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Easing the Burden of Asthma

What are the common myths and misunderstandings about asthma? We explore efforts across the state to better educate those living with this condition. More than 10 percent of Kentucky residents have asthma, but what exactly is asthma? This chronic respiratory disease is often misunderstood.
Season 4 Episode 2 Length 59:27 Premiere: 09/28/14

Easing the Burden of Asthma

Asthma is responsible for more than 6,000 hospitalizations per year in Kentucky. Yet its severity is often underestimated.

“People die from asthma attacks,” says Beth VanCleave, the asthma educator at Kosair Children’s Hospital.  “I don’t think we take it seriously enough because the symptoms are not there on a daily basis. … Asthma is always there waiting to have an episode.”

More than 10 percent of Kentucky residents have asthma, but what exactly is asthma?

“Asthma is basically an over-reactivity of the airways,” says  VanCleave .  “They swell up and they produce extra mucous. And you have air trapping. You can’t get out all the air–like a balloon–and you can’t bring any air in.”

The highest rates of asthma in the state can be found in Eastern Kentucky.

“A lot of times when you think of asthma in Eastern Kentucky, you think about the change of the seasons and pollen, but indoor air quality is just as important. It’s a huge education piece that people aren’t as aware of,” said Holly West, public health services manager at the Ashland-Boyd County Health Department.

A pioneering initiative of the Ashland-Boyd Health Department sends health professionals to the homes of people with asthma to help them improve their indoor air quality and reduce triggers to asthma.

Common Myths About Asthma

  • You have asthma only when you have trouble breathing. False. People often make the mistake of thinking of asthma flare-ups as the disease. But asthma is inflammation of the airways, and it’s still there even when there is no flare-up. “Quiet” asthma is still asthma, says Dr. James Sublett of Louisville, president-elect of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. “The inflammation is there all the time,” he says.
  • You can get addicted to asthma medication, so you should stop taking it when you feel better. False. You cannot become addicted to asthma medicines, just as those with diabetes cannot become addicted to diabetes medicines.  “That should never be a concern,” says VanCleave.
  • Children outgrow asthma. False. There is no cure for asthma, and it cannot be outgrown. However, you can develop asthma as an adult. Sublett says asthma screenings have found that one-third of adults who have asthma don’t know they have it.
  • Asthma leaves you disabled.  False.  “It’s a controllable disease,” says VanCleave.  “There’s no reason to sit on a couch. There’s no reason for disability.”

What Can We Do?

Asthma educators advocate that all public places be smoke free, because even secondhand smoke can trigger severe asthma attacks. What else do asthma educators recommend?

  • Take your medications. Learn the proper way to use your inhaler.
  • Identify your asthma triggers. Limit exposure to allergens like dust, cockroaches, secondhand smoke, and even the smoke from wood-burning stoves and candles. “Anything that burns has  particulate matter that hangs in the air. It’s extremely irritating to the airways,” says VanCleave.
  • Rarely do you have to find a new home for the family pet, though. Keep the animal clean and don’t let it sleep in the bedrooms.

foundation_logo2013Health Three60 is a KET production, funded in part by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

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Season 4 Episodes

The Heroin Epidemic: Kentucky Fights Back

S4 E3 Length 59:03 Premiere Date 10/26/14

Easing the Burden of Asthma

S4 E2 Length 59:27 Premiere Date 09/28/14

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S4 E1 Length 57:04 Premiere Date 08/24/14

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