Asthma rates in Connecticut are rising, and residents of Bridgeport and the state's four other largest cities are more likely to be hospitalized with the condition than individuals anywhere else in the state.

That's according to the Connecticut Department of Public Health's "The Burden of Asthma in Connecticut -- 2012 Surveillance Report." The report offers a comprehensive look at asthma in the state up to 2010, using information from a variety of sources, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 2010 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.

The Connecticut report is done every three years. This year's shows, among other things, that the prevalence of Connecticut adults with asthma increased by 17.9 percent between 2000 and 2010, and rose 7.6 percent among children between 2005 and 2010.

Since 2000, asthma rates in the state have been higher than national rates.

That's true of all the New England states, said Eileen Boulay, a registered nurse and asthma program manager for the state health department. There are many possible reasons for this, she said.

"We have different climate conditions here," Boulay said. "We have older housing. We have a lot of highways going through. It's hard to know because we don't exactly know what causes asthma."

Asthma is a chronic respiratory disease that affects millions of Americans. There is no cure, but symptoms can be controlled through medication and other interventions.

As of 2010, about 89,000 children and 246,000 adults in the state had asthma. In 2009 alone, there were 5,146 hospitalizations and 24,239 emergency department visits attributed to asthma.

That year, the combined asthma hospitalization rate for the five largest Connecticut cities -- Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven, Stamford and Waterbury -- was 3.4 times greater than the combined asthma hospitalization rate for the rest of the state. New Haven residents had the highest hospitalization rate.

That's not particularly shocking, Boulay said, but what did surprise researchers is that between 2005 and 2009, the emergency department visit rate for asthma for Hispanic children increased 50.9 percent. "That was a very telling number," she said. "This is a controllable disease. If you already have things in place (to manage it), you don't end up in the ED."

Allergist Dr. Irena Veksler, of Allergy and Asthma Care of Fairfield County, said asthma is more manageable than ever. "There are very good medications out there -- better than we've ever had," said Veksler, whose practice has offices in Fairfield and Monroe.

The problem is that many people in poorer urban areas can't afford most of these medications and likely don't have access to a regular physician. "Many of these people are getting their asthma care in the emergency room and not a doctor's office," Veksler said.

Indeed, according to the report, 40.1 percent of people with asthma in the state had not had a routine checkup in the previous year.

Also, Medicare or Medicaid was the payment source for 73.8 percent of asthma hospitalizations and 60 percent of asthma emergency department visits in 2009.

Boulay said the point of the report is to find out where disparities exist within the state, so they can be dealt with. "We then have to look at what's not being managed and address these issues," she said.; 203-330-6290;;