22.2 million Americans suffer from asthma as of 2005, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: National Center for Health Statistics, National Health Interview Survey, 1982-1996, 2001-2005. Approximately 12.2 million of these suffered an asthma attack that year. In addition, there were approximately 1.8 million emergency room visits attributable to asthma in 2005. In 2004, acute asthma episodes resulted in 3,780 deaths.
The direct health care cost of asthma in the United States is $11.5 billion annually. Lost productivity and other indirect costs add another $4.6 billion. $5 billion are spent every year on prescription drugs used to treat asthma and $1.7 billion is attributable to lost productivity due to death.
Asthma epidemics related to atmospheric contamination–caused by the abundance of dust and chemical particles, especially in enclosed environments–are very well known and well documented. Major risk factors in occupational exposure to toxic substances, such as polyurethane and urethane, which are used in the adhesives and plastics industry; rubber epoxy resins from paint; dry cleaning chemicals; textile cleaners fumes; and many others may also play a major role.
The meteoric rise in the global incidence of asthma has baffled researchers. Possible causes, which are currently being researched include food additives, genetics, pollution, toxins, global warming, and allergens. Asthma researchers and asthma specialists speculate that the epidemic rise in the number of new asthma cases every year for the past 30 years is due specifically to rising levels of environmental pollution.