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Asthma Group Says Disease Takes Health and Financial Toll

Ohio counts more than 1,000,000 asthma sufferers. Individuals who sometimes gasp for air or reach for an inhaler. In severe episodes, asthma sufferers show up at hospital emergency rooms. Now, the state wants to reduce the burden of asthma on the individual and on the health care system.

Asthma is a chronic lung disease. Pediatrician Shalini Forbis says the disease is treatable, but incurable. "Children and adults still die from asthma and we do have deaths in Ohio yearly from asthma its not a high number but we still do people who die from Asthma every year." Says Forbis.

Doctor Forbis is Chair of the Ohio Asthma Coalition. She says asthma is reported in people of all ages from children under five to adults 65 and older. More than 1,000,000 Ohioans, or about ten percent of the state's total population has been diagnosed with asthma. Coalition Co-Chair, Belinda Huffman, estimates as many as three to four children in every classroom suffers asthma symptoms. "Children with asthma are the most frequent children who are being seen in emergency rooms in children's hospitals. People with asthma are among the most frequent people being seen in hospital emergency rooms. Its a disease where people are missing work, in some cases, many times a year." Says Huffman.

Four years ago, The Centers for Disease Control awarded a grant to the Ohio Department of Health to form the Asthma Coalition. The group wants to reduce asthma deaths, reduce hospital visits for asthma and allow asthma sufferers to enjoy more physical activity. Belinda Huffman, says the work begins with one-on-one education. "A lot of people think I just puff on this inhaler and it will go away. Well, yes sometimes it does go away. lets hope it goes away, but not always. And its for those people who really need that controlling medication day in and day out who we're really trying to reach to say this is a controllable disease." Adds Huffman.

Still, the inflammation that restricts breathing can have multiple triggers. Registered Nurse Barbara Hickcox looks for principal causes of asthma in her job at the Ohio Department of Health and at Dayton Children's Hospital. "I think we've identified triggers over the year through research. But also you look at a lot of the different homes that are older homes they have basements and they have leaking basements and we're dealing with that with the mold and the mildew." Says Hickcox.

The Asthma coalition cites survey numbers about the prevalence and severity of the condition as it works to build awareness of both the financial and the health burden placed on on the state and on individuals. A 2004 survey indicates about one fourth of Ohioans with asthma, or about 250-thousand report having symptoms at least once a day. "It effects their family because they feel restricted because they can't go to visit aunt Sally because Aunt Sally has a cat." Huffman says.