Category Archives: Lungs & Breathing

Facing death but fighting the aid-in-dying movement

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Stephanie Packer (Photo by Stephanie O’Neill / KPCC)

By Stephanie O’Neill
Southern California Public Radio

Stephanie Packer was 29 when she found out she has a terminal lung disease.

It’s the same age as Brittany Maynard, who last year was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Maynard, of northern California, opted to end her life via physician-assisted suicide in Oregon last fall.

Maynard’s quest for control over the end of her life continues to galvanize the “aid-in-dying” movement nationwide, with legislation pending in California and a dozen other states.

But unlike Maynard, Packer says physician-assisted suicide will never be an option for her.

“Wanting the pain to stop, wanting the humiliating side effects to go away – that’s absolutely natural,” Packer says. “I absolutely have been there, and I still get there some days. But I don’t get to that point of wanting to end it all, because I have been given the tools to understand that today is a horrible day, but tomorrow doesn’t have to be.”

A recent spring afternoon in Packer’s kitchen is a good day, as she prepares lunch with her four children.

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The Packer family gathers in the kitchen to cook dinner. From left: Jacob, 8; Brian Sr. ; Brian Jr., 11; Savannah, 5; Scarlett, 10; and Stephanie. (Photo by Stephanie O’Neill / KPCC)

“Do you want to help?” she asks the eager crowd of siblings gathered tightly around her at the stovetop.

“Yeah!” yells 5-year-old Savannah.

“I do!” says Jacob, 8.

Managing four kids as each vies for the chance to help make chicken salad sandwiches can be trying. But for Packer, these are the moments she cherishes. Continue reading

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Common asthma steroids linked to side effects in adrenal glands | Reuters

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Illustration of the lungs in blueAfter stopping steroids commonly prescribed for asthma and allergies, a significant number of people may experience signs of malfunctioning in the adrenal glands, a European study finds.

So-called adrenal insufficiency can be dangerous, especially if the person’s body has to cope with a stress like surgery, injury or a serious illness, the study authors say.

Source: Common asthma steroids linked to side effects in adrenal glands | Reuters

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FDA warns consumers of the dangers of using homeopathic products to treat asthma

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FDA warns consumers about the potential health risks of over-the-counter asthma products labeled as homeopathic

From the Food and Drug Administration

Illustration of the lungs in blueThe U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning consumers not to rely on asthma products  labeled as homeopathic that are sold over-the-counter (OTC). These products have not been evaluated by the FDA for safety and effectiveness.

Asthma is a serious, chronic lung condition. If asthma is not appropriately treated and managed, patients may have wheezing, shortness of breath, and coughing, and could be at risk for life-threatening asthma attacks that may require emergency care or hospitalization.

Although there is no cure for asthma, there are many prescription asthma treatments approved by FDA as safe and effective, as well as some products that are marketed OTC in accordance with an FDA monograph.  Continue reading

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Vaccination is the most effective flu prevention for seniors

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Flu shot todayBy Dr. Kory B. Fowler
Medical Director, Intermountain Region
Humana

The influenza virus– commonly known as the flu – affects up to 20 percent of Americans annually, leaving more than 200,000 people hospitalized from complications each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The flu is particularly dangerous for Washington seniors, who often have pre-existing chronic health conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease.

Last year the flu vaccine prevented 6.6 million illnesses, 3.2 million doctor visits and at least 79,000 hospitalizations.

There are many ways to reduce the risk of catching the virus, such as washing your hands often, but an annual flu shot is the most effective way to prevent the flu and reduce the risk of complications. Continue reading

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Enterovirus D-68 confirmed in two patients at Seattle Children’s Hospital

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From Seattle Children’s Hospital

Parents strongly encouraged to take precautions, seek medical attention for troubled breathing, wheezing in babies, children, teens

EV68-infographicSEATTLE – Sept. 19, 2014 – Seattle Children’s Hospital announced today that two children have tested positive for Enterovirus D-68 (EV-D68).

The children, whose names were not released, have preexisting health conditions that exacerbated their condition but were stable enough to be discharged from the hospital earlier this week.

The presence of EV-D68 in the two children was confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on Thursday.

Results for three other children who were tested for EV-D68 were negative. Two of those children have been discharged; one is deceased.

No children in Washington or the United States have died of EV-D68 related illness. Continue reading

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How Racism Creeps Into Medicine – The Atlantic

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Illustration of the lungs in blueIn 1864, the year before the Civil War ended, a massive study was launched to quantify the bodies of Union soldiers. One key finding in what would become a 613-page report was that soldiers classified as “White” had a higher lung capacity than those labeled “Full Blacks” or “Mulattoes.” The study relied on the spirometer—a medical instrument that measures lung capacity.

via How Racism Creeps Into Medicine – The Atlantic.

