Asthma rates rise in Michigan: 'It's every other patient I'm seeing right now'

Detroit ranks 15th in report of most challenging places to live with asthma
Posted at 2:10 PM, Mar 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-16 23:56:31-04

(WXYZ) — Asthma is a condition in which a person’s airways narrow and swell making breathing difficult.

For some people, asthma is a minor nuisance. But for others, it can be a major problem that interferes with daily activities and may lead to a life-threatening situation.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reports that about 10 percent of the population has asthma, but only 50 percent of adults with asthma report that their condition is well controlled.

What’s more, according to the recent Asthma Capitals report, among the top 100 most challenging places to live with asthma, Detroit ranks 15th.

And now data shows that Detroiters are far more likely to have asthma than the rest of Michigan.

We met with Steven Reifman, 73, who was being examined by Dr. Kathleen Dass in Oak Park — and the grandfather of 2 has battled with asthma since he was 8 years old.

"When you can’t breathe and you are thinking about your next breath, it takes a tremendous psychological effort, it really does... like, 'oh God, I got to breathe again,'" said Steven.

Carrying a rescue inhaler all the time and on bad days, visiting the emergency room would be the norm for Steven, and even though all that has changed since he started treatment with Dr. Dass, Steven hopes that his journey can motivate others.

"You really do worry about the ability to take your next breath and it's extremely distressing that something so fundamental, it would be like worrying about if your heart was going to beat next," said Steven.

Dr. Dass says asthma is incredibly common, "it's every other patient I'm seeing right now."

According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, currently, the prevalence of asthma across the state is 46% higher compared to previous years.

And Detroit is one of the worst places for asthmatics across the country, according to reports. In fact, according to the recent Asthma Capitals report, Detroit has the 6th highest asthma-related mortality rate.

Dr. Dass says studies also show that asthma, in general, tends to affect more females than males.

"People are not able to go to school, they are not able to do their basic activities of daily living, they're not able to go to work, it affects every aspect, it also affects their sleep," said Dr. Dass.

Dr. Steve McGraw from Ascension Providence Hospital says viruses, fluctuations in temperature — all those combined with air pollution can make it challenging.

"We have really big industrial sites, that make a lot of the material that makes our air quality worse. How close are they to where people live? Can we do things to mitigate what comes out of their smokestacks?" said Dr. McGraw.

The American Lung Association’s recent State of the Air report reveals that Detroit’s particle pollution, which directly impacts air quality, recorded more unhealthy days with daily spikes in 2021 and slightly worsened compared to the years prior.

7 Action News reached out to the Department of Health to see what they were doing to help the community breathe better and in a statement they said, “they are working to improve indoor air quality in Detroit childcare facilities, provide in-home asthma education in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties, and develop policies to reduce bus and car idling on school property as well as promoting electrification of school buses."

On a personal level, both doctors recommend not smoking around asthmatic patients, keeping homes free of insects like cockroaches, and getting an allergy test whenever possible as most allergies could trigger an asthmatic event.