Fresno is state's asthma capital < Previous page Daniel Bohlke, 10, was diagnosed with asthma four years ago after he stumbled into his mother's bedroom choking for air. Daniel's asthma attack came three months after the family moved to Merced from Florida.He had no symptoms prior to the attack, says Bohlke, director of outpatient clinics at Mercy Medical Center in Merced and a volunteer with the Merced/Mariposa County Asthma Coalition.Although complicated by allergies, his condition worsens when pollen counts are lowest, she said."I'm not a rocket scientist, but it doesn't take one to figure out it may be where I'm living that's causing this," Bohlke says.Dr. Alex Sherriffs, a Fowler family practitioner, sees so many patients with asthma who complain about smog and soot worsening their breathing problems that he takes note of smog levels."When I see asthmatics with an exacerbation of their asthma, I'm writing down what the air quality was that day," he says.Air quality has become such a concern of Valley doctors that in the past five years, they've organized to get the word out about the medical dangers."Physicians recognized this is the largest public-health issue that the Valley experiences," says Kim Thompson, who was hired in May 2006 by the Fresno-Madera Medical Society to coordinate air quality education and advocacy programs for doctors.All children are at risk from ozone and particulates. Pound for pound, they inhale more air than adults. And their lungs are developing. But it's children with asthma who suffer the most when the air is dirty.The lungs of young asthmatics are trigger-sensitive. Small amounts of irritants can cause an explosion inside their airways, which swell and tighten. Air trying to get into the lungs backs up. And carbon dioxide that needs to get out can't escape through swollen and congested air passages.Of Valley children taking medication for asthma, more than 60% experienced symptoms more than once a month, according to a 2004 report by the Central California Children's Institute at California State University, Fresno.Asthma medications, such as bronchodilators and corticosteriods, are potent drugs. While considered safe, they can cause heart palpitations, restlessness, headaches and sleeplessness. Long-term use of the steroids can cause brittle bones, cataracts and slow healing of wounds, among other problems.Doctors at Children's Hospital Central California in Madera County see many of the Valley's worst asthma cases in the hospital's pulmonary clinics and emergency room.Last year, doctors at Children's admitted 657 children for asthma treatment and saw 8,011 in the emergency room and clinics. Asthma was the sixth most common reason for emergency room visits, behind colds and the flu, earaches, stomachaches and convulsions.Kevin Hamilton, a Fresno respiratory therapist and asthma educator, says he's looked at poverty and other possible reasons for the Valley's high childhood asthma rate.Studies show poor children nationwide are more likely to have asthma. Nearly one in three Valley children was considered poor last year.But Hamilton says children in other areas of the country where poverty rates are higher than the Valley have lower rates of asthma.The Valley's childhood asthma rates can't be explained without including air pollution, he says."Our blend of pollution -- industrial, auto and agriculture -- is not really found in any other place in the country," Hamilton says.
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