McAllen area jumps 14 spots in nation’s worst for asthma

by Symptom Advice on May 27, 2012

McALLEN – A high pollen count and second-hand smoke were two contributors this year as the McAllen-Mission-Edinburg area jumped to ninth from 25th as the worst place in the country for asthma.

 “I was surprised myself. I knew we were high, but I didn’t expect to be that high compared to other places,” said pulmonologist Ramon Rodriguez, who McAllen doctor specializes in internal medicine and pulmonary disease.

The ranking, which is determined by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation for America, includes evaluation  of factors like  pollen counts, air quality, frequent ozone days, public smoking bans and use of asthma medications.

All contributed to McAllen’s rise on the list, according to Angel Waldron, spokesperson for AAFA.

“This year, the pollen count was really high in McAllen, (which) can cause problems over half of the people with asthma because they also have allergies,” Waldron said, adding that allergies trigger 60 percent of asthma cases.

Exposure to second-hand smoke also triggers asthma attacks.

Although the AAFA recommends smoking bans in workplaces, restaurants, bars and in cars with minors, McAllen only bans the first two, according to Josue “ Josh ” Ramirez, the city’sdirector of Environmental and Health.

Rodriguez said second-hand smoke is an irritant, but added that barbecuing  also sends people to the emergency room with breathing problems. most show up on Mondays, he said.

Additionally, the McAllen area is among the top five highest in the country in poverty and uninsured rates.

According to the National Prescription Tracking Data Base, which is provided by IMS Health, the usages of both over-the-counter and prescription medications used to treat asthma are higher here than they should be.

 “the data is telling us, the people in McAllen are either dealing with a high incidence of triggers that cause their symptoms, or they may be self-medicating (by) trying different things until they find something that works,” Waldron said.

However, patients who are diligent in being tested and who consult with allergists regularly won’t need to self medicate, Waldron said.

Although typically considered a children’s disease, 68-year-old Connie DiCarlo-Mendiola, of McAllen, learned she had the disease 11 years ago. Growing up in Minnesota, DiCarlo-Mendiola never suffered symptoms as a youth. even when she moved 22 years ago to the Valley, things seemed great.

“ When I first came to the Valley, I loved that Gulf breeze in the evening. I thought that was the best thing because I could breath that fresh air. But now that I have asthma, whenever (there) is a windy day, I stay indoors because of allergies and the wind ,” she said.

Since her diagnosis, however, DiCarlo-Mendiola has ended up in the hospital once a year.

She is not alone. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas reports that the impact reflected on the asthma-related claims are on the rise in Texas.

In the McAllen-Edinburg-Mission area alone last year, BCBSTX processed 28,000 claims and paid $2,500,000 related to asthma, Ross Blackstone, senior manager of Media and Public Relations for BCBSTX, stated in a written statement.

Asthma now affects one out of every 12 people in Texas.   in addition to health challenges, the Texas Department of State Health Services says asthma also carries significant social and economic burdens:

>> One-third of asthma-affected Texans miss work at least one day a year because of their condition.

>> One third of Texans with asthma have trouble sleeping, and more than 11 percent have had trouble sleeping five nights in a row or more.

>> Children up to age 4 who have asthma are admitted to the hospital two to eight times more than adults with the same condition.


There are several things that can help alleviate or lessen the affects of asthma.

One is to education people and make them aware of the disease and how to control it, Waldron said.

While there is nothing people can do about pollen counts, they can implement and observe smoking bans.

Also, working to improve the rates of poverty and those who are uninsured would help, Waldron said.

“it is good that students are able to access their inhalers while in school, (but) there are some states that don’t allow it because it is a controlled substance,” Waldron said.”When they don’t have access, we have unnecessary deaths.”

Recruiting more allergists and pulmonologists also would benefit the area. currently, patients have long waiting periods before they can be seen by a board certified specialist.

Rodriguez said the Valley now has 14 allergists and pulmonolgists.

In the Medical: you can use some more physicians in McAllen as well, or specialist to handle, right now there are just far enough, so people are probably dealing with a long waiting period before they can be seen by a board certified specialist, if some more physicians were practicing in McAllen that would be a benefit to our patients as well.

Dr. Rodriguez said in the Valley there are 14 Allergist and pulmonologist if we include the Weslaco ones.

As for DiCarlo-Mendiola, who is a respiratory therapist herself, life is normal except during May and June.

She said she follows three simple rules:

>> Complying with instructions for maintenance medications even when symptom free;

>> Exercising regularly;

>> Eating healthy.

Despite the debilitating effects of asthma, Di-Carlo-Mendiola said she’s winning the battle.

“I don’t let asthma control my life,” she said.

Martha L. Hernández covers health, business and general assignments for the Monitor and El Nuevo Heraldo . you can reach her at (956) 683-4846.

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