The Cost of Asthma: $80 Billion a Year to the U.S. Economy


In early 2018, the American Thoracic Society published a study showing the staggering cost to the U.S. economy resulting from asthma (Tursynbek Nurmagambetov, Robin Kuwahara, Paul Garbe. “The Economic Burden of Asthma in the United States, 2008 – 2013.” Annals of the American Thoracic Society, 2018).

In this study the researchers from the CDC calculated the $80 billion annual cost in medical expenses, missed work and school days, and deaths by using data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, the most comprehensive source of relevant data.

On January 12, 2018,  Science News quoted lead author, Dr. Nurmagambetov, as stating: “The findings of the paper highlight the critical need to support and further strengthen asthma control strategies. . . . In order to reduce asthma-related ER visits, hospitalizations, absenteeism and mortality, we need to support guidelines-based care, expand self-management education and reduce environmental asthma triggers at homes” (italics added). Fragrances and cleaning products used in homes and workplaces are now known to be significant asthma triggers.  Among the particularly concerning findings of the study was this result:

  • Asthma-related mortality cost $29 billion per year, representing on average 3,168 deaths.

The study’s authors stated that they did not include in the cost of just over $80 billion the additional costs relating to the loss of time spent in waiting rooms, consulting with physicians, and traveling to and from appointments. Hence they note that the actual cost of asthma to the nation could well be more than they have stated. One important aspect that they mention, but were unable to evaluate, is the cost to employer of what the scientists term “presenteeism” on the job, which they described as ”not fully functioning at work because of illness,” This factor could be highly significant because so many people get a headache or migraine from exposure to fragrance or develop respiratory problems, and these reactions would make it hard for them to concentrate and work efficiently.

Other posts this week will include the stories from a 9/11 First Responder who developed asthma and multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) as the result of all the toxins she inhaled during her work as an EMT that fateful day. Another story will come from a veteran of the 1991 Gulf War who as a result of his toxic exposures on that battlefield developed MCS, including asthma that is triggered by fragrances and cleaning products.