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Inhalers to the Rescue

Study finds asthma patients rely heavily on rescue inhalers while condition remains difficult to diagnose.

In a new national survey of asthma patients, Health Union and its new online community Asthma.net, reveals that most were satisfied with the care they received; however, the most frequently used form of treatment, at 89%, is the rescue inhaler.

The results also show the difficult path many people have prior to being correctly diagnosed with asthma. While 44% of people living with asthma started experiencing symptoms prior to adulthood, almost one in three people went through a series of tests or were misdiagnosed before being diagnosed with asthma.

Asthma is a common disorder involving inflammation and swelling of the airways affecting about 25.7 million people in the U.S., including seven million children. Inflammation of the airways makes people living with asthma overly sensitive to many inhaled items or "triggers," such as allergens, molds, viruses, or chemicals. Symptoms include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness, which can become very intense.

Possible Genetic Component

The exact cause of asthma is unknown, of course, although it may have a genetic component, with 52% of respondents having an immediate family member with the condition. Exposure to certain allergens, viruses, chemicals, and secondhand smoke before birth or as an infant might play a role. These exposures could possibly change the way the immune system develops.

SEE ALSO: Asthma Inhalers Get Smart

The importance of proper diagnosis and medication cannot be overstated. The story of Asthma.net patient contributor Lorene Alba is telling. She was diagnosed in her mid 20's after suffering a bout of bronchitis every year since the age of 16 that left her with a lingering cough and an audible wheeze.

"I was only seeing a general practitioner (GP). I spent several years receiving breathing treatments in his office or in the ER and was only prescribed a quick-relief inhaler. Finally, when I was given a daily controller medicine my GP didn't explain how it worked or when to use it, and I couldn't figure out why it wasn't helping my sudden onset of symptoms. I was taking the wrong medication at the wrong time."

Managing Triggers & Symptoms

Once diagnosed, managing triggers and symptoms is paramount for people with asthma. Almost two-thirds of respondents experience symptoms at least weekly, with those experiencing symptoms in the past year reporting nearly eight. Fifty-one percent agreed that asthma negatively impacts their overall quality of life. Around half of respondents agreed that the following statements applied to them:
  • "I am tired more often/fatigue easily" (53%);
  • "I am unable to do as much as I used to" (49%); and
  • "I am afraid of the long-term consequences of asthma" (49%).
"If there is one thing I would like to stress about asthma, it is that its symptoms can be reversible," said Leon Lebowitz, a respiratory therapist and Asthma.net moderator. "With a properly prescribed medication regimen, combined with the avoidance and control of one's known triggers, symptoms can be improved dramatically."

"My understanding is that most survey respondents were satisfied with their current treatment and that almost half have used it for over five years," said Lebowitz. "However, if you find you are relying on your rescue inhaler throughout the day or, it is your 'go to' medication, it would be prudent to see your physician for a revaluation of your current condition and a reassessment of the medications you are using."

Support Lacking

Overall, people with asthma in the survey are happy with their HCP, with almost three-quarters reporting they are satisfied with the HCP they see for their asthma treatment. HCPs were seen as most valuable for monitoring the disease and making treatment suggestions. However, they are not viewed as a form of patient support. Only 26% found their HCP to be a support to them as a patient.

Upon diagnosis more than half of people surveyed said they would have liked to have had more information about how to avoid triggers and how asthma would affect their lifestyle. Yet, only one third obtained information from general health or asthma-specific Web sites.

"This is why a new resource like Asthma.net is so important," said Tim Armand, president and co-founder of Health Union. "It is not realistic to expect HCPs to be the primary source of support. Asthma.net is the go to source for quality health information, connections to other people living with asthma, and current news about trends in healthcare."

Content provided by Health Union

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