moore said. If families manage their children’s condition with doctors’ visits and daily medicine, it’s very unlikely they’ll have a serious attack that requires a hospital visit, she said.

“If your asthma is controlled, it’s far, far less likely you’re going to have an asthma attack that will send you to the ER,” Moore said.

According to a spokeswoman from St. Louis Children’s Hospital, 86 percent of the 440 children who visited the hospital’s emergency department due to asthma in the last six months were African-American.

Asthma can also be triggered by subpar living conditions and poor air quality, Moore said. Housing conditions such as dust and mold can trigger serious attacks.

The Equity Indicators Project is a regional collaboration between the City of St. Louis, Forward Through Ferguson, and United Way. It’s funded by the Rockefeller Foundation.

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @petit_smudge

Sarah Fentem is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.