(BPT) - Twenty-two million Americans, many of whom are children, suffer from the frightening acute attacks and long-term disabilities of chronic asthma. Millions more adults face the increasing burdens and life-altering effects of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes both emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Managing these conditions effectively means truly understanding when and how to use the necessary medications.
“The numbers are staggering; more than half a million patients undergo hospitalizations each year from poorly controlled asthma alone,” says Don Smart, a specialist pharmacist in the Express Scripts Pulmonary Therapeutic Resource Center (TRC). “For chronic asthma alone, regular use of the right medications could help reduce the rate of hospitalizations by 43 percent; 56 percent for COPD.”
Asthma and COPD are two distinct breathing conditions. Asthma typically develops during childhood. Symptoms like coughing and wheezing are due to inflammation and swelling of the airways, making breathing very difficult. Asthma medications play an important role in keeping symptoms under control. Long-term medications keep asthma under control when used on a day-to-day basis, while short-term medications act as “quick-relief” options that treat symptoms once they start.
COPD traditionally is a disease impacting adults and is often a result of smoking. Tobacco smoke irritates the airways and eventually makes breathing a challenge. This leads to chronic coughing and shortness of breath. While COPD gets progressively worse, especially with continued smoking, asthma rarely results in progressive decline in lung function if treated properly.
“Being aware of what may bring on an asthma attack is half the battle,” says Smart. “A person’s work environment (occupational asthma), allergens in their environment, exercise or infections could all prompt coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and chest tightness.”
As a specialist pharmacist, Smart works with patients with pulmonary illnesses to provide one-on-one counseling, often clearing up the confusion between chronic asthma and COPD. For patients with either asthma or COPD, effective disease management is essential. Smart offers some tips that will help patients improve lung function and reduce the severity of their condition while helping them stay active.
* Do it right: Proper inhaler technique is important to get the most out of the treatment. Make sure that your doctor or pharmacists explain how to use it correctly. It’s also a good idea to rinse your mouth out after using inhaled corticosteroids (ICS) to avoid an oral infection.
* Use the right amount, every time: Like any medication, always use as directed. Adherence to inhaled corticosteroids (ICS) and long-acting bronchodilators is important for controlling asthma and slowing down the progression of COPD. Make sure not to overuse quick-relief medications, known as short-acting beta agonists (SABA), which can lead to an increased heart rate and nervousness.
* Monitor your symptoms: Recognize the intensity and frequency of your asthma symptoms. Asking some simple questions may help determine how well you are managing your condition. Here are some questions from the asthma treatment guidelines that may help: Does my asthma wake me up at night? Have I started reaching for my rescue inhaler more than three times per week? Does my asthma limit me in my normal daily activities and routines?
* Have a plan: Develop a written asthma action plan with your physician. Outlining your treatment goals will help prevent disease progression (in COPD); improve your tolerance for exercise; and minimize complications, exacerbations, and adverse effects of treatment.
For more information and additional ways you can avoid harmful drug interactions, visit Express Scripts’ Healthcare Insights blog at lab.express-scripts.com.