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Asthma discriminates

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WASHINGTON, D. C (Mississippi News Now) -

The water runs non-stop in Joy Dawson's tiny, one bedroom apartment. The result? Mold. "It's all up at the top," Joy says. 

It's one of the many things in this living environment that makes it hard for Joy and her daughter, Savanna, to breathe. Both have severe asthma.

The chronic disease inflames and narrows airways. "My chest starts getting like real tight. I can't make air come through," Joy explains. 

The Dawsons live in one of the poorest sections of Washington, D.C. where they're not alone in their struggles with asthma, a disease that disproportionately affects people, especially children, living in poverty. "I hate the doctor!" exclaims 5 year old Savanna, who has to have allergy shots.

Children living in poverty are 60% more likely to have asthma than children whose families have higher incomes. Dr. Michael Lenoir is president of the National Medical Association) "It's been demonstrated many times that environments where you have poor nutrition, where you have violence, where you're constantly exposed to environmental factors such as air pollution, then you're going to have increased incidence of asthma."

Dr. Lenoir has worked extensively with asthma patients in poor areas. He says cigarette smoking - so prevalent in low-income and urban housing also worsens symptoms. "The environment itself with increased incidence of house dust, with cockroaches and a lot of allergens around also contribute to that whole factor."

Another major obstacle is getting to the right doctor. Joy and Savanna must travel 10 miles to see Dr. Elena Reece at Howard University Hospital. "For them to have to come on the bus all the way here... It's not easy."

Dr. Reece says patients need continuous care to control their asthma. "They'll see the children getting better and just stop coming. And then they'll come back when things have deteriorated."

Dateline NBC will have more on this topic this Sunday night.

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