May 3, 2000
Individual Management Plan Makes Living with
Austin, TX (SafetyAlerts) - The diagnosis is
asthma. Check which symptoms you have to live with daily:
__Shortness of breath
__Feeling a tightness in your chest
__Being absent from work or school often
__Sitting on the sidelines of sports or games.
None of the above, according to State
Epidemiologist Dennis Perrotta at the Texas Department of Health (TDH). "People don't
have to live with asthma symptoms as a daily part of their lives." The key, he says,
is an individualized management plan worked out between patient and health care provider
and sometimes including other family members.
Asthma, which affects about 17 million Americans
including nearly 5 million children, is a serious, chronic lung disease. Often beginning
in childhood, asthma affects the way people breathe. Airways to the lungs become inflamed
and swollen, produce mucus, often are blocked and are especially sensitive to irritants.
Although the specific cause of asthma is not
known, genetics and exposure to a variety of conditions in the environment play a role.
Asthma symptoms can be triggered by such things as:
- Allergens - dander, dust mites, cockroaches,
- Environmental conditions - cold temperatures,
indoor/outdoor air pollution such as smoke, fumes or odors
- Emotions, stress
- Upper respiratory infections including flu and the
- Other improperly treated medical conditions such as
sinusitis or acid reflux.
"We don't know what causes asthma and we
can't cure it," Perrotta said. "But we do know it can be managed successfully so
people with asthma can live long, healthy, symptom-free lives."
Asthma is the most common chronic disease among
children and the leading cause of school absences among youngsters under 16. Children with
asthma miss twice as many school days as do children without the illness.
If not well controlled, asthma takes an increasing
toll on the health of people of all ages. Those with asthma may visit emergency rooms, may
need to be hospitalized or may die. Since 1980 in Texas, the death rate from asthma has
nearly doubled, with 343 deaths recorded in 1998. The highest death rates are for people
over age 60.
People who guess about symptoms, try different
ways of self-medication and use the emergency room for quick treatment often do not get
for asthma. Good control, according to Perrotta, comes with a carefully crafted, long-term
asthma management plan. And it becomes a continuous part of a person's daily life.
A health care provider can diagnose asthma by
taking a medical history, giving a physical exam and testing how the lungs function.
Treatment varies with the severity of the disease and persistence of symptoms. Long-term
medications are used to maintain control of chronic asthma and to prevent airway
inflammation that contributes to asthma attacks. Quick-relief medications are used to
treat acute symptoms and to prevent asthma brought on by exercise.
A typical asthma plan, set up by a physician
together with the patient, is based on the colors of a traffic light. It helps people
anticipate problems and get help when needed. The plan identifies for the individual
things that start an asthma episode, when and how to check breathing, daily medications
needed and when they should be used.
In such a plan, green means go, use preventive
medicine. In the green zone, a person has good breathing, no coughing or wheezing, sleeps
through the night and can work and play. Yellow means caution, add quick-relief medicine.
In the yellow zone, a person has the first signs of a cold, has been exposed to a known
trigger, has a mild wheeze, a tight chest, coughs at night and can do some but not all
usual activities. Red is danger, get help from a doctor. In the red zone, asthma is
getting worse fast. Medicine is not helping, breathing is hard and fast, the nose opens
wide, ribs show and a person cannot talk well.
Living with asthma includes following the
management plan and knowing what activities and resources are available in your community.
People have access to such things as summer camps
for children with asthma, community asthma screenings, support groups for those with
asthma and their families, asthma fairs and educational activities for both health care
providers and for asthmatics and their families. Many of these activities are sponsored by
local coalitions and advocacy groups within the community.
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