THURSDAY, May 1, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- Have asthma or think you might? Then May is the month for you to get a handle on this common breathing disease.
Free asthma screenings are scheduled to be held at 250 locations across the United States as part of National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month. The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology sponsors the annual effort, and this year the emphasis is on helping those already diagnosed with asthma to get it under control as best they can.
In recent months, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) put out new guidelines highlighting the importance of asthma control, including daily monitoring and proper medication use to treat symptoms and prevent severe attacks from occurring. This came in light of research showing that many people with asthma are suffering more than they need to from the disease.
"The government guidelines emphasize that undiagnosed or inadequately treated asthma worsens the severity of the disease," allergist John Winder, chairman of the Nationwide Asthma Screening Program, said in a prepared statement. "The screening program gives patients who are still having breathing problems a chance to meet with an allergist, discuss their symptoms and learn how to feel better."
More than 22 million Americans, including 6.5 million children, have asthma -- a chronic inflammation of the airways in the lungs. Asthma attacks, which claim nearly 4,000 lives a year, are often triggered by allergens -- these include pollen, dust, animal dander, certain drugs and food additives -- lung infections, or even physical exertion. While the disease's exact cause remains unknown, many treatments are available to keep it in check.
"An asthma 'attack' isn't the only sign of trouble. A cough that bothers you at night, shortness of breath, colds that go to your chest -- these can all be symptoms of asthma. But few people recognize them or that they are a sign of under-treated disease," Winder said. "No one with asthma should have to suffer. Anyone who is experiencing breathing problems or making compromises to live with their condition should attend a free screening and find out how to take control."
The screenings will be overseen by allergists, who are asthma specialists, and done in coordination with local doctors and allied health professionals. During a screening, participants will answer several questions about their breathing issues, take a lung function test that involves blowing into a tube, and meet with an allergist to determine whether a more thorough exam and diagnosis is needed.
The program has screened more than 108,000 people over the years, and more than half of those were referred for further diagnosis.
A list of free asthma screening locations and dates, online versions of the breathing questionnaires, and more information on treating and controlling asthma are on the ACAAI Web site at www.acaai.org.
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more information about controlling and treating asthma.