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Death with Dignity Act prescriptions rise 43 percent

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Washington MapThe number of Washington state residents who obtained prescriptions for a lethal dose of drugs under the state’s Death with Dignity Act rose from 121 in 2012 to 175 in 2013, a 43% increase over the previous year.

Of the 159 who died

  • 77 percent had cancer
  • 15 percent had a neuro-degenerative disease, including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease).
  • 8 percent had other conditions, including heart and respiratory disease,

Their ages ranged from 29 to 95 years. Ninety-seven percent were white, and 76% had some college education. Ninety-five percent lived west of the Cascades.

Of the 159 who died, 119 ingested the medication and 26 did not. In 14 cases, it is unknown whether they took the medicines.

Reasons that patients gave for obtaining the lethal prescriptions included

  • Concerns about loss of autonomy – 91 percent
  • Concerns about loss of dignity – 79 percent
  • Concerns about loss of the ability to participate in activities that make life enjoyable – 89 percent.

Under the state’s Death with Dignity Act, terminally ill adult patients have had the right to ask their physician to prescribe a lethal dose of medication to end their life. Since the law’s enactment, 550 people have acted on that right since the law went into effect.

The 2013 Death with Dignity Act Report and information about the Washington State Death with Dignity Act are on the agency website.

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States target asthma care as number of patients grow

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Washington is one of the few states that has made the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America honor roll of states that have adopted comprehensive public policies supporting people with asthma, food allergies, anaphylaxis risk and related allergic diseases in schools.

Illustration of the lungs in blueBy Michael Ollove
Stateline Staff Writer

April 16, 2014 

In a valley wedged between the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, St. Louis often finds itself beset by a stationary air mass that only a severe storm of some kind can dislodge.

St. Louis is also an industrial city with high humidity, so it’s no wonder it usually makes the list of worst places for asthmatics to live.

But the state has also pioneered advances in addressing asthma treatment and costs. Two years ago, the Missouri legislature became the first to allow schools to stock quick-relief asthma medications for emergencies.  Continue reading

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Antibiotics don’t prevent complications of kids’ respiratory infections

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Three red and white capsulesBy Milly Dawson
HBNS Contributing Writer
FEB 18, 2014

Antibiotics are often prescribed for young children who have upper respiratory tract infections (URIs) in order to prevent complications, such as ear infections and pneumonia, however, a new evidence review in The Cochrane Library found no evidence to support this practice.  Continue reading

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App lets you determine your neighborhood’s radon risk

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Screen Shot 2014-01-21 at 11.28.29From the Washington State Department of Health

Olympia, January 21, 2014 — Washington residents now have a new online map to check and see if their neighborhood has a geological risk for the cancer-causing gas, radon, using a new state app. The new app is offered by the state Department of Health’s Washington Tracking Network.

Some areas of the state, such as Spokane and Clark counties, are well-known for having higher levels of radon, but the new online map shows that there are some areas around the Puget Sound such as Pierce and King counties that might come as a surprise.  Continue reading

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Something odd about your cigarette? FDA wants to hear about it

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Consumer Update from the FDA

Cigarette SmokeAre you using a tobacco product that you believe is defective or is causing an unexpected health problem?

Are you using a tobacco product that has a strange taste or smell?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wants to hear from you and has a new online tool you can use to report your problem. Continue reading

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Oregon schools use ‘behavioral vaccine’ to reduce smoking

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Blackboard with "Lesson one" written on it.

Photo: Krzysztof “Kriss” Szkurlatowski

By Kristian Foden-Vencil
Oregon Public Broadcasting

Behaving well in elementary school could reduce smoking in later life. At least, that’s what Trillium Community Health Plan hopes, and it’s putting money behind the idea.

Danebo Elementary in Eugene, Ore., is one of 50 schools receiving money to teach classes while integrating something called the “Good Behavior Game.”

Teacher Cami Railey sits at a small table, surrounded by four kids. She’s about to teach them the “s” sound and the “a” sound. But first, as she does every day, she goes over the rules.

“You’re going to earn your stars today by sitting in the learning position,” she says. “That means your bottom is on your seat, backs on the back of your seat. Excellent job, just like that.”

For good learning behavior, like sitting quietly, keeping their eyes on the teacher and working hard, kids get a star and some stickers.

Railey says the game keeps the kids plugged in and therefore learning more. That in turn makes them better educated teens and adults who’re less likely to pick up a dangerous habit, like smoking.

The Washington, D.C., nonprofit Coalition for Evidence Based Policy says it works. It did a study that found that by age 13, the game had reduced the number of kids who had started to smoke by 26 percent — and reduced the number of kids who had started to take hard drugs by more than half.

