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A Breath of Life

Free asthma screenings offered across the country

SATURDAY, June 2, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- Do you find yourself coughing or wheezing during that weekly game of touch football? Does your child complain of being out of breath or seem to have trouble keeping up with friends when they play?

Stop holding your breath wondering what's wrong and take advantage of the free Nationwide Asthma Screening Program, which is being offered through the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

The program, now in its fifth year, has screened more than 30,000 adults and children and been remarkably effective. More than half of those screened have been referred for further evaluation and diagnosis, says program chairman Dr. John Winder.

Undiagnosed or undertreated asthma can affect the quality of your life by preventing you from doing some of your favorite activities. Worse, it can cause serious long-term damage to your lungs, Winder says.

"Research has shown that with asthma, the earlier you get it effectively treated, the less consequences there are going through life. And that's particularly apparent in a child," he says.

An estimated 17 million Americans have asthma, but many don't know it or don't know how to control it. Asthma can occur at any age, but is more common in children. Medical and other expenses associated with asthma run more than $6 billion a year.

Its symptoms include coughing, chest tightness, wheezing and shortness of breath. An asthma attack often is triggered by allergens like pollens, dust and animal dander; certain drugs and food additives; viral respiratory infections, and physical exertion.

It can be controlled through avoiding triggers and taking medications.

This year's screening program continues throughout the summer. The screenings are held at shopping malls, civic centers, health fairs and other locations across the country.

Adults are asked to complete a 20-question Life Quality (LQ) Test. Children between ages 8 and 14 take a different LQ Test to answer questions about their breathing problems. For children under 8, there's another version of the test that their parents complete.

Along with the LQ Test, you'll take a lung-function test, which involves blowing into a tube. You'll then meet with a doctor to determine whether you need a more thorough examination for asthma. And if you already know you have asthma, you can go to a screening to talk with a doctor about it and any questions you may have about treatment.

"[The screening] is important because a lot of asthma goes undiagnosed and people mistake symptoms. They think they just have a cough or they're short of breath, so maybe they're a little out of shape and they don't think they need to be tested," says Sharon Ifft, the communications coordinator for Allergy and Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics.

Ifft says many people don't even regard asthma as a serious disease.

"People don't realize that it can be deadly. In fact, it kills about 5,000 people each year. That's 15 people a day. So we really do need to get the word out," Ifft says.

Even some people diagnosed with asthma don't fully appreciate the danger.

"They half-heartedly take their medication or forget their inhaler. They don't realize it could be a deadly condition that could easily spiral out of control if they're exposed to a trigger they're not expecting," Ifft says.

What To Do

To see the list of asthma screening sites, or to take the LQ Test, or to get more information about asthma, go to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Web site.

You can also find asthma information at the Allergy and Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics, and the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

For more HealthDay stories on asthma, click here.

SOURCES: Interviews with John Winder, M.D., chairman, Nationwide Asthma Screening Program, American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, Arlington Heights, Ill.; Sharon Ifft, communications coordinator, Allergy and Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics, Fairfax, Va.
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