Asthma is a seriously debilitating condition. Higgins (1997), in a report for the United States Department of Health and Human Services, stated that approximately four million children and eight million adults in the United States suffer from the effects of asthma; this figure translates to roughly 5 percent of the total population of America. Higgins (1997) also notes that this percentage is increasing.
In addition to the foregoing, asthma accounts for total annual care costs of more than $6 billion dollars per year in America as well as 15 million physician visits per year (one third of which are made by persons under age 20 years), and over 100 million days of restricted activity. Nearly 5,000 people die from asthma episodes each year, and hundreds of thousands more suffer frightening episodes of coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, and loss of breath (Higgins, 1997).
One way in which the medical system has responded to this dire health problem has been the development of national and international guidelines for the diagnosis and management of asthma patients (see: National Institutes of Health, Updated Asthma Guidelines, 1997). These guidelines provide clinicians with several recommendations which are organized into four components of therapy: measures of assessment and monitoring, control of factors contributing to asthma severity, pharmacologic therapy, and education for a partnership in asthma care. The recommendations were formulated based on current information in the available scientific literature and the consensus of an expert panel.
In general, the basic guidelines on asthma management include avoidance of triggers, education aimed at prevention and control of the condition, regular follow-up, and an action plan that relies on symptoms and lung function measurements for the monitoring of disease severity. Examples of the newest recommendations (National Institutes of Health, Updated Asthma Guidelines, 199...