The fact that a teacher is playing the Good Behavior Game isn’t unusual. What is unusual is that Trillium is paying for it. Part of the Affordable Care Act involves the federal government giving money to states to figure out new ways to prevent people from getting sick in the first place.

So Trillium is setting aside nearly $900,000 a year for disease prevention strategies, like this one. Jennifer Webster is the disease prevention coordinator for Trillium Community Health, and she thinks it’s a good investment.

“The Good Behavior Game is more than just a game that you play in the classroom. It’s actually been called a behavioral vaccine,” she says. “This is really what needs to be done. What we really need to focus on is prevention.”

Trillium is paying the poorer schools of Eugene’s Bethel School District to adopt the strategy in 50 classrooms.

Trillium CEO Terry Coplin says changes to Oregon and federal law mean that instead of paying for each Medicaid recipient to get treatment, Trillium gets a fixed amount of money for each of its 56,000 Medicaid recipients. That way Trillium can pay for disease prevention efforts that benefit the whole Medicaid population, not just person by person as they need it.

“I think the return on investment for the Good Behavior Game is going to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 to one,” Coplin says.

So, for each dollar spent on playing the game, the health agency expects to save $10 by not having to pay to treat these kids later in life for lung cancer because they took up smoking.

Coplin concedes that some of Trillium’s Medicaid recipients will leave the system each year. But he says prevention still makes medical and financial sense.

“All the incentives are really aligned in the right direction. The healthier that we can make the population, the bigger the financial reward,” he says.

The Oregon Health Authority estimates that each pack of cigarettes smoked costs Oregonians about $13 in medical expenses and productivity losses.

Not all the money Trillium is spending goes for the Good Behavior Game. Some of it is earmarked to pay pregnant smokers cold, hard cash to give up the habit. There’s also a plan to have kids try to buy cigarettes at local stores, then give money to store owners who refuse to sell.

This story is part of a reporting partnership that includes NPROregon Public Broadcasting and Kaiser Health News

Photo courtesy of Krzysztof “Kriss” Szkurlatowski

This article was reprinted from kaiserhealthnews.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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As Washington delays, states move on e-cigarettes

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eBy Jake Grovum
Stateline Staff Writer

Money grab, health concerns, or both? Absent guidance from Washington, states are pressing ahead with their own agendas on electronic cigarettes.

Heading into legislative sessions next year, policymakers, industry representatives, health advocates and tax wonks expect electronic cigarettes — or e-cigarettes for short — to be among the top issues at state capitols.

Legislatures are expected to tackle how to classify, regulate and, perhaps most importantly, tax the relatively new products.

The debates in states come as the federal government considers its own answers to similar questions. The Food and Drug Administration is considering classifying e-cigarettes as “tobacco products,” which would extend its reach and potentially subject e-cigarettes to a host of rules and regulations that apply to tobacco cigarettes.

“States are scrambling to figure out how to deal with this,” Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said in an interview. “It’s going to be fought out in 50 states; it’s going to be fought out in one jurisdiction after another.”

DeWine was a lead author of an Oct. 23 letter sent by 40 attorneys general to the FDA pushing for federal rules and for e-cigarettes to be treated as “tobacco products” for regulatory purposes.

So far, Washington hasn’t decided how to proceed with e-cigarettes. A proposed rule, expected to be released for public comment in November, was delayed by the government shutdown and is still pending.

That has left a patchwork of rules, regulations and product definitions across the nation, often at the urging of anti-tobacco advocates. “We think it’s really important that states act,” said Danny McGoldrick, vice president of research at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

More than half the states, for example, have banned the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, but others have no restrictions. Currently four states — Utah, North Dakota, Arkansas and New Jersey — have lumped the products in with tobacco under indoor smoking bans, even as research about possible ill-effects from second-hand vapor smoke, if there even are any, remains limited.

Some local governments have taken similar steps on their own, enacting rules for e-cigarettes that sometimes go beyond those in place at the state level.

The intensity of the debate illustrates both the lack of good research on e-cigarettes as well as the money at stake. Often, those considering limits don’t even agree on whether applying tobacco regulations is appropriate, given how different the products are. Like tobacco cigarettes, nicotine levels in the “cartridges” that are loaded into the e-cigarette device can vary widely, complicating efforts to agree on a standard approach to regulation and taxation.

E-cigarettes first appeared about a decade ago, and sales have grown exponentially in recent years. The number of American adults who said they have tried them doubled to one in five in just one year (from 2010 to 2011), according to a Centers for Disease Control survey.

Use among middle and high school students also doubled from 2011 to 2012, according to the CDC, with nearly 1.8 million students saying they’ve used them.

