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Living with asthma

Submitted by on Sunday, 1 June 2008 No Comment

Originally published April 10, 2007, thehive.modbee.com

My household budget is tight – whose isn’t with two kids in residence? – but the decision to spend an extra $41 a month was a no-brainer.

That’s the difference in cost between over-the-counter Claritin, at about $9, and prescription Zyrtec – the new antihistamine Big Guy’s doctor prescribed Monday. For almost three years, Claritin had worked to control his allergies, but not anymore. You could see it in the increased drippiness, the constant gunky cough.

My insurance company covers a whopping 19 cents of the cost of Zyrtec. Its Web site is nice enough to list a number of over-the-counter alternatives. All of which we’ve tried, none of which work for him.

If the issue were just a few sniffles, I would have let it go at the $9. For Big Guy, though, the situation is far more serious. He also has asthma, and allergy problems can trigger attacks.

So I swallowed hard and shelled out the $50. I’m lucky I can afford it. Many families can’t.

That’s why I wasn’t surprised at all to read an Associated Press story that very day that said only one in five asthmatic children has the disease under control.

Big Guy is in that 20 percent, but it’s taken a lot of sleepless nights, a trial-and-error process with medication, and careful watching to get there.

To look at him doing his Tasmanian Devil imitation on the playground, you’d never know he has a chronic lung disease. He uses his rescue inhaler so infrequently that I really need to check to make sure none has expired. Even some family members are unaware that he’s sick. “But I have a friend who has asthma,” one cousin said, “and she can’t run and play at all.”

Which is a shame, because it doesn’t have to be that way.

In Big Guy’s case, his bad luck also is his good luck. I come from a family of asthmatics – my mother, a niece and two nephews. So the very genes that cursed him with this also meant that I understood the disease.

Before he was even born, I knew the importance of properly administered breathing treatments to stop an attack from building into something that could land him in the hospital. I knew that regular medication can stave off attacks for months on end. I knew of the asthma-allergy connection, so I’m on constant watch for any changes in sneeziness.

People without my family background simply don’t know that. And even if their doctors tell them, it’s a lot to absorb at once. You’re easily looking at three unfamiliar pieces of equipment and a minimum three medications. It’s dang near overwhelming.

Local health organizations have moved toward using asthma educators to help families and patients understand, and that’s a step in the right direction.

Big Guy also is lucky to be under the care of two outstanding doctors – his pediatrician and his allergist.

That’s not the case with many kids. According to the AP story, about 37 percent of the asthmatics in a four-state study had not even been prescribed preventive medication. Looks like there’s a physician education issue, too.

And Big Guy is lucky that I have a decent job and decent insurance, even though the insurance company irritates me over things such as Zyrtec vs. Claritin.

My company’s not the only antihistamine skinflint, though. A doctor told me recently that most insurance companies have stopped covering prescription antihistamines, because they’re so readily available over the counter. Um, yes, and the over-the-counter versions are so effective, too.

My asthma tab: $100 on a good month. Without insurance, it’d be $265.

Many families, especially in the asthma-prone and poverty-stricken Central Valley, simply can’t afford that. No matter how much you love and care for your kids, it’s tempting to cut corners — say, maybe skip a few doses — if money’s tight.

So, yes, Big Guy’s lucky – and, as a result, he’s healthy and breathing freely most of the time. I just wish we could find a way to spread some of his luck around.

Copyright 2007 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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