Women who receive emergency asthma treatment are up to 60 percent more likely to require hospitalization than men are, a new study finds, upholding the longstanding trend of women facing greater risks for allergy and asthma than their male counterparts.

In recent years, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology has noted the prevalence of asthma and allergy are increasing markedly. They point to the so-called hygiene hypothesis, which argues a more sanitized society will eventually lose its immune strength and fall victim to disease. That includes asthma and allergies, and now the data suggest women in particular may suffer.

Led by Dr. Rose Chasm, a team of scientists analyzed patient data from 2,000 people admitted to the emergency department (ED) with acute asthma. They found gender played a critical role in whether a person had to stay in the hospital following treatment, and even after they controlled for factors like weight, income, lack of health insurance, smoking prevalence, and medication use, Chasm said, they “found that women were still 60 percent more likely to be hospitalized after being seen in an ED for acute asthma than men.”

Other findings showed: 36 percent of the women and 32 percent of the men had been hospitalized for asthma in the past, and 16 percent of the women and 13 percent of the men had been hospitalized for asthma within the last year. To the researchers, this indicated the participants fell into the high-risk category of asthma patients. What worried them, however, was that far fewer women took their conditions seriously enough to seek help.

“Only 10 percent of the women in this study had been seen by an allergist in the last year,” said allergist Dr. James Sublett, president of the American College of Asthma, Allergy, and Immunology in a statement. “Many people aren't aware that allergists are asthma specialists, and are among the best-equipped experts to help keep asthma under control.”

The World Health Organization estimates roughly 235 million people worldwide suffer from asthma, currently the most common chronic disease among children. In the U.S. rates hover around eight percent in adults and nine percent in children. The latest authors speculate their findings come from women’s unique mix of sex hormones, differences in bronchial hyper responsiveness, and health behaviors, although they conceded more research is needed to root out the causes further.

Sublett encourages all women to recognize their heightened risks and see an allergist or asthma specialist to determine their chances of developing one or more conditions. “Those who see an allergist and use controller medications find themselves in the ED much less often, and experience fewer hospitalizations related to their asthma.”

Source: Chasm R, Pei Y, Pallin D, et al. Sex differences in risk of hospitalization among emergency department patients with acute asthma. Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. 2015.