A breath of fresh air: Managing asthma

Asthma can be managed but not cured, so patients who learn as much as they can about the condition, and become partners in its management, will stay healthier and be less likely to need the services of the emergency room.

Doctors can ask questions and make suggestions, but they’re not the ones who’ll be there when an asthma attack begins. The patient, or someone close to them, is on the frontlines, just where they can pick up on what triggered the attack. A diary may also help determine if some particular situation or environment is aggravating the condition. Minimizing contact with triggering substances should reduce the frequency of attacks.

A Canada-wide informal network of more than 40 Community Asthma Care Centres (CACCs) set in hospitals or doctors’ clinics is currently helping patients develop self-management skills. Patient outcome data from the centres is also helping assess potential savings to the healthcare system. As they gain a better understanding of how to control their disease, patients need fewer emergency room visits, admissions to hospital and miss fewer work days.

Patients referred to the CACCs undergo a physical assessment, including a lung funion measurement, peak flow testing, lab tests and x-rays and give a thorough history of their condition. A treatment plan is developed with an asthma educator and the patient’s doctor. Perhaps the most important function of the Centre is education. The patient learns more about asthma triggers, environmental avoidance skills, recognition of early warning signs and symptoms and what their own role should be in controlling the symptoms. Follow-up visits encourage a positive patient outcome.

"From my experience working at a Community Asthma Care Centre, it is the value of education and time spent with patients that produces the most important benefits," says Dr. Vincent Taraska, a respirologist at the Community Asthma Care Centre in Seven Oaks Hospital in Winnipeg. "Many people with asthma accept poor control of their disease as the norm. When they learn what good control is and see how good they can feel, they’re very pleased."