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Improved treatments for asthma are available (5/8/98)

Rocky Martinez, 16, has had asthma since he was 7 years old but thanks to new medical treatments, he's more active than ever before.

For years, he struggled with shortness of breath and missed out on physical activities other children enjoyed. "I couldn't play around or run. I would feel like I was suffocating," says Martinez.

Martinez is one of an estimated 14 million Americans suffering from asthma, a lung disease that causes bouts of wheezing, airway inflammation and shortness of breath.

Until recently, he was also a part of a large group whose members treat their asthma by emergency room visits and sporadic doctor appointments. John Mangos, MD, professor of pediatrics at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, says emergency room treatment for asthma is the norm because many patients like Martinez and their families do not know what is available.

"Education is the most important part of managing asthma," he says. "The whole family has to get involved because young children and even teenagers need support and guidance."

Martinez's asthma got so bad a couple of years ago that he had to be home schooled for a year. Today, he's a vibrant active teenager who enjoys running, playing basketball and doesn't think twice about exerting himself.

"My asthma is under control now because I see the doctor regularly and I do monthly treatments to prevent asthma attacks," says Martinez. The monthly treatment is an intravenous immunoglobulin therapy that helps keep chronic asthma patients from experiencing severe asthma attacks. The treatments are administered during an eight-hour hospital outpatient appointment.

According to Dr. Mangos, the advent of anti-inflammatory drugs or inhaled steroids has helped tremendously with the treatment of asthma. "For many years, we only had bronchio-dilators. They opened the airways to a limited degree," says Dr. Mangos. "Now, the new generation of steroid inhalants opens up the airways even more."

The anti-inflammatory inhalants include Pulmicort, Azmacort and Flovent. The bronchio-dilators include Albuterol and Serevent. There is also an oral medication called Zyflo and a nasal spray, Flonase.

Close to 5,000 Americans die every year from asthma complications and African Americans are more than twice as likely as Caucasians to die from this disease.

Dr. Mangos emphasizes that asthma can be treated effectively, as in the case of Martinez, but it takes some work and cooperation from the patient along with the parents.

Contact: Myong Covert (210) 567-2570