World Asthma Day

May 7, 2013 

WORLD ASTHMA DAY: It’s time to control asthma

Health teams in Alberta provide a higher quality of life for those living with asthma

(Alberta) – If asthma is keeping you on the sidelines, it’s time to change the game plan. Over 300,000 Albertans with asthma don’t need to live life on the bench. Asthma education can bring them back into the game.

Asthma did not stop Ashley Hinther, a 5000m track athlete and volunteer assistant coach at University of Alberta, from winning varsity nationals. “Controlling my asthma allows me to train at a consistent, high level. When I step on the line to race, the fact that I have asthma never once crosses my mind. I believe I can reach my goals, regardless of having asthma.”  

The 60% of Albertans with poorly controlled asthma know, when you can’t breathe, nothing else matters. For them, asthma education can make the difference between surviving and thriving.

In Alberta, children and adults with asthma visit an emergency department every approximately 30 minutes. These numbers are worse in rural, low income and Aboriginal populations. According to Dr. Andrew Cave, Co-chair of Alberta Health Services’ – Respiratory Clinical Network’s Asthma Working Group, Department of Family Medicine, University of Alberta, the majority of these emergency visits are preventable and there are exemplary health teams around Alberta keeping Albertans out of the hospital.

“More asthma education teams like these are needed. Albertans should ask their health provider for asthma self-management education and written Asthma Action Plans. It could change your life,” says Cave. 

In Camrose, Julie Gaalaas, a Certified Respiratory Educator and Respiratory Therapist with Alberta Health Services (AHS), visits schools during the lunch hour to teach children about asthma. Using the Roaring Adventures of Puff program, she helps children who otherwise may not have access to asthma education.

“After doing the school program, these students feel more confident about self-managing their disease and have a support network in school” reports Gaalaas. “The games are fun so the kids automatically learn the skills.  After six sessions, the students show off what they have learned to parents, teachers, and principals." 

Dianne Moran, a Chronic Disease Nurse at Big Country Primary Care Network in Three Hills, has been proactive in helping to keep patients’ asthma in control. She invites and gets referrals from the Medical Clinic’s asthma patients and physicians for asthma education. She is thrilled to have tools that have been designed in Alberta, like the written Asthma Action Plan and inhaler device education sheets to help show the importance of control and medication use.

“The more I can teach patients to know what they can do to improve their health, the better. Several patients said that no one had ever gone over this information with them and were surprised that they could live better with asthma. They liked having the clear physician-approved directions.” says Moran.

As part of Calgary’s Alberta Children’s Hospital (ACH) Community Pediatric Asthma Service, five Certified Respiratory Educators travel to physician and pediatrician offices and community clinics all around the Calgary Zone to provide patients and their families, one-hour education sessions about asthma diagnosis, triggers, medication and devices. The educators also develop personalized written action plans to help patients keep their asthma under control.

 A Calgary mother says the asthma education program helped “restore normalcy” in her family. Her 12-year-old son, Bram Bouma, had visited the Emergency Department several times for his asthma and was hospitalized.  “I feel so much better,” says Bram, “and I am so glad I went to these sessions to learn what to do to help myself.”

 Since the launch of this service in 2005, asthma-related emergency department visits have dropped by 54 per cent. Dr. Mary Noseworthy, Medical Director, Asthma Clinic, Alberta Children's Hospital, says this means patients with less severe asthma can now be put directly into the care of community health providers rather than visiting the specialty clinic at ACH.

 The Conference Board of Canada (2012) reports that 3.2 million Canadians had asthma in 2010 and this will rise to 3.5 million in 2020. There were 239 deaths from asthma in Canada in 2010 and this will rise to 297 in 2020. The cost of asthma to the nation was estimated at $ 2.2 billion in 2010 which will rise to $3.05 billion in 2020. We estimate Alberta’s costs to be one tenth of Canadian costs.

 On World Asthma Day, the Alberta Asthma Centre, in partnership with Alberta Breathes, a respiratory coalition led by The Lung Association of Alberta and NWT, and the COPD & Asthma Network of Alberta, would like to applaud all those who are making a difference in the lives of those with asthma.