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Release: July 12, 2000

UI offers free asthma screenings at Johnson County Fair

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Children and adults who are out of shape, unable to keep up with peers or who have breathing problems such as coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath can find out if asthma is the cause by taking a screening test July 24 through 26 at the Johnson County Fair. The free asthma screenings will be offered from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily and are sponsored by the Division of Allergy and Immunology in the University of Iowa department of internal medicine in conjunction with the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI).

The screenings are part of a nationwide asthma screening program to increase awareness in the area about asthma and allergies, said Iftikhar Hussain, M.D., UI assistant professor (clinical) of internal medicine, who is spearheading the effort.

"Asthma incidence and prevalence is on the rise in the Western world, and there is less awareness of the disease in the Midwest," Hussain said. "Early detection and treatment of asthma can significantly change the life of patients, their families and their productivity in the community."

At the screenings, adults can take a 20-question "Life Quality Test" developed by the ACAAI. "The Kids' Asthma Check" will allow children ages 8 to 14 to answer questions themselves about their breathing problems. Parents of children age 7 and younger can complete a version of the "check" for their child. In addition, each participant can take a lung function test that involves blowing air into a tube. Using the symptom questionnaire and lung test results, a UI asthma specialist will advise whether participants should seek a thorough examination and diagnosis.

Children who want to be screened should be accompanied by a parent. The entire screening takes 15 to 20 minutes. The fairgrounds are located on Riverside Drive, south of the Iowa City Municipal Airport.

Hussain will be present during the screenings along with other UI faculty members, fellows, clinic nurses and a physician assistant. Participants whose screening test shows they may need further asthma assessment or treatment can receive referrals to the UI Division of Allergy and Immunology, which specializes in long-term care for patients with asthma.

Hussain noted that young athletes sometimes reduce their activity level because they get out of breath. "They do not realize that this can be due to asthma and that with proper and timely treatment, they can be professional athletes," he said.

He added that people who are out of shape may have "silent" asthma, which limits them to a minimal amount of exercise to keep off extra weight.

The ACAAI started the asthma-screening program a few years ago because the prevalence of asthma and allergy-related illness in the United States is increasing. More than 25 percent of the population has allergic diseases, the leading cause of asthma, and nearly 5 percent, or 17 million, have asthma. Asthma is expected to be an even greater problem in the future because its incidence has increased by 75 percent between 1980 and 1994.

The local screening event is the first time the UI has participated in the ACAAI nationwide effort to screen people for asthma. Now in its fourth year, the national program has screened more than 20,000 people who thought they might be at risk for asthma. Nearly half of those participants were referred for more extensive diagnosis. The program is funded by an educational grant from AstraZeneca.

The exact cause of asthma is a little unclear, Hussain said, but studies have shown that allergies play a significant role in the condition by inducing chronic airway inflammation, which causes people to cough, feel winded or wheeze.

"Our goal is to get to asthma before it causes irreversible damage to the lungs," Hussain said.


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