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Dealing With Asthma

Knowing what triggers the attacks is important to cope with the disease

Jun 27, 2005 |

When Patricia Keys first discovered she had asthma, her world came tumbling down.

Despite the fact her family had a long history with the disease, she never imagined it would happen to her because it was not in her childhood, but in her adult life at 49 when she was diagnosed.

After the shocking diagnosis, Keys laid in a hospital bed for three years battling against a disease that has no cure, but she learned it can be controlled with medical treatment.

As a first soprano in her church choir, she also worried about what may happen to her voice.

Over time, Keys not only began to feel better, but she also learned to cope with the disease.

Asthma is a chronic disease of the lungs that results in constriction and irritation of the airways, affecting 20.3 million Americans, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

"I think the problem was that I didn't know anything about the disease or what triggered it," Keys, 57, said. At all times she carries an Advair diskus, a preventive medicine, and also an inhaler, commonly used to treat asthma attacks.

For asthma patients, a combination of constriction and irritation of the airways can lead to asthma attacks that can be deadly.

The most important aspect of coping with asthma is to learn what induces attacks, said Dr. Benjamin Oyefara, of the Asthma and Allergy Center, who has been treating Keys.

"Knowledge is power," Oyefara said, whose clinic is in its highest demand during fall and spring when pollen and other allergens are prevalent. "You need to know what triggers your asthma."

Oyefara also said he constantly tells people they need to make a conscious effort to understand what factors worsen their condition and simply avoid them as much as possible.

But they also need to take their controller medications including inhaled steroids which prevent asthma attacks, Oyefara said.

Allergens including indoor pollution, dust mites, cockroaches, pets and pollen can have a negative effect, in particular on children who may be at risk during play, Oyefara said.

Oyefara said about 50 percent of children or teenagers do not take their preventive medication, which can be detrimental.

Although it is impossible to avoid indoor pollution completely, people can make an effort to improve the air quality of their homes, he said.

Other triggers can come from irritants including cigarette smoke, strong perfumes and chemicals. Plant fumes can also have a negative effect on the lungs.

But the goal, Oyefara said, is to help people with asthma to have a normal life as much as possible.

Keys said she has recovered her soprano voice now, after having to change keys when her condition is uncontrolled. She credits it to the treatment she has faithfully followed.

She sings at the Praise Chorale at her church, the Riverside Missionary Baptist Church.

"The only things I regret is not being able to eat chocolate, corn bread, tomato sauces," Keys said. "But it is worth it."

For Keys, asthma is partly hereditary, but other factors include physical activity, anxiety, stress or an allergic or environmental reaction.

"The key to maintaining a good quality of life is to avoid the triggers and follow the doctor's instructions," Oyefara said. "Prevention is cheaper and better because asthma can kill."

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