Asthma is the inflammation and constriction of the airways. It can cause difficulty breathing, which can become life-threatening. Poorly controlled asthma can also lead to frequent upper respiratory infections and absences from work or school. Asthma cannot be cured, but the symptoms can be controlled. Long-term (controlling) medications help to prevent flare-ups, and short-term (rescue) medications are used to relieve a flare-up once it starts. Other steps help to manage the disease, such as avoiding triggers (eg, allergens), being aware of signs and symptoms of flare ups, staying on top of your treatment plan, and working with your doctor to address problems.
Researchers from the Netherlands studied the benefits of an online self-management program to help people manage their asthma. The study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine , found that the addition of an online support program to usual care improved asthma control and lung function.
About the Study
The randomized controlled trial followed 200 asthmatic adults with access to the Internet. The participants were divided into one of two groups. The first group received usual care (single visit to a primary care office for information and counseling). In addition to usual care, the second group received Internet management. The Internet management involved web-based asthma monitoring and advice each week, online education, and regular web communication with a health professional. Asthma quality of life, asthma control (symptom free days), lung function, and frequency of exacerbations were measured in all participants at the start of the study and 12 months later. At the end of the study, researchers found:
- 63% of Internet users reported symptom-free days in the previous two weeks, compared to 52% of usual care participants.
- Lung function improved by 0.24 L (liters) in the Internet users, compared to a 0.01 L decrease in the usual care group.
- Changes in quality of life were not significant between the two groups.
- Differences in the number of exacerbations between the two groups were not significant.
Due to the nature of this study, participants and researchers could not be blinded . This could have biased the results of the study, particularly if researchers unintentionally influenced participants that were in the treatment or control groups.
How Does This Affect You?
Like many chronic medical conditions, effective asthma management often involves a complex mix of education, symptom tracking, lifestyle adjustments, and medications. Computer-based programs are well-known for their ability to help people deal effectively with multiple tasks, particularly over time. It is not surprising, therefore, that asthma patients in this study who had access to an online support system gained better control over their symptoms.
Check with your insurance company or medical group to see if they have an asthma support program. Many of their programs offer some support from a medical professional. You can also find online asthma management advice from national and local government websites and national non-profit organizations. Finally, there are some tips and tricks that can only come from other people with asthma. For this, there are several websites that have been created by people with asthma as a place to “meet” and share tips. Finding the right support can help your asthma management plan stay on track and keep you breathing freely.
- Reviewer: Richard Glickman-Simon, MD
- Review Date: 08/2009 -
- Update Date: 08/21/2009 -