Asthma is one of the most common lung diseases both in the United States and globally. But rates can differ considerably depending on your race, your sex, and where you live.

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Asthma is a common lung disease that causes the airways in your lungs to narrow, making it difficult to breathe. Symptoms can be mild in some people but can lead to severe complications in others.

Asthma affects hundreds of millions of people around the world. But some populations may be more at risk due to genetics or environmental factors.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 7.8% of people (about 1 in 13) in the United States have asthma. That’s more than 25 million people, including more than 4 million children. The CDC also notes asthma is the most common chronic lung disease in U.S. children.

Asthma rates in 2020 were highest in the following states:

  • West Virginia — 12.4%
  • Rhode Island — 12.1%
  • Kentucky — 11.5%
  • New Hampshire — 11.5%
  • Michigan — 11.0%

Rates were lowest in Guam (5.0%), Florida (7.3%), and Texas (7.4%).

Asthma attacks in the United States

Not everyone with asthma experiences asthma attacks. About 41% of people with asthma in the United States had an attack in 2020. The most recent state data regarding asthma attacks from the CDC notes that asthma attack rates were highest in Alaska and Wyoming and lowest in Oklahoma and North Dakota.

Asthma affects about 262 million people globally, and that number has increased over the past decade, according to the 2019 Global Burden of Disease (GBD) Study. This figure might be even larger, as the World Health Organization (WHO) notes that asthma is often underdiagnosed in low- and middle-income countries.

A different study estimated 357.4 million people in the world ages 5 to 69 years old received a diagnosis of asthma in 2019. The study also estimated that 645.2 million people have had asthma at some point in their life — a rate of about 9.8%.

The GBD study also notes that asthma rates are higher in countries with a high sociodemographic index (SDI), which is a measure of how developed a country is. But this may be due to underdiagnosis in countries with a low SDI, where death rates from asthma are higher.

Language matters

Sex and gender exist on a spectrum. We use the terms “male” and “female” below to reflect the language of the study and surveys referenced, which unfortunately didn’t report data on people who were transgender, nonbinary, gender nonconforming, genderqueer, agender, or genderless.

Although we typically avoid language like this, specificity is key when reporting on research participants and clinical findings.

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Before puberty, asthma is more common in males than in females. This may be due to narrower airways in males younger than 10 years old.

But starting in puberty, asthma becomes more common in females. The CDC indicates that asthma affects 10.4% of female adults compared with 6.2% of male adults.

In the United States, asthma is most common among Black people and American Indian or Alaskan Native people. CDC data from 2018 to 2020 notes the following prevalence rates:

  • Black — 10.8%
  • American Indian and Alaskan Native — 10.8%
  • White — 7.6%
  • Hispanic — 6.7%
  • Asian — 3.5%

Rates were higher still for people who identified with multiple races (11.5%).

The Office of Minority Health (OMH) notes that among Hispanics, Puerto Ricans have the highest asthma rate — 14.9%.

Racial and ethnic differences in asthma prevalence are due to several factors, including genetics and social determinants of health.

Certain factors may increase your risk of asthma. According to the American Lung Association, these include:

  • having a family member with asthma
  • workplace exposure to asthmagens (substances that can cause asthma)
  • smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke
  • exposure to air pollution
  • having obesity
  • having allergies
  • having a viral respiratory infection as a young child

Research suggests that children who live in urban settings may be more likely to experience asthma symptoms. This is likely due to increased exposure to both indoor and outdoor air pollution. A 2019 study found that about 1 in 5 urban teens may even have undiagnosed asthma.

Asthma is also more common among families with lower incomes. CDC data shows that the prevalence of asthma increases as family income goes down. Asthma affects about 11% of people below the poverty line — 3.2% higher than the national average.

By the numbers: Asthma’s effect on society

  • Asthma affects 7.2 million school-aged children, resulting in almost 14 million missed school days each year.
  • Asthma was responsible for 4.9 million doctor visits and 1.5 million emergency department visits in the United States in 2019.
  • Uncontrolled asthma will cost the U.S. economy close to $1 trillion over the next 20 years, taking into account direct medical costs and loss of productivity from missed work days.
  • Globally, asthma is responsible for an estimated 250,000 preventable deaths each year.
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Death from asthma is rare compared with other diseases. It accounts for less than 1% of all deaths in the world.

There were 4,145 asthma-related deaths in the United States in 2020. The mortality rate had been declining for several years but started rising again in 2018.

People of Color bear the brunt of asthma mortality in the United States. According to the OMH, non-Hispanic Blacks are almost three times more likely to die from asthma-related causes than non-Hispanic whites. Hispanic children are 40% more likely to die from asthma than non-Hispanic white children.

Asthma deaths are also more common among adults older than 65 years of age and in females.

A 2022 study suggests that the global death rate has decreased from 8.60 to 5.96 per 100,000 people — a 30% drop — over the past three decades. Still, the WHO estimates that asthma causes 455,000 deaths each year.

You can still live a long life with asthma, especially if you control your asthma. A 2016 Danish study found that asthma may shorten your life expectancy by about 3.3 years if you’re otherwise healthy.

A 2018 Iranian study found that asthma caused an average of 18.6 years of life lost per death. That means that, on average, people with asthma died 18.6 years earlier than people without asthma. But that value includes all asthma deaths, including people who die at a young age.

More than 41% of asthma deaths in the United States occur in people 65 years of age or older.

Asthma is one of the most common lung diseases in the world in both children and adults. Some estimates place the global prevalence at almost 10%. It’s especially common among children, who are more likely to experience asthma attacks.

Asthma disproportionately affects certain populations, including:

  • Black people
  • American Indians and Alaskan natives
  • Puerto Ricans
  • children in urban settings
  • older adults
  • families with lower incomes

Even as asthma outcomes improve more generally, these disparities persist. Addressing social and environmental factors that affect asthma outcomes can go a long way in reducing the burden of asthma on our society.