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Monday, May 4, 2015

May is asthma awareness month

The following was originally published on May 5, 2014, at

May is Asthma Awareness Month: Help Us Spread the Word

May is National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month, and was specifically chosen because it's during the peak season for asthma and allergic triggers. Now is the perfect time to educate others on these conditions.  

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics show asthma affects 25.5 million Americans of all ages. American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology statistics show it effects 300 million people worldwide, and that these numbers continue to grow.

Asthma, or asthma-like conditions, were described in the earliest writings, some going back as far as 2,697 years B.C. The term asthma was first used by Homer around 800 B.C., and he used it to describe the short, panting breaths after exertion, or after being struck in the chest with a spear. Hippocrates first described it as a medical term around 400 B.C, defining asthma as a medical condition that results in dyspnea, or shortness of breath.

Despite this long history, there is still much to learn about this disease. What is now known about asthma is, for some inexplicable reason (although there are theories), the immune system of about 10 percent of people confuses innocuous (harmless) microscopic substances in the air such as dust mites, animal dander, cockroach urine, pollen, mold, fungus, and pollution as enemies akin to viral agents and bacteria. These substances are commonly referred to as asthma triggers.

The response that follows results in increased inflammatory markers that cause inflammation of the bronchial muscles. This makes asthmatic loungs hypersensitive (over-reactive) to the asthma triggers.

Subsequent exposure results in worsening inflammation of bronchial muscles and increased mucus secretion that causes the air passages to become narrow. This results in air becoming trapped inside the lungs, resulting in a feeling that you can't catch your breath, or dyspnea.

A hallmark sign of asthma is that this response, the asthma attack or flare-up, is completely reversible either with time or with treatment. Learn more about asthma by reading my post "So What is Asthma? Here's Our Updated Definition."

New evidence suggests that the spike in inflammatory markers might also affect other systems of the body, including the stomach and mind. The result in the stomach is gastrointestinal reflux, and the result in the mind is anxiety. For this reason, many experts now suggest that asthma is more than just a lung disease.

For most of history asthma gained little attention by the medical community, mainly because there were so many other deadlier diseases, like influenza and tuberculosis.

Since the 1930s, however, asthma prevalence has swiftly risen. Evidence now suggests that around 3,000 people die each year of asthma. Despite evidence of rising asthma morbidity and mortality, awareness of this disease--and finances necessary for research and development--were slow to rise.

Gradually, however, this is changing. Since the first decade of the 20th century, a decade when cortisol and epinephrine were discovered, there has been a thousand year leap in asthma wisdom and the medicine to treat it. Yet despite these advancements, there is still a lot more to be learned before a cure is found.

In the meantime, while there is no cure, there are some really great asthma medicines that allow physicians to help asthmatics prevent and control their asthma. There are also great rescue medicines to treat asthma attacks.

Regardless, there continues to be way too many asthmatics needlessly suffering from asthma because they are not educated, or because they cannot afford asthma medicine. (Read my post "10 Tips to Help You Afford Asthma Medicine.")

The CDC adds:
"Although asthma cannot be cured, it is possible to manage asthma successfully to reduce and prevent asthma attacks, also called episodes. Successful asthma management includes knowing the warning signs of an attack, avoiding things that may trigger an attack, and following the advice of your health care provider."
Using what you know about managing your asthma can give you control over this chronic disease. When you control your asthma, you will breathe easier, be as active as you would like, sleep well, stay out of the hospital, and be free from coughing and wheezing.

As an asthmatic and respiratory therapist, I'm personally vested in the effort to increase asthma awareness. In fact, I think all of us asthma experts are personally vested, either because of our jobs as health care providers or because we have it too.
So, until there is a cure, until this disease is no more, we will continue our quest to educate and increase awareness about this disease. We hope you join us in spreading the word.

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