State health officials say that over 26 million people living in the United States have asthma, a chronic lifelong disease that affects the lungs. Asthma can cause wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness and coughing. Although asthma cannot be cured, it is possible to manage asthma to reduce symptoms and prevent asthma attacks.
The Department of Public Health and Human Services reports that that one in 10 people in Montana currently have asthma. Further, six out of 10 adults and children with asthma report the condition limits their activities.
According to BJ Biskupiak of the Montana Asthma Control Program, the key is learning how to self-manage the disease. “Asthma is one of the most common chronic disease among children,” he said.
Asthma attacks cause adults to miss work and children to miss school. These dangerous and sometimes life-threatening episodes reduce the quality of life for people with asthma. The good news is that we can raise awareness about asthma and how it can be controlled.
People with asthma can prevent asthma attacks if they learn how to avoid asthma triggers like tobacco smoke, mold, outdoor air pollution, and colds and flu. Asthma episodes can also be prevented by using inhaled corticosteroids and other prescribed daily long-term control medicines correctly.
The Asthma Control Program works with certified asthma educators and other health care providers, childcare professionals, school staff, asthma home visitors, and community members across the state to help people better understand how to make changes in their day-to-day life to control their asthma. These are changes such as accessing quality, guidelines-based care for asthma, gaining skills to improve inhaler technique, and identifying what triggers asthma and how to remove triggers from home, work or school.
“Children and adults need to know their personal triggers and what they can do to control their asthma and avoid exacerbations,” Biskupiak said. “The program’s goal is to help all Montanans with asthma have a better quality of life.”
Biskupiak said everyone with asthma should work with their healthcare provider to develop an asthma action plan. An asthma action plan provides information about what medications to use and when, and how to respond to signs of an asthma attack. These plans enable family members and caregivers to be a part of the asthma care team and support a network for individuals with asthma.
Even though asthma can be controlled, many people with asthma in Montana live with frequent symptoms, activity limitations, and poor quality of life. Just under half (44%) of adults and one fifth (19%) of children with current asthma in Montana report asthma symptoms indicating that their asthma is uncontrolled. “Well-controlled asthma shouldn’t limit activities,” Biskupiak says.
The Montana Asthma Control Program conducts various activities around the state, many of which focus heavily on providing asthma self-management education. One activity, the Montana Asthma Home Visiting Program, has demonstrated that upon completion, the percent of enrolled children with good inhaler technique increased from 29% to 94%, the percent having an asthma action plan increased from 35% to 92%, and the percent of children having symptoms on all 30 days of the last month decreased from 16% to 2%. Other activities, conducted with health care facilities and school nurses, work to achieve similar results.
May is National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month. “Now is one of the peak times of year for asthma and allergy-related medical problems, so it’s a great time to educate and spread awareness,” Biskupiak said.
For more information about Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month, please visit the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America website at www.aafa.org. A toolkit with information for people with asthma, schools, public health practitioners, and others is at www.cdc.gov/asthma/world_asthma_day.htm.
To contact the Montana Asthma Control Program or to learn more about asthma activities in Montana communities go to dphhs.mt.gov/asthma.