Asthma, allergy issues confronted head on

By Katy Nielsen

The struggle to catch one’s breath may be a momentary battle for some, but for severe asthma patients, this can become a fight for life. Asthma, a disease caused by airway inflammation and muscle spasms, affects millions of people in the world, and May is National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month.

Nancy Sander, founder and president of Allergy & Asthma Network/Mothers of Asthmatics, and other members of the AANMA will convene on Capitol Hill on May 4 for the 14th annual Asthma and Allergy Awareness Day.

“We’re trying to make Congress aware of concerns faced by families who have children with allergies and asthma,” she said.

Sandra Fusco-Walker, director of advocacy for the AANMA and one of the organizers of Asthma Awareness Day, joined the group after her daughter was prevented from carrying her inhaler at school because it was considered illegal.

“I came on with a real focus,” Fusco-Walker said, noting her support of congressional legislation encouraging asthma patient funding. “The legislation has helped hundreds of thousands of people. It has been a very successful endeavor.”

Parents, teachers, allergists and respiratory therapists have all played roles in the fight for asthma and allergy rights, and the hard work is paying off, Sander said.

“We’re seeing a decrease in asthma deaths,” she said. “Let’s keep that going. When I started the organization, we were at 15 deaths per day, and today we’re at 10 deaths per day.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 24 million U.S. residents, including 7 million children, have asthma. But these people can live normal, healthy lives with proper diagnosis and treatment, Sander said.

“We asked Congress to change laws across the nation and we came up with The Asthma Act,” she said.

The legislation, along with the National Asthma Education and Prevention Program, keeps a dialogue between asthma advocacy groups and the federal government.

“We’ve been part of developing these guidelines for 20 years,” she said. “It would be horrific for that budget to be cut.”

According to Sander, there are several ways people can control their asthma, and state programs can play a role.

A good system means patients receive the correct diagnosis, are allergy tested, have results reviewed by a board certified allergist who provides a written treatment plan, and have any underlying inflammation treated immediately, Sander said.

“If you do these things, asthma symptoms get so well-controlled that you can pursue any kind of activity you want,” she said. “Asthma should never hold you back. ”

Joanne DiGuido is a mother and part of the Asthma Care Network, another advocacy group for children with asthma.

“The problem is when people feel better, they stop taking their medicine,” DiGuido  said. “There are a number of theories as to why asthma is increasing, whether it is environmental or onset later in life.”

According to the CDCP in 2008, more than 10 million U.S. children and teens between the ages of 1 and 17 had asthma. More than 4 million reported asthmatic episodes or attacks in the previous year.

The number of people with asthma is expected to rise to approximately 100 million by 2025, according to American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

“Asthma continues to be on the rise,” Sander said. “The statistics reflect real people and real families. Even one death is one too many.”