Asthma Awareness Month Is Here

  • Each year, clinicians, patients and community advocates use the month of May to focus efforts on spreading awareness of asthma. It's an important effort because asthma now affects 1 out of every 12 people and is on the rise, so those numbers may only get worse.


    You may know of events in your area that were organized for Asthma Awareness Month 2014, such as asthma walks, educational workshops, free screenings and so forth. Those are all valuable activities. However, you may be wondering what you, personally, can do.


    The National Asthma Education and Prevention Program (NAEPP for short), which is coordinated by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, created a new action group a few years ago called the National Asthma Control Initiative (NACI, for short).

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    Whew! That's a lot of long, fancy-sounding names. What does it all mean for you?


    Well... NACI is helping to improve asthma care and control by encouraging and empowering clinicians, patients, and others to follow science-based asthma care and control guidelines, including six key actions that they and anyone whose life touches someone with asthma can take to help change a life.


    Start With Six Key Actions


    There are six key actions, recommended by the NAEPP, that clinicians, patients, and anyone else who touches the life of someone with asthma, can work together on. These actions can help to seize control of asthma so that asthma doesn't seize control of asthma patients.


    1. Use inhaled corticosteroids to control asthma if you have persistent asthma. Experts have found that these are the most effective medicines for preventing asthma symptoms and keeping your airways functioning at their best. But DO talk with the doctor about which medicine is best for you and your asthma status. I also provide information about the options in my post, Which Asthma Medicine Is Best?


    2. Use a written Asthma Action Plan, developed in coordination with your health care provider. This action plan should highlight two things: what to do daily to control your asthma and how to handle symptoms or asthma attacks. You can read more about Asthma Action Plans (AAP, for short). And the NACI offers a sample AAP here. But remember, AAPs don't stand alone. They are one part of a comprehensive approach needed to improve asthma care and control.


    3. Assess asthma severity at the outset of diagnosis. For those who are new to an asthma diagnosis, it is essential that the physician determine how severe your asthma is from the beginning, so that proper care can be planned and carried out. The physician will look at how much your symptoms are currently interfering with breathing and daily living. She or he will also assess future risk. In other words, how likely are things to get worse? This information is used when choosing which medicine will be prescribed and how high the dosage will be.


    4. Track & report your level of asthma control. Without current information, your physician will not be able to help you effectively manage your asthma control. So, keep daily records of symptoms and peak flow readings (if recommended). Track how well medicine seems to be working, both your preventive medicine and also any rescue inhaler medicine you use. Report all these findings to your physician during any follow-up visits (and more frequently, as per your AAP).


    5. Schedule and keep follow-up visits with your physician at least once every six months. Regular follow-up is essential to keeping asthma under control, particularly if you have severe persistent asthma. During these follow-up visits, your doctor may need to increase or decrease your medicine to keep your asthma under control.


    6. Take all the steps possible to avoid, or at least minimize, exposure to your allergens and irritants. We don't know what causes asthma in the first place. But we do know that certain environmental substances or conditions can trigger asthma symptoms. In sensitive people, these things cause airways to narrow and tighten, resulting in hallmark asthma symptoms:

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    • Coughing
    • Wheezing
    • Shortness of Breath
    • Chest Tightness

    So doing whatever you can to avoid contact with things you know set off your symptoms. Common triggers are allergens such as pet dander, pollen, dust and molds. Irritants can include cigarette smoke, chemical odors and sawdust, among other things.


    A Few More Thoughts


    If you take the six actions listed above, asthma control should be within your reach. But here are a few more tips that can be helpful.


    Asthma is a serious disease, even though it is common, and it should be taken seriously. Poorly controlled asthma can get in the way of sleep and may even limit everyday activities. Poorly controlled asthma can also delay growth in children. And most importantly, asthma, when not controlled adequately, can be deadly! If you or your child has a severe asthma attack, get help right away. People do die from severe asthma attacks.


    You don't have to "put up with" asthma symptoms. Raise your expectations! If your asthma is not well-controlled, then work closely with your doctor until you achieve better control. It may be necessary to consult with an asthma specialist. You can stay healthy and active with asthma.


    Use your medication exactly as prescribed. Most people with asthma use two different types of medicine to stay in control. Preventive medicine is usually taken daily or twice daily. This includes the inhaled steroids described above. It's important to take it, even if you don't think you need it. Remember, you're probably not having symptoms because you are taking the medicine.


    Secondly, most asthmatics will have a rescue inhaler. These quick-relief medications are short-acting bronchodilators that act fast to relax tight muscles around the airways. Always carry a quick-relief inhaler with you in case of an asthma attack. If you use this inhaler more than two times a week, you need to talk with your doctor, because this is a sign asthma is not controlled.


    There is a technique to using an inhaler correctly. Talk with your doctor, a nurse, or respiratory therapist about how to use the inhaler right and whether a spacer or holding chamber might be helpful.


    Final Thoughts


    In this post, I have focused mainly on how an individual can become more aware of how to control asthma. But, if you are a parent, you may also want to explore how to advocate for measures aimed at better asthma awareness in schools and child-care settings


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    Be part of this community in working toward this goal this May and beyond.

Published On: May 08, 2014