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Asthma is a chronic lung
disease. 1998 survey data showed 26 million Americans as having been
diagnosed with the disease during their lifetime. Of these 26 million,
10.6 million had an asthma attack during the previous twelve months with over
one-third of them being children and young people under the age of 18.
What exactly causes asthma is not known…it can be controlled with proper care,
but not cured. The most common symptoms are coughing, wheezing, chest
tightness and shortness of breath.
The disease is
characterized by swelling and inflammation of the airways of the lungs and an
increase in the production of mucus. An asthma attack occurs when these
airways narrow down making it difficult to breathe. Left untreated it can
lead to more serious complications that may require hospitalization and could
even be fatal. That’s why it’s important for a patient, or parents of
a child with asthma, to work out a treatment plan with their doctor and for the
patient to have regular checkups to monitor the progress of the disease.
While some of the
medicines to treat asthma are expensive, the real high cost of this condition is
in lost productivity in the workplace, time off from school, the use of
emergency services and hospitalization. The costs for asthma care are
estimated to be more than $6 billion a year. Lost productivity by working
parents caring for children who miss school because of the disease are estimated
at $1 billion.
For mild or episodic
asthma (less than two episodes/week), the most common medicinal treatment is the
use of bronchodilators, drugs that help relax the muscles that tighten around
the airways. These come in the form of tablets, capsules, liquids, or
inhalers and are used only when needed and should be taken at the first
indication of symptoms. When possible, doctors usually prefer to use
inhalers because they deliver the drug directly to the lungs and require less of
the drug than the oral forms. It is important to be aware that
bronchodilators are potent drugs and that overuse or abuse can lead to some
dangerous side effects such as an increase in blood pressure.
requires the long-term use of anti-inflammatory medications such as inhaled
corticosteroids, chromolyn or nedocromil to help reduce airway swelling and to
control symptoms. Asthma medicines are safe when used as directed.
Patients need not be fearful that the drugs may lose their effectiveness over
time, a rare occurrence that, if it happens, can be discussed with their doctor.
The need for more frequent dosing is usually an indication that a patient’s
medication treatment program needs to be reevaluated.
patients can reduce the potential for an attack by staying away from the things
that trigger an attack or make the asthma worse. The most common of these
are allergens such as pollen, mold, animal dander and dust; respiratory
infections such as colds and flu (the most common asthma trigger for children);
irritants such as tobacco and wood smoke or other strong fumes or odors;
exercise or other activities that make a person breathe harder; and changing
can be found on the internet. A good starting point is the NIH’s National
Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute at http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov.
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