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Helping Our Kids Breathe: Over 12 Percent of Black Children Have Asthma



By Fern Gillespie

During New York City’s toxic Canadian smoke haze, the air quality reached crisis levels. Within the week, over 1,000 asthma-related emergency hospital visits hit the city. It was a 10 percent increase from last year. According to the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, almost 70 percent of those asthma-related visits during the period were in zip codes with predominantly Black or Hispanic residents. Those top 10 neighborhoods included Crown Heights, Williamsburg and East New York in Brooklyn.

Black children are diagnosed with asthma at an alarming rate. According to the CDC, although 4 million children in the U.S. have asthma, Black children are more likely to have this lung disease than kids of any other race in America. Black and Latino children make up 80 percent of cases that require hospitalization. More than 12 percent of Black kids nationwide suffer from the disease, compared with 5.5 percent of White children.

Tragically, the CDC points out that Black children are eight times more likely to die from asthma than White children. Nearly 4 in 10 Black American children live in areas with poor environmental and health conditions compared to 1 in 10 White children. This includes homes near toxic air pollution from factories, trucks and traffic. Also, substandard housing with mice, roaches, mold, cigarette and marijuana smoke.

New York City has one of the highest hospitalization rates for children with asthma in the country. Our Time Press spoke with Dr. Khalid Ahmad, MD, Director of Pediatric Pulmonology and Sleep Medicine at Brookdale University Hospital Medical Center. He specializes in caring for Black children with asthma by working with parents and guardians.


How should the family be involved in the child’s asthma care?

Dr. Khalid Ahmad: “In the office, I try to get the children involved in their care. I asked them what their symptoms are. When they’re younger, I don’t expect them to be responsible for taking the medication themselves. I say it’s a team effort for the parents and guardians to work together so the child is getting their regularly controlled medication. For teenagers, I give them more responsibility. I tell parents to identify things that trigger asthma.  Get allergy testing or a history of what they are allergic to find out what’s triggering the asthma attacks.”

What are the symptoms of asthma or an asthma attack for children?

 “I explain to the family that people think that because the children are not wheezing they are OK. When you get to the point of wheezing there’s already a narrowing of the airways. We want to get on top of the situation before you get to that point. So, if children are have difficulty breathing running around or coughing when running around. If they are coughing in the middle of the night and not sick. Or if they are coughing to the point of vomiting — those can be indications of asthma.”

How should a parent or guardian handle taking a child to the ER for asthma?


A lot of these children go to the ER and get seen. Parents get steroids and think that things are OK.  But, they need to seek outpatient help with their pediatrician or asthma specialist and see them 2 to 4 times a year.  Unfortunately 2 to 4 percent of children with asthma die from it. This is so sad because there are therapies out there now that we did not have years ago that can reduce that significantly. Kids are unfortunately dying when they don’t need to. It’s heartbreaking.”

Dr. Khalid Ahmad is available to speak to churches, schools and organizations about helping children with asthma. He can be reached at Brookdale University Hospital.

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