The Burden of Asthma: Recognizing Root Issues

“How many of you have missed school because of your asthma?” I ask this question during every Fight Asthma Now class I teach throughout the West and South side of Chicago. Nearly every hand shoots up. Asthma is the leading cause of school absenteeism. This shocked me when I first started serving at the Respiratory Health Association as a Health Educator. Since then, I have seen the huge burden it has on students.

Asthma is a multifactorial disease, meaning that many factors contribute to the development of asthma. Some include genetics, environment, exposure to pollution, as well as a stressful psychosocial environment. Chicago is unique in that the asthma hospitalization rate is nearly two times the national average. Health disparities run rampant in Chicago, and asthma rates are no exception to that. An example of this is that asthma-related emergency department and hospitalization rates are significantly higher in African Americans. Many schools I teach at are located right next to the highway, which is not an ideal spot for children with developing lungs. There are parents of students who do not believe in asthma medication or may believe myths surrounding asthma due to their mistrust in the medical system. Many family members of the students smoke cigarettes to help manage stressful situations, which can also exacerbate the airways and cause asthma attacks. These are all a product of a long withstanding history of structural and systemic racism in Chicago.

This is a huge issue in of itself, and as an asthma educator, I strive to decrease the health disparity by providing education in hopes of lessening the adverse repercussions of asthma. Although small, it is one step towards tackling a much larger and daunting public health issue. Through my experiences this year, I have had a firsthand look to how much racial and social injustices negatively impact health outcomes. Educating in a public health setting is a unique way to play a role in prevention, and through it I have discovered a passion for teaching. I look forward to the rest of my service term and all it will bring.


This blog post was written by NHC Chicago 2017-18 member Mary Rosenwinkel.

Mary is a Health Educator at the Respiratory Health Association.