PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The number of people with asthma is on the rise.

Some doctors say it’s an epidemic.

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“We’re still much higher than we were 20, 30, 40 years ago,” says Dr. Deborah Gentile, an asthma specialist at Allegheny General Hospital. “We live cleaner. Less germ exposure. We’re seeing more asthma. Some of it is nutritionally related and obesity related.”

Local and national health experts in public health, epidemiology, pollution and asthma gathered at the Marriott City Center to discuss the problem, especially how it affects Pittsburgh.

For example, 30 percent of inner city school children are screening positive for asthma, compared to 10 percent nationally.

“There is still a lot of cigarette smoking, there is also a lot of outdoor pollution,” Dr. Gentile said.

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Air quality is thought to play an important role, for more than just asthma, but also birth defects, heart disease, cancer and death.

In part, the conference is to raise awareness.

“Many of the people who visit to the emergency room or get admitted aren’t on daily controllers. And if they were, their problems would be eliminated,” says Dr. Gentile.

Some of her patients believe the local air quality has everything to do with their symptoms.

“I have one patient that moved here and really did not have severe asthma problems ’til he moved here. And when he retired, he relocated outside of the area. And his asthma’s improved. So he’s very convinced that’s a trigger,” says Dr. Gentile.

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Dr. Maria Simbra