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May 3, 2000

Individual Management Plan Makes Living with Asthma Easier

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, pollen, foods
  • Environmental conditions - cold temperatures, indoor/outdoor air pollution such as smoke, fumes or odors
  • Emotions, stress
  • Upper respiratory infections including flu and the common cold
  • Exercise
  • 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 consistent care
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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The information contained herein has been obtained from sources that the Company believes to be reliable, however, the Company has not independently verified or confirmed the information and the recipient acknowledges that no representations or warranties are being made in connection with the use of the information.