E-Cig Revenue

In an era of revenue-hungry state governments — some still dealing with declining revenue from traditional tobacco taxes and recovering from the Great Recession — taxing e-cigarettes seems likely to get the most attention from state lawmakers in 2014. Questions of advertising limits, health claims and ingredient disclosure will likely remain federal issues.

So far, only Minnesota has put in place a specific state tax policy for e-cigarettes, a decision reached in 2012. The products are subject to a 95 percent tax that functions like a sales tax, tacked onto the wholesale cost of the product.

That generally means they are taxed at a higher rate than traditional cigarettes, which are subject to a $1.29-per-pack levy. The state expects to collect $1.16 billion from all tobacco taxes in the 2014-2015 fiscal year.

For now, most other states apply only a sales tax – if they have one – to e-cigarettes. But at least 30 others are considering e-cigarette taxes of some kind next year.

“I will be watching to see if more proposals like Minnesota are replicated in the states,” said Scott Drenkard of the Tax Foundation, an anti-tax research group, “But I hope they are not.”

What this is is a money grab.

As tax experts see it, there’s little rationale aside from simply raising revenue for taxing e-cigarettes as traditional cigarettes. Tobacco, they say, is taxed because it produces negative health consequences that cost the public. For now, there’s little research that shows similar effects from e-cigarettes.

“There is zero, emphasis on zero, justification for taxing e-cigarettes right now,” said David Brunori of the group Tax Analysts, a nonprofit tax analysis group that provides insight to private firms and government agencies. “What this is is a money grab. It’s a way of trying to find revenue to replace lost tobacco taxes.”

According to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, state and local tax revenues have somewhat leveled off in recent years as smoking has declined. Collections grew from $7.7 billion in 1997 to $15.8 billion in 2007, but reached just $17.6 billion in 2011, the most recent year available.

Tobacco companies that don’t produce e-cigarettes have often pushed tax parity so their own products are not at a disadvantage. In Minnesota’s case, the state simply said that under its laws, the tax must apply.

But the most popular argument is deterrence—higher taxes might make the product less attractive and less affordable to young people looking for nicotine.

“It has nothing to do with revenue,” Ohio’s DeWine said. “It has everything to do with discouraging use.”

An Alternative to Tobacco

Discouraging use, however, is exactly the opposite goal lawmakers should have, said Ray Story of the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association. It’s an opinion shared by some outside of the industry as well, especially with regard to those already smoking.

“Cigarettes are sold everywhere in the world, and we want to make sure that the e-cigarette is sold as a less-harmful alternative right there next to it,” Story said.

“We should expand the use, not restrict it,” he added, saying that if e-cigarettes can greatly reduce cigarette use the industry “will have made the greatest impact on humanity ever.”

The contrasting approach reflects two key differences in thinking about e-cigarettes: as a new recreational product similar to tobacco cigarettes, or as a potentially less-unhealthy alternative that could even help smokers quit entirely.

E-cigarette producers themselves are divided. Some welcome traditional cigarette-style regulations to a degree, content to play by similar rules as tobacco producers, especially if it saves them from more onerous limits applied to drug manufacturers, for example. Others argue that even thinking about e-cigarettes through the same frame of reference as tobacco is a flawed approach.

Federal officials in Washington will likely be the ones to eventually settle the dispute, and that decision could still be months away. Meanwhile, debates in the states over two key issues within their control – taxes and sales to minors – are likely to rage in 2014.

But the eventual decision from the FDA is sure to affect those debates. “If the FDA says these are essentially tobacco products,” said Brunori of Tax Analysts, “that will give all kinds of cover to state politicians.”

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Stateline is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news service of the Pew Center on the States that provides daily reporting and analysis on trends in state policy.

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When temperatures dip, air quality often does as well

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Illustration of the lungs in blueFrom the Washington State Department of Health

You may have noticed spectacular evening skies this winter, yet those sunsets frequently are a sign of air quality problems that occur this time of year. Winter weather patterns can trap air pollution – especially from wood stoves and fireplaces – near the ground, where it can build-up and may threaten people’s health.

The state Department of Health is reminding people air pollution can be harmful to their health. It can be especially harmful for people who have a lung condition like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), or with heart disease.

Air pollution has fine particles that can cause immediate and long-term health effects when inhaled. It’s a good idea to check local air conditions and limit outdoor activities when air quality conditions are poor.

The amount of air pollution that causes immediate health problems varies from person-to-person. For people who are sensitive to air pollution, even a short outdoor stroll can cause wheezing or shortness of breath.

Others may not have problems until they do more strenuous activities like yard work, running, or shoveling snow. Kids and adults over 65 are among those who should limit their activity during periods of poor air quality.

Air pollution often can’t be seen or smelled, but the state Department of Ecology monitors air conditions and posts them online across the state. More information and statistics on air quality in your community can be found on our website.

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