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Asthma high in Nevada County

If you’re still recovering from the smoky air that enveloped Nevada County for the past few weeks, you’re not alone.

A report recently released from the county health department revealed half of county residents take daily medications for asthma, while nearly a third of local teenagers have been diagnosed with the chronic condition.

Despite that, the recent spell of bad air quality – caused by smoke from wildfires and ozone from high temperatures – didn’t cause a significant spike in emergencies related to breathing problems, doctors said.



“About 10 (of my) patients went to the hospital with breathing problems” during the bad air days, said Dr. Kuldip Gill, a Grass Valley physician who primarily treats local seniors.

“The medications today are better, and patients are more educated on how to use them,” said Sarah Woerner, a Grass Valley pediatrician.




The data used in the 2008 Nevada County Public Health Status Report was gathered by the county health department or obtained by the county from the California Health Department and the California Health Information Survey, according to Dr. Joseph Iser, director of the county Public Health Department.

Iser attributed the high prevalence of asthma to polluted air that gets pushed up from the valley. It can’t get over the high mountains and is trapped at the foothills.

“I’ve lived here for 50 years, and the air quality has definitely become worse,” Woerner said. “The sky is less blue. There are more hazy days. But that’s true all over California.”

But Woerner and Gill disagreed with the figures quoted in the county health report.

“Fifty percent of people using (asthma) medication every day sounds a bit high,” Woerner said.

“About 10 to 20 percent of my patients have asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and emphysema,” Gill added. About 95 percent of Gill’s patients are between 65 and 100 years old, he said.

Avoid triggers

“Asthma is an obstructive disease” triggered when a person breathes in any substance that the body reacts to, said Allison Cardwell, a respiratory therapist at the Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital.

“The muscles surrounding the airways inside the lungs spasm and tighten up” during an asthma attack, Cardwell added. “The lining of the airways also gets swollen. Between the two or either one of them, the flow of air into the lungs is blocked.”

Asthma can be caused by a variety of factors including genetics, viral infection, cold weather, smoke and allergens, Cardwell said. Asthmatic people have more sensitive lungs than others, she added.

Among children, asthma can be caused by parents who smoke, by family history and by polluted air, Woerner said.

About 20 percent of children in Nevada County could have asthma, she estimated. The county health report showed about 5 percent of children in Nevada County have asthma.

The best way to treat asthma is to avoid the factors that trigger the disease, Cardwell said.

Avoiding smoke, taking medication as prescribed by doctors and keeping the house free of dust are some ways people can avoid developing the disease, Cardwell said.

To contact Soumitro Sen, e-mail ssen@theunion.com or call 477-4229.


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