Don't Let Asthma Take Their Breath Away

John Winder, MD

Disclosures

May 12, 2006

Asthma affects an estimated 21.9 million Americans. It's more common in children than adults and is responsible for nearly 4300 deaths each year.

Today, we know more than ever about asthma and have made significant advances in helping patients with this potentially deadly disease. We understand what triggers asthma attacks, are familiar with the environmental factors, and have very effective medications that are continuously being improved. We know that asthma can be controlled.

However, we also know that asthma often goes undiagnosed and undertreated. That makes it hard for patients to concentrate, do quality work, or get a good night's sleep. To promote the early detection and treatment of asthma, the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) launched the Nationwide Asthma Screening Program -- and 2006 marks the 10th anniversary of this public service campaign that helps people breathe easier.

Supported by AstraZeneca and cosponsored by 2 patient support organizations (Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America and the Allergy and Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics), the program is conducted in almost 300 locations across the country each year. To date, more than 90,000 people have been screened, with 50% being referred for a professional diagnosis. In addition to helping people find out if they might be at risk for asthma, the screenings also provide an opportunity for those who have asthma to talk with an allergist about their disease and how to keep symptoms under control.

The Nationwide Asthma Screening Program is making a difference. In a recent survey of ACAAI member allergists who coordinate local screenings, 67% said that the majority of screening program participants would not have sought treatment for their breathing problem without the screening. About the same percentage of allergists said that a typical participant experienced breathing problems for at least a year before attending a screening.

During a screening, adults who are experiencing breathing problems complete a 20-question Life Quality (LQ) Test developed by ACAAI. Children under the age of 15 take a special test called the Kids' Asthma Check that enables them to answer questions themselves about any breathing problems. Another version of the Check is available for parents of children up to 8 years of age to complete on their child's behalf. Participants also take a lung function test and meet with an allergist to determine whether they should seek a thorough examination and diagnosis.

There are resources available to help people control their asthma and live normal, productive lives. No one should expect anything less. The ACAAI is encouraging all adults and children who have breathing problems, or think their asthma could be better managed, to consider stopping by one of the free screenings. A list of asthma screening sites and dates and online versions of the LQ Test and Kids' Asthma Check can be obtained on the ACAAI Web site at www.acaai.org.

As we begin our second decade of finding adults and children with breathing problems that might be diagnosed as asthma, we hope all health professionals will help us increase asthma awareness and will spread the word about this important public service campaign. With the help of the countless volunteers, including allergists, other physicians, allied health professionals, and others who make the screening program possible, we can make sure that asthma doesn't take anyone's breath away.

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