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Program To Dispel Misconceptions About Asthma In Montana

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Every day, thousands of individuals across Montana struggle to breathe due to a common chronic disease: asthma.

Though asthma is a widespread illness, many Montana residents, and even healthcare providers in the state have misconceptions about the scope and magnitude of the illness.

A new program at the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) seeks to improve the quality of life for all Montanans with asthma and dispel some commonly held misconceptions about the disease.

The Montana Asthma Control Program, established last year by DPHHS, recently published a report entitled The Burden of Asthma in Montana that summarizes the existing data on asthma in the state.

This report helps underscore the high prevalence of asthma in Montana while focusing our attention on populations at higher risk for the illness.

Misconception #1: Asthma is a childhood illness

According to data from the 2006 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), a telephone survey of a representative sample of Montana adults, 8.3 percent of adults aged 18 and older in Montana report currently having asthma. Twelve percent of Montana adults report having been diagnosed with asthma at some point during their lifetime. These data reveal that the majority of adults in the state do not outgrow their asthma and require ongoing medical attention to self manage their illness.

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Misconception #2: Asthma is an urban disease

Though Montana is a rural state, the overall rate of current asthma for adults is similar to the national median of 8.5 percent. Though the majority of research and funding has been focused on asthma in urban centers, new national estimates reveal that asthma rates in rural areas are just as high or higher than in urban areas. Montana data confirm these findings and underscore the need for clinical and public health interventions targeted toward individuals living with asthma in rural areas.

Misconception #3: Asthma affects all Montanans equally

According to BRFSS data from 2001-2006, female adults, obese individuals, and individuals with lower household income and educational attainment are at increased risk for asthma. American Indians also have slightly elevated rates of asthma compared to their white counterparts in the state. Though asthma affects people from all social classes, genders, age groups and races, some groups in our state shoulder a higher disease burden and require more focused attention and intervention.

Misconception #4: The diagnosis of asthma means a lifetime of difficult breathing

Montana adults with asthma report worse overall health than adults without asthma. In the 2006 BRFSS, 24 percent of adults with asthma reported that their health was “fair” or “poor” compared to 12.1 percent of adults without the disease.

However, many adults with asthma in Montana are exposed to modifiable risk factors that likely worsen their disease. Twenty-two percent of adults with asthma in Montana are smokers and 64 percent are overweight or obese. By achieving a healthy weight and eliminating exposure to tobacco smoke, Montanans with asthma could see dramatic improvements in their overall health.

In addition, recent advances in medical care for asthma like controller medications and environmental trigger management make it possible for individuals with the disease to live full, active, healthy lives. Controller medications are used daily by individuals with asthma to reduce the underlying inflammation in the airways caused by asthma. These safe, effective medicines have helped reduce asthma related deaths and allowed millions of patients to live with fewer asthma symptoms.

In addition to taking controller medications, patients with asthma can take simple steps to reduce the number asthma triggers in their environment. Asthma triggers include allergens like mold, pet dander, and dust mites along with irritants like tobacco smoke. Making efforts like banning smoking inside the home or keeping pets out of the bedroom can greatly reduce the triggers that cause asthma attacks.