Free asthma screenings to be at St. Louis Science Center

Adults and children can find out if symptoms such as a chronic cough, wheezing and shortness of breath might be a sign of asthma at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology’s (ACAAI) ninth annual Nationwide Asthma Screening Program.

School of Medicine and St. Louis Children’s Hospital allergists will hold a free screening for people with breathing problems from 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m. May 21 at the St. Louis Science Center, joining more than 300 locations across the country.

The screening will also provide an opportunity for people who already know they have asthma to talk with an allergist about their disease and how to keep symptoms under control.

Supported by AstraZeneca, the program has screened more than 80,000 people since it first launched in 1997.

“Too many people suffer from undiagnosed or undertreated asthma without realizing it,” said H. James Wedner, M.D., professor of medicine and head of the Division of Allergy and Immunology.

“Not only are these adults and children making lifestyle compromises, but they also are putting themselves at risk for irreversible lung damage.

“The screenings increase asthma awareness and help people recognize the signs of the disease, which might be only a chronic cough.”

Asthma is a chronic inflammation of airways in the lungs and reportedly affects more than 20 million Americans.

It is more common in children than adults and is responsible for nearly 4,500 deaths each year. Although the exact cause is unknown, many treatment options are available to control asthma and its related symptoms.

An asthma attack is often triggered by allergens such as pollen, dust, animal dander, certain drugs and food additives, viral respiratory infections and physical exertion.

Once asthma is diagnosed, experts recommend aggressive treatment with medication and allergen avoidance.

The most effective medications are those that reduce inflammation. Studies show inhaled corticosteroids are the most potent and effective anti-inflammatory medications for asthma, improving control of the disease, normalizing lung function and possibly preventing irreversible damage.

“Effective treatment is available so that people can take control of their asthma instead of being controlled by it,” said Wedner, who sees patients at the Asthma and Allergy Center at Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital. “Anyone who has breathing problems, or thinks his or her asthma could be better managed, should consider participating in the free screenings.”

During the screening, adults who are experiencing breathing problems will complete a 20-question Life Quality Test developed by ACAAI for the program.

Children under 15 will take a special test called the Kids’ Asthma Check that enables them to answer questions about any breathing problems. For children under 8, another version of the check will be available for parents to complete on their child’s behalf.

Participants will also take a lung function test, which involves blowing into a tube, and they will have the opportunity to meet with a physician to determine if they should seek a thorough examination and diagnosis.

Screening materials will be available in English and Spanish. For more information, call 454-7376.