Is Asthma on the Decline?

I did a quick search on asthma on a “research” engine—a Website that searches for articles, news stories, reference works, scientific data, etc. Interestingly, the bulk of the research engine’s results dated back to the early and mid-2000s. By about 2009, apparently, the number of articles that address asthma and more specifically, the health risks and problems associated with asthma, begin to trail off.

I think this is actually quite revealing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there was a significant increase in the number of Americans, especially children, diagnosed with asthma from 2001 to 2009. And if we look further, the number of people diagnosed with asthma or suffering from asthma attacks has increased dramatically since the 1970s and 1980s.

Although it is too early to call it a trend, more recent articles on asthma seem to indicate this very serious respiratory problem may actually be on the decline in certain parts of North America and around the world. Assuming this could be true, it is fair to ask why. Some of the conclusions I have reached are the following:

  • We are more aware of what causes asthma and what can trigger an asthma attack
  • New medications and therapies have been introduced in the past decade that help treat asthma and minimize the severity of the disease
  • Employers and employees have become much more aware of issues, such as asthma, that can impact workplace safety
  • Many more products that previously released high amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – from paints and upholstery to cleaning chemicals and carpets – have been reengineered so that the number of VOCs released into the indoor environment have been reduced significantly
  • The growth of Green Cleaning.

I am sure there may be other reasons that asthma could be on the decline in many parts of the world; however, the growth of Green Cleaning in schools, offices, healthcare facilities, and many other facilities is undeniably one of the key reasons. This is most noticeable because of the complete turnabout we witnessed in the 2000s when it comes to Green Cleaning.

The decade began with few facilities implementing a Green Cleaning strategy. After a couple of years—as environmentally preferable cleaning products improved, became more cost effective, and we all began to realize that some of the ingredients used to make traditional cleaning products could result in asthma attacks and other health problems—more end-customers started to embrace Green Cleaning products.

By about 2009, we can proudly say that not only do most facilities now select Green Cleaning products, but invariably it is their first choice when selecting a cleaning product. In fact, most facilities will only select a traditional cleaning product if an alternative is not available or there are cost and performance issues, which are becoming less of a concern today.

If this is true and asthma might be on the decline in North America and in some parts of the world, we must then continue in this healthier direction. Facility managers should continue to select Green Cleaning products as well as institute policies, procedures, and practices that protect building users from the agents and allergens that trigger asthma.

Cleaning workers specifically must take steps to protect their own health when it comes to using cleaning chemicals—Green or traditional—by using these products as instructed and properly diluted, stored, and handled. This is one reason ISSA, the Healthy Schools Campaign, and The Ashkin Group have joined together to make custodial training our commitment and focus for this year’s Green Apple Day of Service.

And we must all pat ourselves on the back. Because so many manufacturers, managers, distributors, and cleaning workers, as well as many others, have worked to minimize or eliminate asthma-causing agents in buildings, we have managed to help millions of people stay healthy.