Asthma is a reversible obstructive lung disease, caused by increased reaction of the airways to various stimuli. It is a chronic condition with acute exacerbations. An estimated 4.8 million children under the age of 18 suffer from asthma. 13.1 million asthmatics live in this country, and more than one-third of them are under the age of eighteen. In Lee County there are approximately 1,250 children suffering from asthma.

Asthma, which can be a life-threatening disease if not properly managed, is the leading serious chronic illness among children. Most children have relatively mild problems, and their illness can be controlled by treatment at home or in he doctor’s office. For some children the illness becomes a formidable problem causing numerous visits to the hospital emergency room and multiple hospitalizations. The estimated annual cost of treating asthma in those under 18 years of age is $1.9 billion. Asthma, which accounts for 10 million lost school days annually, is the leading cause of school absenteeism attributed to chronic conditions. Asthma is the third-ranking cause of hospitalization among children under the age of 15, and the first among chronic conditions. Babies born to women who smoked during pregnancy have abnormally small airways that may predispose them to asthma and other respiratory disorders.

Asthma breathing problems usually happen in “attacks” or “episodes.” An asthma attack is a series of events that result in narrow airways. These include: swelling of the lining, tightening of the muscle, and increased secretion of mucous in the airway. The narrowed airway is responsible for the difficulty in breathing with the familiar “wheeze.” Asthma therapy includes efforts to reduce underlying inflammation in asthma and to relieve or prevent symptomatic airway narrowing. Factors that may trigger asthma attacks in children include: respiratory infections; “colds”; allergic reactions to pollen, mold, animals, feathers, dust, and food; vigorous exercise; exposure to cold air or sudden temperature change; cigarette smoke; excitement and stress. Secondhand smoke can cause serious harm to children. An estimated 200,000 to one million asthmatic children have their conditions worsened by exposure to secondhand smoke.

Two classes of medications are used to treat asthma — bronchodialators and anti-inflammatory agents. Anti-inflammatory agents interrupt the development of bronchial inflammation and have a prophylatic or preventive action. They may also modulate or terminate ongoing inflammatory reactions in the airways. These agents include corticosteroids, cromolyn sodium or cromolyn-like compounds, and other anti-inflammatory compounds. Bronchodialators act principally to dilate the airways by relaxing bronchial smooth muscle.

On Saturday, April 27, 1996, North Mississippi Medical Center, The American Lung Association and Key/Shering Pharmaceutical will be sponsoring Asthma Super Saturday. This free program is designed for children ages 6 to 12 years of age with asthma and their parents. Parents of children will be offered a separate program scheduled at the same time, to help better understand asthma and its signs and symptoms.

Registration and exhibits will begin at 8 a.m. at the North Mississippi Medical Center Education Center. The program will last from 9 a.m. until approximately noon. The children will participate in fun activities that will teach them how to deal with asthma. The program will include an aerobics session and a karate demonstration to teach children proper warm-up and cool down exercises, which will decrease the risk of an attack. Local pediatricians, pulmonologists and respiratory therapists will speak to the parents and children on the proper use of medications, avoidance of triggers, as well as provide information on the physical changes in the lungs during an asthma attack.

Health care professionals will be present to instruct children and parents on the proper use of metered dose inhalers, spacers, and the use of peak flow meters. Each child that participates will receive an Asthma Super Saturday T-shirt. Anyone interested in more information about Asthma Super Saturday may call 1-800-THE-DESK.

Jim Newell, MPA, RRT, is Director of Clinical Education of the Respiratory Care Program at Itawamba Community College.

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